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The use of the Cannabis as medicinal drugs in India from ancient texts (part 1)


Reference to cannabis drugs is found in the classical literature as well as in old medical works of many countries in the world. In Indian literature the earliest reference to the word " bhang " occurs in the Atharva Veda, which, according to western scholars, dates as far back as 2000 to 1400 B.C. Whether the term was used at that time to mean only a particular species of a sacred grass, or the true cannabis plant, is an open question. The reference to the flowers of plant as bhang in the works of Panini (circa 300 B.C.), however, appears to be fairly reliable evidence that probably the true cannabis plant was meant. There appears to be no doubt that the cannabis plant was believed by the ancient Aryan settlers of India to possess sedative, cooling, and febrifuge properties.


The first mention of the use of bhang as a medicine occurs in the works of Susrata, believed to have been written in the sixth or seventh century where it is described as an anti-phlegmatic. In the tenth century the narcotic and pain-relieving properties of the plant seem already to have been recognized, and in the fourteenth century these were certainly well known, as they are frequently mentioned in the dramatic literature of that period. The occurrence of such names as "vijaya" (unconquered), "virapatia" (hero-leaved), "ganja ", "capta" (light-hearted), "ananda" (joy), "trilok kamaya" (desired in the three worlds), and "harshini" (the rejoicers) indicate amply that the intoxicating and pleasure-giving properties of the drug were well known. The other names for bhang occurring in the books of Hindu medicine are: ranjika, bhanga, tandra krit, bahuvidini, madini, madika and madu.

In the plains of India, the cannabis resin which constitutes charas is not generally secreted; but the young female flowers and shoots show a tendency to develop the narcotic principle instead, and these constitute the ganja of India. In mountain parts of India, the narcotic property is often not developed in the cannabis plant until the fruits are mature.

When the plants begin to form flowers, the services of an expert known as a "ganja doctor" (" Paddar" or "Parak-dar ") are requested. He goes through the field cutting down all staminate (male) plants, leaving only what are colloquially known as "madi" (female) plants.


This operation is of the greatest importance in preventing seed formation. The presence of even a few staminate plants in the field may suffice to damage the entire crop, since in that case fertilization of the female plants takes place and most of the flowers run to seed. The ganja yielded by such plants is of poor quality and scarcely saleable. The female plants come to maturity about the beginning of January, but the ganja is not fully developed till a month later. The crop intended to be made into what is technically known as "flat ganja" is reaped a few days earlier than that for " round ganja.


The cannabis drugs are used in India in three main forms - bhang, ganja and charas. Bhang is composed of the matured leaves and, in some parts of India, also the fruit of the cannabis plant. Ganja is derived from the flowering tops of female plants and twigs, which are covered with resinous exudation. Charas is the resinous exudation secreted by the leaves, young twigs, bark of stem and even the young fruit of the female cannabis plant.


Bhang consists of the dried matured leaves and flowering shoots of both female and male plants, wild or cultivated. The inclusion of male plants and male flower-heads in the manufacture of bhang is of no special advantage, as the male flowers contain very little of the active principle. In fact, Prain, the famous botanist, stated that male flower-heads and shoots were excluded from the specimens of bhang he examined. There is little doubt, however, that in case of ordinary bazaar samples, male flowers are also included. Judging from the crude methods of collection and preparations in use, which consist simply of drying the plants and striking them against a block of wood so as to separate the leaves from them, a satisfactory separation of the male and female flowers is hardly to be expected. Apart from this, the waste that collects on the kneading floor during the preparation of ganja is often also mixed with the bhang commonly sold in excise shops.

The narcotic principle in the plant develops only when it matures, reaching its maximum at about the time of flowering and then gradually declining and beginning to disappear when the leaves and flowers turn yellow. For the manufacture of good bhang, therefore, the leaves should be separated when they are just mature and when there are no signs of decay or withering. The time of collection varies in different localities, but generally the months of May and June in the plains, and July and early August in the hills are considered best.


