If one were to look for proof of how long cannabis has existed and influenced culture, one of the oldest cannabis traditions dates as far back as 2000 B.C. and is still in use today. “Bhang,” as it is colloquially referred to, is an edible cannabis drink that is often used during traditional Hindu festivals such as Holi, Janmashtami, and Shrivratri.
A GIFT FROM THE GODS
Bhang is a traditional drink from northern India. It is intrinsic to the many cultures there. The prohibition of cannabis that affects the rest of India is waived in these regions. Bhang is made from cannabis flowers and leaves, milk, water, spices, and sometimes yoghurt. It is available in government sanctioned stores of religious villages, and the ingredients are sold in street stalls. Bhang goli, which are balls of bhang paste already prepared with the other ingredients, are common. Legend has it that Shiva descended from the Kush mountain range to give bhang as a gift to humanity.
The History of Bhang
Cannabis is known in the modern world for its many medicinal and therapeutic uses, so it’s not surprising that ancient cultures found many spiritual, medicinal, and therapeutic uses for the versatile plant. Bhang has become an integral part of Indian culture, having been in use for four thousand years.
In parts of rural India, bhang is believed to cure fever, dysentery, and sunstroke, as well as aiding in digestion, clearing phlegm, and even curing speech impediments. In Ayurvedic and Tibbi rituals, cannabis was given orally to treat diseases like malaria and rheumatism. Warriors would drink bhang to steel their nerves, and newlyweds would consume bhang to increase their libido.
Cannabis has a long-held reputation in India for its religious and spiritual implications, particularly in Hinduism. The Hindu god of transformation, Shiva, is believed to have used bhang to focus inward and harness his divine powers, and cannabis was deemed one of the five most sacred plants on Earth in the sacred Hindu text Atharvaveda. In certain Vedic rituals, cannabis stems were burned in the ritual fire (yagna) to overcome enemies and evil forces, as Vedas refer to cannabis as a “source of happiness,” a “joy giver,” and a “liberator.”
The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission
When the British arrived in colonial India, the use of cannabis was so widespread that they commissioned a large-scale study known as the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report of 1894. British and Indian medical experts conducted 1,193 standardized interviews across 30 cities to determine the social and moral impact of the use of cannabis. Seven volumes of data and conclusions were produced by the study, with an overwhelming consensus that prohibition would be unjustifiable and that moderate cannabis was harmless, both socially and physically. “To forbid or even seriously to restrict the use of so gracious an herb as cannabis would cause widespread suffering and annoyance,” the report concluded.
How does bhang work?
Bhang is known for its psychoactive effects, or its ability to affect the way your brain and nervous system work.
Cannabinoids — the main active chemical compounds in the Cannabis sativa plant — are behind these effects. There are several different types of cannabinoids in bhang, but the two best-researched are (2Trusted Source):
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The main psychoactive compound in cannabis, which is responsible for the “high” people experience after consuming foods and beverages containing bhang.
- Cannabidiol (CBD). A non-psychoactive cannabinoid thought to be the main compound behind the health benefits linked to bhang.
Both CBD and THC have a molecular structure similar to compounds your body naturally produces — known as endocannabinoids.
Endocannabinoids bind to your body’s cannabinoid receptors and are involved in activities like learning, memory, decision making, immunity, and motor function (2Trusted Source).
Due to their likeness in structure, THC and CBD can also bind to your body’s cannabinoid receptors — impacting the way your brain relays messages between its cells.
Smoking or vaping dried parts of the cannabis plant causes blood cannabinoid levels to peak within 15–30 minutes.
In contrast, cannabinoids consumed as part of a food or drink are released into the bloodstream a lot more slowly — peaking around 2–3 hours later.
Bhang contains THC and CBD, compounds that can bind to your body’s cannabinoid receptors and impact your learning, memory, motor, and immune functions.
Helps prevent nausea and vomiting
Bhang may help reduce nausea and vomiting.
THC — one of the main cannabinoids found in bhang — has been approved to treat nausea in some parts of the United States .
So far, its anti-nausea and anti-vomiting effects have been most researched in people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
In a review of 23 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) — the gold standard in research — people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer were given either cannabis-based products, conventional anti-nausea drugs, or a placebo.
Those given cannabis-containing products were close to three times less likely to experience nausea and vomiting, compared to those given a placebo. What’s more, these products appeared to be as effective as conventional anti-nausea medication.
Similarly, other reviews observed strong evidence that cannabinoids — the main active compounds in bhang — are effective at reducing nausea and vomiting, particularly in adults undergoing chemotherapy.
Still, evidence also link heavy chronic use of cannabinoids to abdominal pain, chronic nausea, and heavy vomiting in some people. This is especially frequent in middle-aged men and not easily treated by conventional anti-nausea medications .
Bhang may help reduce nausea and vomiting, especially due to side effects of chemotherapy. However, heavy, long-term use may increase nausea and vomiting in some people.
- 2 cups water
- Up to 1/2 ounce of fresh cannabis leaves and flowers
- 3 cups warm milk
- 1/4 tsp garam masala
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground fennel
- 1/2 tsp ground anise
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp rosewater
- 1/2 cup honey or sugar
- Rose petals, mint leaves, chopped almonds or pistachios to garnish
- Heat water to a rapid boil, then remove from heat and add the cannabis plant material. Steep for about seven minutes.
- Strain cannabis leaves and flower from water using a muslin cloth. Squeeze the plant matter until all liquid has been removed. Collect the water and set it aside.
- Put the leaves and flowers into a mortar and pestle with 2 teaspoons of warm milk. Slowly but firmly grind the leaves and milk together, then squeeze the flowers to extract the milk. Continue this process until you have used about ½ cup of milk. Save the extracted milk.
- Add chopped almonds, pistachios, rose petals, mint leaves or any other garnishes to your mortar and pestle, along with more warm milk. Grind until a fine paste is formed. Collect the extract and discard any additional nut fibers or residue.
- Combine all the liquids together, and add garam masala, ginger, fennel, anise, cardamom, and rosewater. Add honey (or sugar) and the remaining warm milk.
- Mix well, chill, serve, and enjoy.
There are many variations on bhang drinks:
To make a bhang lassi, add ½ teaspoon of grenadine and a tablespoon of coconut milk. Some recipes may also call for yogurt, curds, and/or whey for a true Indian lassi.
Thandai is another popular variation on the traditional bhang beverage. Thandai uses the pre-made bhang mixture, but also adds almonds, cashews, melon seeds, dates, and black peppercorn to be ground in the mortar and pestle or hand mixer. Once the thandai paste is prepared, add to warm milk and the bhang mixture and let everything simmer for 4-5 minutes. Pour the mixture into a tall glass and let it chill. Serve the beverage with chia seeds and rose petals on top as a garnish.
Have you ever made bhang? Let us know your favorite variations and recipes!