Article: 20131101075

Title: Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany

20131101075
201311010075
HighTimes_20131101_0040_454_0075.xml
Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany
On the origin of marijuana usage in South Asia.
Introduction
South Asian Psychoactive Cannabis Products
0362-630X
High Time
Trans-High Corporation
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article
Cannabis is one of the world’s most useful plant groups. It has been a part of human culture for thousands of years beginning in Eurasia, and today it is associated with people in almost all parts of the world. Although cannabis is most often thought of as a “drug plant,” its use for a huge number of other purposes, including fiber, food, paper, medicine and so on, is almost unparalleled, ranking it with the coconut palm and bamboos.
Robert C. Clarke
Mark D. Merlin
Photographs
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Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany

On the origin of marijuana usage in South Asia.

Robert C. Clarke

Mark D. Merlin

Introduction

Cannabis is one of the world’s most useful plant groups. It has been a part of human culture for thousands of years beginning in Eurasia, and today it is associated with people in almost all parts of the world. Although cannabis is most often thought of as a “drug plant,” its use for a huge number of other purposes, including fiber, food, paper, medicine and so on, is almost unparalleled, ranking it with the coconut palm and bamboos. Cannabis is truly a remarkable genus of multipurpose plants with extensive and complicated histories. A fully comprehensive, documented history of cannabis’s evolution and its widespread, diverse use by humans has never been published.

Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany is a comprehensive, interdisciplinary exploration of the natural origins and evolution of this famous plant, highlighting its historic role in the development of human societies. Cannabis has long been prized for the strong and durable fiber in its stalks, its edible and oil-rich seeds, and the psychoactive and medicinal compounds produced by its female flowers. The culturally valuable and often irreplaceable goods derived from cannabis deeply influenced the commercial, medical, ritual and religious practices of human cultures throughout the ages, and desire for these commodities directed the evolution of the plant toward its contemporary varieties.

Following is an excerpt from Chapter 7, which explores historical aspects of psychoactive cannabis use for ritual and recreation. This section describes cannabis drug preparations from South Asia, which were ah traditionally made from C. indica ssp. indica narrow-leaf drug (or NLD) biotypes growing naturally within the region for thousands of years. NLD cultivars were disseminated through early farming cultures across southern Eurasia from Southeast Asia to Anatolia, and by the nineteenth century had spread to the New World. Before the 1970s discovery of C. indica ssp.

afghanica broad-leaf drug (or BLD) hashish cultivars popularly known as indicas, ah recreational and medicinal cannabis consumed worldwide was derived from NLD cultivars originating in South Asia called sativas. Twenty-first-century taxonomic research sheds light on the evolutionary relationships of the various cannabis biotypes.

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REPORT OF THE INDIAN HEMP DRUGS COMMISSION OF 1893-94.
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In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Indian NLD marijuana (ganja) was grown on large farms in Bengal, India, and was also the source of Cannabis indica medical preparations.
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South Asian Psychoactive Cannabis Products

The hemp with which we used to hang Our prison pets, you felon gang, _, 7. 7 In Eastern climes produces Bang, Esteemed a drug divine. —Lord Neaves (1800-1876)

Bhang and ganja have long been used in South Asia, largely in ritual contexts. The larger leaves of the female plant, as well as the male plant, contain relatively less and sometimes only meager amounts of THC compared to the female flowers , ^ ,. ., , and therefore provide a much milder preparation, which is usually swallowed. In the Persian and Hindi languages, this grade of drug is called bhang, named after the cannabis plant itself, but it is not commonly consumed in the West.

Bhang is taken orally in the form of small balls or mixed with water or milk in a beverage also known as bhang. This drink is regularly used by the lower classes in India and by a wider crosssection of the population on certain religious holidays. Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a seventeenth-century French traveler to the Near East, offered the following account of Persian bhang drinking: “The Persians have another kind of brew, very bitter and disagreeable to the taste. They call this bengue [bhang]. It is prepared from hemp leaves with some other drug added which makes it stronger than any other brew they use. Those using this get strangely mad. It is forbidden by law, whereas other beverages are allowed. It would be difficult to find many in Persia who were not given to some of these beverages without which apparently they would find no pleasure in life.”