Ganja consists of the dried flowering tops of the cultivated female cannabis plant, which become coated with a resinous exudation, chiefly from the glandular hairs, in consequence of being deprived of the opportunity of setting seed. As the female plants begin to form flowers, all the large leaves on the stem and branches are also removed. The smaller leaves and the bracts of inflorescence become agglutinated into a mass called ganja. Fresh ganja has a rust-green colour with a characteristic odour. The material thus collected is further treated to form the ganja of commerce which appears in two forms: flat ganja and round ganja.

For the manufacture of flat ganja, the plants are cut about six inches from the ground and exposed to the sun for a few hours. The stems which do not bear flower-heads are then cut off and the flower-heads are laid on the grass and left overnight to the action of the dew. The following morning the plants are sorted into bundles and arranged in a ring on a mat with heads directed towards the centre and overlapping each other. Treading and kneading are then commenced and continued till the narcotic resin is pressed firmly among the flowers in the desired form. Fresh bundles are placed over those which have already been pressed, and the treading is repeated. This goes on till the ring rises to about one foot in height, the whole mass being then pressed together. The flowering twigs are removed from the stocks and beaten so as to shake off any redundant fruit or leaves which may be left. These twigs are then rearranged in a fresh circle so that the twigs from the top are brought down to the bottom and the whole process is repeated. On the following day, the whole sequence of operations is repeated again and again till the resin and flowers consolidate into a flat mass near the apex of the twigs. The mass thus prepared constitutes flat ganja.

Round ganja

After the useless twigs and leaves have been rejected, the flowering tops are placed on the ground in a straight line below a bamboo pole fixed horizontally in such a way that the treaders can rest their arms and support themselves while treading or trampling. The plant is rolled so that the resinous material collects near the apex to form a sausage-like mass. The rolling is repeated several times; then each twig is picked up and trimmed separately. When the resin loosens, it is moulded into the desired form.

Chur or Rora Ganja

This is a third variety of ganja which is prepared from either flat or round ganja. Perfectly dry flat or round ganja is boiled in such a manner that the homogeneous mass is broken up into loose fragments of resinous matter. The fragments are usually distinct and do not stick to each other. This preparation resembles charas more closely than ganja and is believed to be more potent.


Charas is the resinous matter collected from the leaves and flowering tops and constitutes the active principle of the plant. As sold in this country, charas is a greenish mass with a peculiar characteristic odour. When kept for some time it turns to a brownish-grey colour, becomes hard and friable and loses most of its narcotic activity.

Although the cannabis plant when cultivated in tropical regions of  India, Africa and Malaya, is rich in narcotic principles, it seldom yields sufficient resin to be collected as charas. Charas is sometimes collected on the plateaus of central Asia and the southern Himalayas (Nepal), but both the yield and the quality are poor. The highest yield and best quality of charas resin are obtained from plants grown in Yarkand in Chinese Turkistan in central Asia. In that area there is an extensive natural growth of the plant at altitudes of 3,000 to 5,000 ft. above sea level, and it is also cultivated. The plant flourishes and reaches a height of 8 to 10 ft. It matures during the months of September and October, when on the top of each plant appear big tufts of flowers which are collected. The female flower heads are first dried, then broken and crushed between the hands into a powder which is passed through sieves so that it attains the fineness and consistency of sand or sawdust. This powder, which is still green, is stored in bags made of rawhide for four to five months during the winter. At the onset of hot weather, the material is taken out and exposed to the sun for a short time-sufficient to allow the resin to melt. It is stored again in hide bags of 10-14 lb. capacity. After a few days the agglutinated mass is again taken out and kneaded well by means of wooden rods so that a certain amount of oily matter appears on its surface. The process of kneading is continued till each bag yields about one to two pounds of oil. At this stage charas is transferred into new hide bags and is ready for distribution and sale.


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