According to a new US study, cavemen liked to smoke marijuana and tobacco in order to stay healthy.
The study found that hunter-gatherers located at the Congo basin who consumed cannabis were less likely to be infected by intestinal worms.
An earlier study also revealed that tobacco smokers from the same group also had fewer helminths, parasitic intestinal worms.
But Hagen says the study offers an alternative explanation of human drug use.
The prevailing explanation is that recreational drugs ‘hijack the pleasure centers of the brain,’ making people feel good.
But they also trigger mechanisms that tell us we’re consuming something toxic, tasting bitter and making us feel sick.
‘So we thought, ‘Why would so many people around the world be using plant toxins in this very ‘recreational’ way?’ said Hagen.
‘If you look at non-human animals, they do the same thing, and what a lot of biologists think is they’re doing it to kill parasites.’
Researchers are unsure when the Aka might have first smoked cannabis or when it arrived on the continent.
It may have come with traders from the Indian subcontinent around the first century A.D.
But Hagen and his colleagues say it might not have been smoked until European colonization in the 17th Century.
Hagen surveyed almost all of the nearly 400 adult Aka along the Lobaye River in the Central African Republic and found roughly 70 per cent of the men and 6 per cent of the women used cannabis.
The polling was supported by bioassays of the men that found high enough levels of THCA – a metabolic byproduct of cannabis’s active ingredient – to indicate that 68 per cent of them had recently smoked.
Stool samples collected from the men to gauge their worm burden found some 95 perc ent of them were infected with helminths.
But those who consumed cannabis had a significantly lower rate of infection.
A year after being treated with a commercial antihelmintic, the cannabis users were reinfected with fewer worms.
While the Aka deliberately consume a tea of a local plant, motunga, to fight parasitic infections, they do not think of cannabis or tobacco as medicine, Hagen said.
This suggests they are unconsciously using medical marijuana to ward off parasites, he said.
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