In more recent times, bhang is most often consumed either ritually or recreationally by blending it into a beverage. Today it is imbibed by both local people and foreign travelers. In a simple preparation, cannabis leaves are pounded, mixed with sugar and black pepper, blended with a little water, and added to milk, thin yoghurt (lassi) or milk tea. More complex formulations may include ground nuts, spices and aromatic resins. Cannabis is also added to various foods as a way of achieving altered consciousness. Halva (a sweet confection, but not to be confused with Middle Eastern halva made from sesame seeds) is made by first boiling bhang in jaggery (unrefined sugar) syrup. This hot liquid is then filtered to remove most of the plant matter and mixed with flour and clarified butter. Powdered cannabis leaves are also added to curries. Bhang dumplings (pakoras) are made by mixing fresh or dried cannabis leaves with chickpea flour, to which water and the desired

condiments (e.g. salt, black or red

pepper, ginger, cumin seeds) are added. Small balls of the dough are fried in mustard oil and eaten as snacks. “On festive occasions, these pakoras are sought with great felicity” (Sharma 1977a).

The Irishman William Brooke O’Shaughnessy (1808-1889) is credited with introducing cannabis medicines to the West. During his time in India with the British Bengal Army, he was posted in many locations and befriended a number of Ayurvedic and Islamic physicians, some of whom interested him in the value of cannabis as a therapeutic drug. O’Shaughnessy described in detail a simple and highly effective protocol for extracting the active ingredients of cannabis with clarified butter fat (ghee), the process having been “repeatedly performed” by “Ameer, the proprietor of a celebrated place of resort for hemp devotees in Calcutta,” who was considered to be the premier “artist” in his profession at the time. According to O’Shaughnessy’s account, the fat-soluble THC was extracted into a relatively small proportion of ghee, and then any watersoluble contaminants were removed, so the concentrated extract could have been extremely potent. Confections called majoon were made from this extract, and this sweet confectionary use can be compared with the after-dinner food offerings eaten in Roman times. Additional ingredients combined into majoon candies included poppy, cucumber and caraway seeds, almonds, ginger, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and rosebuds. These pungent spices may have been preferred by the well-to-do because they masked the distinctive herbal taste of cannabis extracts or because they were expensive. Bhang extracts were also used to make a green ice cream known as hari knlfi.

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MOJAVE RICHMOND
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Modern hybrid NLD x BID sinsemilla cultivars have been bred for high yields and exotic appearance, and consequently they barely resemble the landraces from which they originated.
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Dried, unfertilized (and therefore seedless) pistillate inflorescences and adjacent leaflets from the top of female cannabis plants form a very potent preparation known widely as marijuana, or by many other names including its Hindi name ganja, which is usually smoked in pipes or cigarettes but can also be added to cooked foods. In modern India, ganja, which is to be smoked, is usually diced up with a little dried tobacco, and sometimes a few drops of water are added.

A little tobacco is placed in the chillum

(conical smoking pipe) first, then a layer of the prepared ganja, and then more tobacco and a coal on top. The chillum is passed around, and each person takes a single draw. Effects differ from those occasioned by eating bhang: “Heaviness, laziness, and agreeable reveries ensue, but the person can be readily roused and is able to discharge routine occupations” (O’Shaughnessy 1839).

The New World equivalent to seedless ganja is sinsemilla (colloquial Spanish for “seedless”) marijuana. Ganja is most often cultivated by removing male plants to prevent fertilization of the females and prevent formation of seeds. In actuality, removal of male plants is rarely complete and some, but significantly fewer, seeds form. Many more seeds would form if male plants were allowed to freely fertilize the females. However, intersex plants with both male and female flowers are fairly common in Indian varieties, and special workers called podhars were employed to remove them. Throughout the nineteenth century, areas surrounding Khandwa and Gwalior in central India and Bengal in eastern India were the largest producers and exporters of ganja to the remainder of the Indian subcontinent. Much of this legal ganja was exported to the Northwest Territories and the Punjab region along the Indus River; these were the ancient lands of the Vedas where cannabis use was prevalent. One of the few remaining seedless ganja cultures was located in Kerala along the western shore of the southern tip of India. In 1985, ganja, production and sales were still licensed in Madhya Pradesh,

In modern India, ganja, which is to be smoked, is usually diced up with a little dried tobacco, and sometimes afew drops oj'waterare added.

Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal states, which compose the traditional ganja-cultivating regions of India.

