As we all know, pot has been around for quite a long time. People around the globe have been using it since the beginning of recorded history – and likely for a long while before that. And for as long as there has been cannabis, there’s been a variety of ways to prepare it. One of the oldest methods – having been around since at least 1000 years before the birth of Christ – is a beverage called bhang.
Bhang is a drink made from cannabis leaves and flowers, crushed into a paste with a mortar and pestle, steeped in hot water and mixed with milk and spices. The spices can vary by recipe, but you can generally expect to taste one or more of the following: Cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, anise, fennel, honey, garam masala, honey or rosewater. It can also be turned into a dense, sweet confection called halva; a kind of chutney; or small, chewy tablets. Typically, though, it’s served as a drink.
As you may have guessed from the spices (and perhaps the name), bhang is part of Indian culture and cuisine, associated with a variety of Hindu festivals – Holi (the festival of spring), Maha Shivaratri (a celebration of Shiva, one of the supreme beings who protects the universe) and Janmashtami (a celebration of the birth of Krishna, the god of compassion and love), to name three.
Bhang makes it nearly impossible for the Indian government to make cannabis completely illegal. Weed itself has been more or less illegal in India since the 1960s, but growing cannabis is legal and heavily regulated. Indeed, for the purpose of legality, bhang is not really even considered cannabis (which seems silly, but OK). Bhang and bhang powder are sold across India at dispensaries licensed by the government.
It’s also used in Ayurvedic medicine – an ancient system of healing developed over 3,000 years ago in India. Ayurveda promotes balance between body, mind and spirit, focusing on overall wellness rather than simply fighting or treating disease (for that, head for Western medicine). Its treatments include herbal remedies (like bhang), massage, yoga, dietary guidelines and meditation.
Indeed, bhang has all the health benefits of using cannabis – it helps patients with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. It relieves pain. It helps with muscle spasms, seizures and nausea. It helps regulate mood. It may even help fight cancer (but again, if you have cancer, bhang is not a complete and reliable treatment, so see a doctor and don’t rely on medical advice from a weed website).
So how does it taste, and what’s the high like? Well, that can vary. One user told a Vice writer that it tastes “like the bottom of a garbage bag,” and at least one Quora poster seems to have gotten it confused with booze and had a terrible experience. But most people seem to like it, particularly served in lassi form (like a cross between a milkshake and a smoothie). Even if the taste isn’t great, well, that’s not exactly why you’re drinking it. Kava tastes terrible, yet drinking it is a pleasant enough experience. Terpenes or no, weed isn’t known for its fantastic flavor, and there’s a reason bhang is loaded with strong flavors like honey and cardamom. If you get the chance to drink it, don’t pass it up just because it might taste bad!
As to the high, well, that will depend on a lot of factors – your own reactions to weed and the strain of cannabis being used being the two main ones. That Quora poster notwithstanding, there are plenty of great stories about people having fun with bhang for the first time. Here’s a fantastic story about a woman who tried to get high with bhang, failed miserably, then tried again to great success.
There are, though, a few things you should keep in mind when consuming bhang:
It can hit you pretty hard. Even seasoned potheads can be taken by surprise when they consume bhang. It’s generally pretty high in cannabis content, and ingesting that much weed at once can result in an edible high that could be too intense for a lot of people. If you’ve never tried weed before, maybe don’t make bhang your first experience with it, and even if you’re an advanced user, try sips instead of gulps.
Don’t buy it from just anyone. Those government-run shops we mentioned earlier? If you’re touring India, stick to those unless you have a very trusted friend who’s giving you bhang. Street vendors can mess with the product in a way that makes it either less potent or more dangerous.
Don’t drink it on an empty stomach. Have something to eat before you sample bhang. Having a little food in your stomach will help prevent nausea. Yes, bhang is used to treat nausea, but sometimes first-time users need to ease themselves into the experience.
Don’t mix it with booze. Who needs booze when you’ve got weed? Seriously, though: You’re most likely to consume bhang at a festival, where you might also find yourself exposed to lots of alcohol. Avoid it if you’re planning on drinking bhang. And remember bhang is an edible, so it can take time to kick in. Don’t assume it doesn’t work on you and start drinking. You could find yourself in a world of trouble.
Remember it’s not just a party drink. For many, bhang is a sacred beverage, so be respectful, especially if you’re trying among people of the Hindu faith. On the other hand, bhang is meant to be enjoyed, and part of its sacredness is in the celebration – so don’t be too shy about that case of the giggles it gives you.
H Y D R A T E. Again, you’re consuming a lot of cannabis at once, so you’re very likely looking at an atomic case of dry mouth. Keep a water bottle handy. Keep two water bottles handy. And have a nice healthy guzzle of H2O before you even drink your bhang.