Informed High - Becoming Informed about Cannabis

Finding Gunjah in India

William O’Shaughnessy was a medical graduate who turned to research. After making a name for himself as a researcher with his valuable paper on a cholera outbreak in Europe, he was sent to India to investigate Gunjah.



The East India Company


To put this into perspective, the East India Company (EIC) reached its height of colonial control in India in 1803, (lasting from 1757-1858 overall). At this time, the private army that ruled large areas of India was roughly 260, 000 strong (Twice the size of the British Army). The EIC was highly interested in extracting any and all forms of wealth possible from India during their rule. Cannabis was widely consumed in India in 1833. And so the EIC decided to send over a scientist to perform research and report back with results. In 1839, O’Shaugnessy was published in a Bengal journal. This report is packed full of details surrounding Cannabis. 



A Colonial Scientist


O’Shaughnessy explored some fantastic topics around cultivation, preparation, consumption of Cannabis. Called Gunjah in India, O’Shaughnessy reported on short-term, long-term and potential effects of Cannabis as well as potential medicinal benefits. This content was new to the Western World and had a lasting impact on Cannabis consumption, specifically medical cannabis.



Why Is It Important?


O’Shaugnessy and his work are influential because he claimed that cannabis has medicinal properties. This report arguably began the scientific inquiry into Cannabis and led to it being used medicinally in the UK. Sadly, for reasons I will discuss later, this progression did not pan out as O’Shaughnessy probably would have hoped.




On the Preparations of the Indian Hemp, or Gunjah


Gunjah was the term used to describe dried hemp flowers with resin (Bud, herb, Cannabis, Marijuana, etc.). O’Shaughnessy studied hemp in incredible detail, not only the appearance, smell, and other details, but also cultivation, recipes used to prepare Gunjah and many more details.



The Sticky Resin


O’Shaughnessy reported that Hemp in India was not like that found in the northern latitudes of Europe. He noted that the resinous secretion found on Indian hemp plants did not also occur in European hemp. He insightfully predicted that differences identified had to be due to climate differences. O’Shaughnessy noticed how “[i]n certain seasons, and in warm countries, a resinous juice exudes and concretes on the leaves, slender stem, and flowers.” This resin appeared to lead to the narcotic powers of Hemp in India. [note]O’Shaughnessy, W.B. (1838). On the preparation of the Indian hemp, or gunjah. Medical and Physical Society of Bengal, p. 421-461.[/note]



Cultivating Resin


O’Shaughnessy talks about the various means of collecting resin in fascinating manners. These include men clad in leather, cloth, or nude running around Hemp fields and rubbing up against all the plants. The residue left on the person would be scraped off and collected. Apparently, the nude runners were used to collect a ‘finer’ substance. This resin would be rolled into a ball and sold like Hash.




Potential Treatment Effects


O’Shaugnessy concluded that what he had seen indicated to him that this was an avenue to medical research worth exploring. He felt that hemp should be a resource that physicians should research and use. O’Shaughnessy found the various hemp concoctions to be used in the treatment of multiple conditions, including:


  • Hydrophobia
  • Tetanus
  • Convulsive disorders
  • Phlegm
  • Flatulence
  • Excites and restores the appetite
  • General Tonic
  • Gonorrhea
  • Hydrocele
  • swelled testes
  • Increase bile secretion
  • Deterging the brain
  • Applied to the scalp, it removes dandrin and vermin
  • Drops of the juice thrown into the ear allay pain
  • Destroy worms or insects
  • Diarrhea
  • Restrains seminal secretions
  • Diuretic
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Asthma
  • Stitches-in-the-side



Cannabis and Tolerance


O’Shaughnessy noted that a person habituated to hemp preparations would require a greater quantity to feel the same effects. A novice could consume half the quantity. He noted that the seeds were albuminous and oily, but without narcotic properties. O’Shaugnessy provided detailed recipes and preparation methods for various concoction consumed in India. These often involve long periods heating over a fire, adding milk, spices, and others.



