The Scythians were an ancient and fearsome nomadic warrior people who herded horses across southern Siberia through the plains of central Eurasia and Persia. Around 900BC – 200BC, they ruled the steppes for more than 1,000 years concurrent with the rise of the Roman Empire. The speculation that Scythians used cannabis was unfortunately used as propoganda to fuel anti-marijuana campaigns, with the denouncers insisting that it was capable of turning people into cold-blooded killers.
The Dothraki… er, uh, the Scythians left little physical record of their presence, save for some gold vessels and some dried-up weed. Thus, its hard to know exactly how the ancient warriors utilized the plant.
However, it is evident that cannabis played an important role Scythian social and religious lives. Some intricate gold vessels excavated from a burial mound, or kurgan, in the Caucasus Mountains of southern Russia confirmed what ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote of drug-fueled Scythian rituals. The 2015 discovery yielded gold vessels containing cannabis and opium residue.
Another Caucasus Mountain kurgan excavated in 2017 revealed a woman buried with a number of items she might need in the afterlife, and one of them was the bundle of cannabis stalks.
The discovery confirmed the previous speculations that Scythians used cannabis by Herodotus— a writer dubbed the “father of history” and the first to make mention of cannabis in Western literature. According to Herodotus, the Scythians used cannabis seeds and the plant material for clothing. However, the prdeominant use was as incense during funerals– stating that it gave a “more agreeable” vapor than the incense burnt in Greece. Heroclotus noted those in the presence of the scent would “howl aloud”.
However, it’s unclear if this observation is confounded with the typical grieving process that accompanies a funeral; people of the Catholic religion often “howl and cry” while in the presence of frankincense– the herb traditionaly burned at Catholic funerals. There is no historical evidence that the Scythians were getting crazed from their use of cannabis. But that didn’t prevent Reefer Madness folks from using it as evidence of the plant’s abilitiy to induce demonic tendencies.
Nonetheless, with these insights from Herodotus, it appears that the Scynthians were using hemp — a variety of the cannabis plant that is low in THC (the main psychoactive cannabinoid). Translations of Herodotus’ Greek writings reveal the actual use of the word “hemp”– noting that it grew, much like flax, in the regions inhabited by the Scythians. Thus, while cannabis use was evident, it’s unclear if the Scynthians utilized the medical benefits of cannabis the way they did in ancient China or ancient India.