I was at a party, and while the vibe was great, my friend seemed to lose all sense of socially acceptable behaviour. Out of control, he veered his way through the gathering, laughing his head off at the most mundane happenings. This wasn't the first time I've seen someone inebriated, after guzzling down bhang. I've seen people sobbing, telling whoever is within hearing range, of something tragic that befell them a decade ago, another giggling his way through the group of ladies and yet another who lost his shit over his laces being a muddle.
What is it that makes people lose control of their emotions, once they've had themselves some bhang? Before getting to that, WHAT IS BHANG?
Bhang since mythological times
The drink has its roots in the Indian culture, traditionally associated with Shiva, who is also known as the 'Lord of Bhang'. His destructive personality also extends to the metaphysical world where he is the destroyer of ignorance and illusion. This particular trait is enhanced by his use of cannabis. However, the Vedas suggest Shiva used the drug, not as an escape from reality, but rather as a way to gain a mastery of his senses.
This has frequently been portrayed in paintings and art, and devout followers of Shiva smoke their chillums too, to reach a state of sadhana, in imitation of their deity. Shiva’s power over his senses exempts him from any potential dangers, which are associated with consuming cannabis to such an extent.
Apart from stories of Shiva, there are other mentions of cannabis in religious texts. The Naga babas and Aghoris, as they are known, drink bhang very regularly in their attempt to reach the height of salvation. Tales tell us of how these saints would smear ash on their faces and retreat into remote caves in the Upper Himalayas for years at a time, meditating and only ever leaving their solitude to come down to the MahaKumbh Mela, an event that takes place once in 12 years.
The myths around the benefits of bhang lassi for health and success have grown over thousands of years. Quoted as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions, ranging from epilepsy to depression in the Vedas, bhang is believed to be an omen of success. A dream of bhang is seen as a telling sign of future prosperity.
What is bhang?
The buds, leaves, and flowers of the female cannabis plant are dried, grounded and soaked to form a paste. This mixture is then christened ‘bhang’. Famed for its role in India festivities, it is also pivotal in Ayurvedic medicine and is promoted as a remedy to various ailments, including nausea, vomiting, and physical pain.
How is bhang consumed?
While you’ve probably only had bhang at religious gatherings, bhang-infused food and drinks can also be purchased from street vendors and government-approved shops. A very popular drink is bhang lassi, which is prepared by mixing bhang with curd and whey. Another delicacy is bhang goli, prepared by mixing the freshly ground cannabis leaf with water. Bhang can also be combined with sugar and ghee while preparing sweets. In religious events or celebrations such as holi, bhang is added to some milk, and the concoction is enjoyed.
How does it work?
Why bhang produces an absolutely high level of 'extreme behaviour', may lie in how it affects the brain. Cannabinoids - the main active chemical compounds in the Cannabis plant affect the nervous system of humans. Among the various cannabinoids found in the cannabis leaf, the most common ones are
This is the main psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant, which is responsible for the "high" people experience after consuming foods and beverages containing bhang. If you've seen some extreme behaviour in people after a drink of bhang lassi, you know what to blame.
Cannabidiol is very similar to the endocannabinoid, which the body produces naturally. Due to this similarity, the cannabidiol can bind to the body's cannabinoid receptors. Once they bind, the brain's ability to transmit signals through your body is impacted.
Benefits of bhang
Yes, bhang mixed with milk, at the last event did make your friends lose their wits but, bhang does come with its own set of benefits. The next time you're suffering from nausea or vomiting, you may want to try some bhang goli. In a study conducted in people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, people were given either cannabis-based products, conventional anti-nausea drugs, or a placebo. The results indicated that those given cannabis-containing products were less likely to experience nausea and vomiting, compared to their peers.
Pain reduction is another one of the most common medicinal uses of cannabis products. A study in 614 people with chronic pain showed that 65% of those who used medically prescribed cannabinoids, reported improvements in pain. Do you have a 9-5 after which the muscle spasms get unbearable? Have a bhang goli! Evidence suggests that cannabis products may reduce muscle spasms in people with multiple sclerosis (MS), a medical condition that typically affects the brain and spinal cord, often causing muscle spasms.
The cannabis leaf goes into the making of bhang, and this may also be effective at reducing seizures, especially in people not responsive to other treatments. A recent study found that CBD-containing products may help reduce seizures in children with a type of epilepsy (a seizure disorder) resistant to drugs.