The most potent preparation of cannabis consists of concentrated resin glands (the product of secretory hairs called glandular trichomes), which are collected from flowering female plants and compressed into solid lumps. This prepara-

tion, referred to as hashish in Arabic and charas in Persian or Hindi, can be quite powerful and is often smoked and mixed with tobacco. The first, and certainly the most widely used, concentrated cannabis drug was hand-rubbed charas, collected in much the same way as it is

today. Nomadic peoples could have easily accumulated it during their seasonal migrations and used it throughout the year, while the production of powdered hashish would have required at least temporary settlements where cannabis plants could be dried and sieved. Large-scale

production of hashish requires agricultural production and a concentrated work force, which could only be supplied by settled agrarian communities.

Nepal has a long tradition of harvesting cannabis resin by rubbing the flowers of ripe female plants, and remains the most internationally well-known source of hand-rubbed hashish. Many popular legends report that cannabis resin was collected on leather aprons or naked skin. In Nepal, hashish is known as charas and usually refers only to traditional handrubbed resin, which is by far the most common form found in the Himalayas. However, most Nepalese

usually smoke ganja or swallow bhang concoctions rather than smoking charas. Ganja is still the preparation favored by sadhus and the lower classes in Nepal, while charas is more expensive and can be afforded only by upper-class Nepalese and foreigners.

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Multipurpose cannabis crops are sown with dense spacing in small gardens throughout the Himalayan foothills of western Nepal. Whole plants consisting only of a single stalk topped with an inflorescence are harvested and carried back to the village, where the psychoactive charas resin is rubbed from the flowers, the seeds removed, and the fiber peeled from the stalks. Three products are derived from each plant: fiber for weaving cloth, seeds for eating and sowing, and psychoactive charas resin to smoke.
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The British-administered Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission of 1893-94 was an extensive survey of cannabis cultivation, processing and local usage performed with the intention of taxing the cannabis trade. It describes the preparation of hand-rubbed charas in India:

The female plants, having been cut in November, are spread out to dry for 24 hours. The people then sit around in the heat of the day, and pluck off the flower heads, which are now full of seed, discarding the coarser leaves. Each handful is rubbed between the palms for about ten minutes and thrown aside. In the course of time a quantity of juice accumulates on the palms, which is scraped off and rolled into balls. These are charas. Sometimes the plants are trodden instead of handled and the feet scraped.

A more uncommon method, by which a choice kind of charas is obtained, is to pass the hands up the ripe plants while they are still standing in the field.

Charas was also rubbed from plants in a few scattered regions across India until the early 1980s and is still produced for commerce near Manali in the northern

Charas was also rubbed from plants in a few scattered regions across India until the early1980s and is still produced for commerce near Manali in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.

Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The paucity of evidence concerning the history of hashish has resulted in much speculation as to the antiquity of the preparation itself. Many assume that hashish is ancient, although proof of early manufacture or use is sorely lacking. Archeological evidence and historical records from Eurasia may help determine more specifically where hashish originated, but this is unlikely to happen in the near future. However, the general origins of hashish may he traced through historical records to Central Asia, but precisely where or in which period is yet undetermined. All of Central Asia has been contested territory for millennia. Invaders and merchants from both East and West brought their cultural influences, various traditions,

beliefs and legends together, while leaving few written records. Although presently we do not know when it started, there was significant trade in hashish {charas), at least in more modern times, from Central Asia to India, moving along innumerable trade routes and over high Himalayan passes to South Asia from the region formerly referred to as Chinese Turkestan (now known as Xinjiang, the “new frontier” province in Central Asia). In 1937 and 1938, this trade accounted for 42 percent of the total value of products being moved from Xinjiang to India.^

Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany is published in large format by the University of California Press, and its 464 pages are lavishly illustrated with color and black-and-white photos, maps, line drawings and tables. The first 800 copies will be bound in hardcover.

Robert C. Clarke is a cannabis researcher and projects manager for the International Hemp Association in Amsterdam. He is the author of Marijuana Botany and Hashish! as well as the co-author of Hemp Diseases and Pests.

Mark D. Merlin is a botany professor at the University of Hawaii at Mänoa. He is the author of Man and Marijuana and On the Trail of the Ancient Opium Poppy as well as the co-author of Kava: The Pacific Drug.