They may be stigmatised as addicts, but Bhang buffs believe that the intoxicating herbal concoction can solve everything – from enhancing their sexual performance to keeping them away from crime.
It is not a solution medical practitioners or law enforcers are about to endorse, but despite being illegal, the love of Bhang continues to attract people in Sindh.
Glamorised in Bollywood films, Bhang is made from the leaves and flowers of cannabis. They are ground together, put through a strainer and water is poured over it. The intoxicating drink is consumed by those who want a cheap fix and can’t buy bootleg alcohol or locally brewed products. A Rs50 jug will suffice for five men.
Bhang isn’t just served up in glasses. Those who cannot afford to be slave to it, use Bhang after boiling it for a few minutes. It is also chewed, and some consume it with betel leaves. One addict told The Express Tribune that it is also smoked.
Addicts call it Thadal or Pyalo and to mix up the taste, its leaves are ground with almonds, spices, cardamom and black pepper.
They believe that these ingredients improve mental capacity and make the mind and body more powerful. The longer it is ground, the stronger the impact.
There are different kinds of Bhang. The innovatively titled Martial Law bhang comes from Punjab and offers a stronger level of intoxication. Sindhi Bhang is grown at hilly areas within the province. And the third variety, Nagan Bhang is apparently made from the skin of a dead snake.
Addicts propound a number of theories about the benefits and history of Bhang. Yousuf Lakho, who has been addicted to it for 15 years, claims it was a “favourite of Sufis because it purifies the inner soul and keeps its users away from sin”. He also argues that it enhances your ability to concentrate.
In what law enforcers might find an innovative argument, Lakho claims that Bhang addicts tend to stay away from crime unlike other substance abusers. “It restrains one from doing things which are harmful for others or society,” he explained. “Basically it is a cowardly intoxication.”
Other addicts believe that Bhang has healing properties and can serve as a tonic for a ‘healthy mind and body’. Abdul Rehman Jokhio testifies to its properties: “I had a peptic ulcer and one of my friends advised me to use Bhang. It really worked and healed my pain. I am addicted to it now,” he said.
In general, cannabis is believed to deaden libido and performance, but Bhang users argue otherwise, saying the drink could be called the poor man’s Viagra. “It is magic,” Jokhio argues. “There is no alternate medicine and some of my friends use Bhang for this.”
The drink is popular in the countryside when the hot weather hits. “A little bit goes a long way and relaxes you,” said Jokhio, explaining that the almonds help add to the cooling effect.
Bhang is served at upscale Holi parties in Karachi but the well-heeled are generally keen not to be seen with the brew and drink it in secret. “We have a strange society where good things are forbidden and bad things are used openly,” one user quipped. A well-known writer, for example, admitted to using Bhang but said he did not want to be named. Its effect is so strong, he said, that he has a drink when he needed to work with complete concentration.
Unlike alcoholic beverages like wine or drugs like hashish, whose effects last for a limited time, Bhang, its fans say, can last up to 24 hours. Sufficient warning for anyone who decides to try it.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2012.