Regardless of personal opinion, cannabis is widespread and predates Western society. Many archaeologists have described cannabis to be one of the oldest forms of medicines utilized by humankind. “Archaeological studies have uncovered evidence of cannabis in China dating back to the Neolithic period, around 5,000 years ago” (Mardones, 2011). Cannabis has many uses for humans. Some of these uses include: food, material, spiritual, and ritual use and more recently, medical use.
“Cannabis originated in Central Asia and the Himalayas, where it may have been the earliest plant to be domesticated by humans, as much as 10,000 years ago, as a “five-purpose plant”: for fiber, oil, food, psychotropic, and therapeutic properties” (Mardones, 2011). There are three main forms of cannabis in India – bhang, ganja, and charas. Bhang is made up of the matured leaves and can also contain the fruit of the plant. Ganja is taken from the flowering portion of the female plants along with the twigs. When the leaves, twigs, and bark of stem secrete resinous exudation it is known as charas. This week I will be discussing the cultural uses for these varieties of cannabis, but I will refer to it interchangeably as many in India do. I understand there are botanical differences the people of India often refer to all forms of cannabis as bhang. This is somewhat similar to calling all tissues a Kleenex when in fact not all tissues are actually a Kleenex.
As mentioned previously, bhang is made from the dried matured leaves and occasionally the flowering heads of both male and female plants. The male flowering heads do not greatly impact the specimens and are often excluded for lacking pertinent properties. In lower grade varieties the male flowering heads are included. I theorize this is because of a lack of botanical knowledge in smaller villages. As described by Pharmacologist, Dr. I.C. Chopra, there are “…crude methods of collection and preparations in use, which consist simply of drying the plants and striking them against a block of wood so as to separate the leaves from them, a satisfactory separation of the male and female flowers is hardly to be expected.” She also describes the narcotic principle of the plant and pronounces the methods used to remove this source:
“The narcotic principle in the plant develops only when it matures, reaching its maximum at about the time of flowering and then gradually declining and beginning to disappear when the leaves and flowers turn yellow. For the manufacture of good bhang, therefore, the leaves should be separated when they are just mature and when there are no signs of decay or withering. The time of collection varies in different localities, but generally the months of May and June in the plains, and July and early August in the hills are considered best.” (Chopra & Chopra, 1957)
Cannabis has been linked to many religious practices and are a large part of cultural traditions. For example, in India bhang is often used to engage in meditative states to concentrate the mind and has contributed to the large dependency of cannabis in India. “Mendicants, fakirs and the priestly classes are initiated to the use of cannabis mostly on account of such beliefs” (Chopra & Chopra, 1957). The most commonly used variety of cannabis for these traditions is bhang. Dr. Chopra has conducted many studies on addiction and assigns 20% of the frequent drug use in India to religious and social customs. She also mentions that bhang is more commonly used among the other varieties, which is why I chose bhang as my dominant topic. She explains the ganja, while not practiced with as often, is still used by some mendicants and fakirs as a way to warm their bodies. Most mendicants and fakirs wear only a loin cloth and this regulates their body heat. (Chopra & Chopra, 1957)
Bhang is still widely used today and while visiting India you are able to enjoy bhang in many different styles. Among these styles are green cookies, but the most commonly ingested is called “Bhang Lassi” in India which roughly translates to “special lassi.” This is made in the form of drink that can be flavored like a chai latte or as a smoothie. There are many different risks involved if you choose to try one of these treats while traveling to India. I have taken the liberty of attaching another excellent blog that addresses the benefits as well as the risks involved. To continue your interest in the uses of bhang in India, please view the following blog: http://hippie-inheels.com/bhang-lassi-in-india/
Chopra, R., & I.C., C. (1957, January 1). United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1957-01-01_1_page003.html
Mardones, V. (2011, September 1). Herbal Cannabis as Medicine: A Biocultural Analysis. Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://www.academia.edu/966181/Herbal_Cannabis_as_Medicine_a_Biocultural_Analysis