The other benefits of marijuana are protection against cancer. Test-tube and animal studies show that cannabinoids may destroy or limit the spread of certain cancer cells. These marijuana or bhang products can improve sleep in those who face sleep disorders. If you suffer from a loss of appetite, marijuana to the rescue! Promoted as a remedy to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Tourette's syndrome, dementia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Parkinson's, and schizophrenia, the uses of bhang are many fold.
However, not enough scientific evidence exists to support these benefits.
Possible risks of bhang
Bhang is known for causing feelings of euphoria, but if the amount is unregulated, it can bring on depression, short-term memory, affect balance, cause fear, and also go to the extent of promoting paranoia or psychosis! Heavy or long-term use of bhang - especially when consumed at a young age - may alter brain development, increase dropout rates from school, and lower life satisfaction.
Cannabis products may also increase the risk of certain disorders, such as depression and schizophrenia, and if consumed when pregnant, a woman can be put at the risk of premature birth or poor brain development in the infant.
Bhang mixed with foodstuffs, slows down the rate of absorption of the food by your body. This can make it hard for you to judge and adjust your intake. This can increase your risk of taking in too much - causing irregular heartbeat, very low blood pressure, and confusion. Having said this, bhang deserves a try, if you haven’t had it yet.
Bhang recipes for you
Why wait for Holi, when you can give bhang a try right now? Here are some fun recipes you can go ahead with.
Ingredients: Bhang, ¼ cup almonds, ¼ cup pumpkin seeds, ¼ cup watermelon seeds, ¼ cup cantaloupe seeds, 1 tsp black peppercorns, ½ cup water, 2 tsp sugar, 8 cups milk
- Soak the almonds in water overnight and in the morning, peel off the skin.
- Blend almonds, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, cantaloupe seeds, black peppercorn and water until it becomes a thick paste. Add sugar and milk and store in a refrigerator for around one hour.
- Mix the bhang paste with thandai for more than a minute before serving with lots of ice cubes and dry fruits.
Ingredients: Bhang, ¼ cup blanched pistachios, 2½ cup yoghurt, 2 tsp whipped cream, 2 tsp khus syrup
- Mix yoghurt, cream and khus syrup in a bowl and store in a refrigerator to cool.
- Grind pistachios finely.
- Blend pistachios and bhang paste for two minutes.
- Add the yoghurt mixture and blend for another two minutes.
- Serve with lots of ice cubes and fruits.
Bhang masala chai
Ingredients: ¼ cup dried cannabis leaves, 2 cups water, 4 cups milk, ¼ cup sugar, 1 inch cinnamon stick, 6 cloves, 6 green cardamom pods (cracked), 6 black peppercorns, 1 tsp fresh minced ginger, 1 tsp oil, Half-n-half cream
- Process the dried leaves and make a coarse powder.
- Put the powder, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon stick, cloves, green cardamom pods, black peppercorns, ginger and oil in a pan and let it boil.
- Reduce the flame and let it boil for around 15 minutes.
- Let it cool and strain the mixture in a jar and tighten the lid.
- Pour ¼ cup of half-n-half cream and ¾ cup of strained tea in a cup. Warm it in a microwave and serve.
Bhang ki chutney
Ingredients: ¼ cup cannabis seeds, 2 serrano pepper, 3 tsp fresh lime juice, 2 tsp fresh peppermint leaves, 3 tsp water, ½ tsp salt
- Roast the seeds on medium heat for three minutes or till they turn brown. Turn off the heat and let the seeds cool at room temperature.
- Grind the seeds into a fine powder.
- Grind the seeds again with pepper, lime juice, peppermint leaves, water and salt and make a smooth paste.
- Serve fresh as an accompaniment to your snacks.
Bhang ke pakode
Ingredients: 200 gm cauliflower, 200 gm potatoes, 150 gm onions, 200 gm brinjal, 100 gm spinach, Oil, 250 gm chickpea flour, a pinch of baking soda, a pinch of red chilli powder, salt to taste, 5 gm bishop's weed, 5 gm pomegranate seed powder, 10 gm cannabis seed powder, water
- Peel, wash and cut all the vegetables.
- Mix chickpea flour, baking soda, salt, red chilli powder, bishop's weed, pomegranate seed powder, cannabis seed powder with water and make a thick batter.
- Dip the vegetables one by one in the batter and deep fry them on a medium flame till they turn golden brown.
- Serve hot.