It All Started With A Bhang!

BY: Lee Burgess

This week was an important week for over 60,000 Missouri patients and counting. It has literally been almost 2 years since voters approved an amendment to our state’s constitution to allow patients with chronic debilitating conditions to be able to possess, consume, grow, and purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries. Well… it’s finally here. Cannabis is finally legally available for sale in Missouri. And somehow I have a late start on today of all days. I doubt many other patients had that same problem. I knew they didn’t hit their snooze button 3 too many times. I imagine some patients waking up looking at the clock every 15 minutes starting around 730am, wondering if it’s time yet.

Or at least not the ones I knew who were already waiting, lined up around the block, at the first dispensary to open up in the KC area.

St Louis had their moment a few days before. But this was our time. Today was the day it finally became real. Sure, I have a piece of paper from an office I’ve never been to, saying that someone official says it’s ok for me to grow a couple plants in my basement.

But this is different…

There is now a place that you can go to to purchase medical marijuana. It’s been hard to ignore all the excitement coming from everyone I’ve talked to recently. No more wondering why the weed guy isn’t hitting you back after you messaged them 10 times. Maybe you should call again, I’m sure they’ll pick up this time.

Reality is always less glamorous though. Most have built this day up so much that it is going to be tough for anyone to live up to these expectations, realistic or otherwise. Selection is limited, THC % isn’t what most were hoping for, and not to mention its $60 for an eighth and you can only get an eighth without hopping back in line. I would argue most already knew this was going to be the case though. Most knew we were going to have a rough start, but that it’s going to be ok because things are guaranteed to get better.

So, let’s just mark this date on the calendar as a historic day for Missouri cannabis patients and reminisce, reflect, and nerd out for a little. Let’s take it back….like waaaaaaaaaay back.

Most cannabis history buffs agree that cannabis has been used for thousands of years to treat certain ailments. But it was a simple drink in India made from almonds, milk, honey, and cannabis, that led to the first studies of the medicinal properties of marijuana documented in Western Medicine. All of this was started by a drink called Bhang.

Medical marijuana has roots that date back to the mid 1800’s when a young Edinburgh graduate who had gained recognition as a clever chemist named William O’Shaughnessy traveled to India where he took a position at the Medical College Hospital in Calcutta. O’Shaughnessy, who sought to learn everything possible about the colony, and eventually turned his attention to studying a unique aspect of India’s cannabis culture. He was surprised at how many people were openly drinking the cannabis drink known as Bhang.

In India, cannabis has been used to treat certain ailments by adding it to food and drinks for hundreds of years and is a feature of Hindu religious practices, rituals, and festivals — including the popular spring festival of Holi. Bhang is probably one of the oldest nutritional foods, and drinks in the world still regularly used today.

Even though it was tolerated in India, cannabis use was still very illegal and uncommon back in England. British colonials looked at the drug with suspicion and feared that cannabis could cause murderous madness and become a threat to colonial power after reading about “lunatic asylums filled with ganja smokers” in the local papers.

While studying the health benefits and cultural significance of Bhang, O’Shaughnessy wrote “To forbid or even seriously restrict the use of so holy and gracious an herb as the hemp would cause widespread suffering and annoyance,” the report said. “It would rob people of solace in discomfort, of a cure in sickness, of a guardian whose gracious protection saves them from attacks of evil influences.”

In his report, O’Shaughnessy does refer to the consumption of cannabis as a “vice,” however he also notes that the effect of Bhang intoxication is “of the most cheerful kind, causing the person to sing and dance, to eat food with great relish, and to seek aphrodisiac enjoyments.”

So naturally O’Shaughnessy decided to participate in these experiments to understand the effects of cannabis first-hand. While at Medical College Hospital, O’Shaughnessy also recruited patients to be part of what some would call the first clinical marijuana experiments of modern Western medicine. These experiments validated folk uses of cannabis in India, discovered new applications, and ultimately recommended cannabis for a great variety of therapeutic purposes. In articles published between 1839 and 1843, he details the results of his research into the potential of cannabis to treat seizures, rheumatism, and cholera. O’Shaughnessy established his reputation by successfully relieving the pain of rheumatism and stilling the convulsions of an infant with cannabis.

By the 1894 publication of the British government’s Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, the notion that cannabis caused murderous madness had been mostly put to rest. Until you fast forward a couple decades to when Harry Anslinger rekindled the war on cannabis…but that’s another story, for another time.

While we wait for dispensaries, who will eventually be filling their menus with exotic strains and carrying something better than what I can grow in my basement, we can look back and reflect on how we got here. It kinda started with a drink. A drink that may not be available at most dispensaries. So if you want to try something new or if you just need something to hold you over, give this recipe I found at a try.

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

  1. Heat water to a rapid boil, then remove from heat and add the cannabis plant material. Steep for about seven minutes.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Combine all the liquids together, and add garam masala, ginger, fennel, anise, cardamom, and rosewater. Add honey (or sugar) and the remaining warm milk.
  6. Mix well, chill, serve, and enjoy.

Disclaimer – The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician and qualified professional regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives for cannabis’s medical/recreational use.