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.
What is bhang and how is it made?
Bhang is a mixture made by drying, grinding, and soaking the buds and leaves of the Cannabis sativa plant to form a paste that’s added to food and drinks.
Bhang has been consumed in India for centuries. Though cannabis is considered illegal in most parts of the country, the sale and consumption of bhang seem to be tolerated.
This may be especially true in religious cities, where bhang-infused food and drinks can be purchased both from street vendors and government-approved shops.
However, the Indian National Policy on Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances only permits the addition of the leaves and no other parts of the cannabis plant
One common way to consume bhang is blended with curd and whey — the solid and liquid parts of milk that separate when milk is coagulated — to make a beverage called bhang lassi.
Another popular option is bhang goli, a drink consisting of freshly ground cannabis mixed with water.
Bhang can also be combined with sugar and ghee — a clarified butter commonly used in India — and used to make sweets.
Bhang is made by grinding and soaking parts of the Cannabis sativa plant to form a paste, which is used to prepare cannabis-infused food and drinks.
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.”
Bhang is an edible mixture made from the buds, leaves, and flowers of the female cannabis, or marijuana, plant.
In India, it’s been added to food and drinks for thousands of years and is a feature of Hindu religious practices, rituals, and festivals — including the popular spring festival of Holi.
Bhang also plays a role in Ayurvedic medicine and is promoted as a remedy to various ailments, including nausea, vomiting, and physical pain.
If you’d like to try bhang yourself, here is a common bhang recipe:
- 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.
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
- 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
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.