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Holy smoke! Israelites ‘likely’ used cannabis in ancient rituals

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An Israeli Antiquities Authority photo shows an ancient altar on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. AFP

Holy smoke! Israelites ‘likely’ used cannabis in ancient rituals

It's highly likely that ancient Israelites got high on cannabis in religious rituals, say researchers who have found traces of the drug at a religious site in Israel.

Archaeologists made the dope discovery at the eighth-century Tel Arad pilgrimage site in the Negev desert, south of the occupied West Bank.

“The presence of cannabis at Arad testifies to the use of mind-altering substances as part of cultic rituals in Judah,” they said.

Writing in a journal article published by Tel Aviv University’s Institute of Archaeology, they said the find was “the earliest evidence for the use of cannabis in the Ancient Near East”.

The kingdom of Judah lasted from around 940 to 586 BC and centred on Jerusalem.

It was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.

“It seems likely that cannabis was used at Arad as a deliberate psychoactive, to stimulate ecstasy as part of cultic ceremonies,” said the researchers.

The discovery has caused a buzz online in Israel, where 21st-century smokers use smartphones and encrypted messaging to order weed deliveries.

Medical use of cannabis is allowed in the country but police frequently boast of drug busts.

The researchers said they were surprised by the discovery.

“Hallucinogenic substances are known from various neighbouring cultures, but this is the first known evidence of hallucinogenic substance found in the Kingdom of Judah,” said the team, led by Eran Arie from Jerusalem’s Israel Museum.

The team has called for further research to better understand the practice and its breadth.

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