Effects of Cannabis


The ‘most fascinating’ effects include ecstatic happiness, a persuasion of high rank, sensation of flying, voracious appetite, and intense aphrodisia desire. This appetite leads individuals to eat food with great relish. O’Shaughnessy insightfully noted that these preparations produced an exacerbation of peoples’ natural tendencies. While the inebriation effect is ‘almost invariably’ cheerful, a quarrelsome person could become more quarrelsome. After three hours of being high, sleep takes over. O’Shaughnessy was told that the mental excitement produced by these preparations depends upon the temperament of the consumer.





Sidhee (or Bang) was the term for a preparation made from larger leaves and capsules without stalks. Majoon is a hemp confection composed of sugar, butter, flour, milk, and Sidhee. Sidhee was said to be more intoxicating than wine. O’Shaughnessy noted that all classes of person (including lower Portuguese and females) consume Majoon. It reportedly sharpens the memory, increases eloquence, excites the appetite and acts as a general tonic



Negative Consequences Reported


O’Shaugnessy claimed that most carnivorous animals will eat it greedily, experience narcotive effects, become ludicrously drunk, and seldom suffer any worse consequences. According to other sources, Gunjah and other concoctions were used by “the dissipated and depraved, as the ready agent of pleasing intoxication.” The first-time user may suffer mental derangement, go senseless for a day, become permanently crazy, or even die. If none of these severe health conditions occurred, then, “general corruption of sentiments and manners ensued, modesty disappeared, every base and evil passion was openly indulged in”


Long-time, habitual smokers of Gunjah reportedly die of diseases of the lungs, dropsy, and anasarca. Those who eat majoon or smoke sidhee experience the same, but at a later period. In small doses, effects include stimulating the digestive organs, exciting the cerebral system and general positive actions on the body. In large doses, insensibility and sedation can ensue.



The Catalogue of Deplorable Results


O’Shaughnessy reported that no nausea or sickness of stomach or bowels occurs from consumption of Gunjah. The next day, slight giddiness and vascularity of the eyes was the only symptom worth noting. Beyond these minor symptoms, other consequences were anecdotally reported. Deplorable results of Gunjah consumption were said to include (notice the not-so-subtle moral and religious bias):


  • Weakness of the digestive organs
  • Flatulence
  • Indigestion
  • Swelling of the limbs and face
  • Reduction of sexual vigour, loss of teeth
  • Cowardice
  • Depraved and wicked ideas
  • Skepticism of religion
  • Licentiousness and ungodliness
  • Melancholy
  • Fearfulness
  • Vision darkens
  • Spirits sink





What did O’Shaugnessy think?


As to the evil consequences of Gunjah, O’Shaughnessy shared his own opinion. He felt that these negative consequences did not appear “so numerous, so immediate, or so formidable” as those traced to overindulgence in other stimulants and narcotics (alcohol, opium, tobacco). O’Shaughnessy noted that after consumption the spirit is exhilarated, complexion gains colour, and intoxication occurs. The imagination is stimulated, thirst produced, increased appetite, and increased desire. Here are few descriptions used:


The Promoter of Success
The Causer of Reeling Gait
The Causer of Moving Laughter
The Exciter of Sexual Desire



His Own Research


O’Shaughnessy studied the effects of hemp while in India, where many subjects were given particular preparations of hemp and observed. He stated that “one was becoming very talkative, was singing songs, calling loudly for an extra supply of food, and declaring himself in perfect health.“ Another great quote below regarding how Cannabis “excites wild imagining, especially a sensation of ascending, forgetfulness of all that happened during its use, and such mental exaltation, that the beholders attribute it to supernatural inspiration.“



Further Investigation


O’Shaughnessy was encouraged by what he had seen and early results of testing. He had no hesitation regarding the safety of studying Hemp. None of the experiments indicated any pain or convulsive movement with consumption. O’Shaughnessy started to research the resin of Hemp as he thought it promised the greatest degree of utility. The research performed by O’Shaughnessy is fascination and worth of exploration in a future post. I hope to talk about the effects of this report and O’Shaughnessy’s work in a future post.


Arnold Warkentin

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