The psychoactive effects of the cannabis plant can be enjoyed in several kinds of preparation. The simplest way is to collect and then either smoke or eat the dried, resinous buds of mature female plants, most commonly known worldwide by the Hindi term gāñjā (there are many other names for this in dozens of languages). Edible cannabis, commonly known as bhāṅg in South Asia, is prepared in some cultures from large quantities of the less potent lower leaves of the plant (and occasionally also from gāñjā).
Since the late 1970s, cannabis from either gāñjā, caras or hashish has also been made into high-THC refined oil or into higher-potency ‘hashish’ (as oil mixed with plant material) in a process that requires equipment and solvents (see Gold,1989, for processes; see La Valle, 1984, for photographs). Being a concentrate, this product is psychoactively very strong, quite unlike the non-psychoactive CBD oil now sold worldwide in health shops. D. Gold (1989:63) invented a machine called the Isomerizer to extract oil. There are now several kinds of device (‘isolators’) which use iced water and filters for making ‘iso’ oil or ‘hash’ (see Cherniak and Dronkers 2007), and also devices (known as ‘gasolators’) that use instead CO2 gas from cannisters to extract the psychoactive resin.
Caras (hand rubbed)
Another preparation is caras (charas), made by carefully rubbing mature, female buds with the palms of the hands to extract the psychoactive resin. This technique is used in some areas of the Indian and Nepalese Himalayas, and since the 1980s in a minor way in other cannabis producing countries, including Jamaica, Mexico, Colombia and Bolivia; and in Africa, in Senegal, Durban, Transkei, Lesotho and Swaziland, but it is rarely exported. During the 1980s high-quality caras was also made in the Indian state of Kerala.
Each stick, patty or ball of resinous caras is somewhat distinct as it derives from either just one or, usually, only a few neighbouring plants. An experienced caras rubber may produce between 10 and 25 gms in a day. More can be made by vigorous rubbing, but then the quality is lower as the caras consists not only of resin but also other leaf and plant matter. The inclusion of leaf matter results in a certain amount of water in the caras, which quickly leads to white mould appearing; smoking this is harsh and injurious to the lungs. Making caras requires no equipment and can be made from just a few scattered local plants. In Nepal it is not uncommon to find weak caras, which has been mixed with a lot of leaf.
A much more common, global technique is to make hashish, which is done using sieves of various kinds to separate out the resin of the mature female buds from the other plant material, comprising the leaves, flowers and stalks. Hashish has many names in different cultures and languages and is also confusingly called caras in some hashish-producing countries, notably Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In North America it is far more common to use the term ‘hashish’ to refer to both sieved resin and also to caras, whereas in Europe consumers usually distinguish sieved hashish from hand-rubbed caras, which derives almost exclusively from the Indian and Nepalese Himalayas. For convenience, in this article the term ‘hashish’ is used to refer to sieved resin, while the term ‘caras’ is used to refer to hand rubbed resin.
Another difference between hashish and caras is that caras is hand rubbed from individual plants, while hashish is sieved resin derived from a collection of many plants. Up to a kilo of hashish can be made by one person in a day by sieving methods, which is far more than can be produced by hand rubbing. Sieving and pressing hashish requires some equipment and is used for making much larger quantities of resin. Hashish production is and has always been confined almost exclusively to Muslim countries.
Before smoking cannabis became popular, after the introduction of tobacco to many countries by the Portuguese in the late 16th century, hashish was eaten and not smoked.
A great aid to understanding the details of the production of hashish is to explore the magnificent photographic compendia by Laurence Cherniak (1979; 1982; 2007) and Suomi La Valle (1984). The book Hashish! by Robert Clarke (1998), contains the most detailed description of hashish production published to date. Sumach (2016) also has useful information on hashish manufacture and various preparations for curing gāñjā.
Historical hashish cultures
Historically, cannabis as an inebriant—in distinction from use as a medicine—first appears in the Muslim world in the 11th century, when the Seljuks conquered Baghdad (Nahas 1982:815). For several centuries, the main hashish producing regions in the world have all been in Muslim countries: in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Eastern Turkestan (in Yarkand, Shinjiang Province, China), and also Morocco, but only since the 1960s.
However, it remains unclear whether or not the early references to cannabis being used as an inebriant in those countries refer to herbal cannabis or to the resin (as ‘hashish’), as historically the term ‘hashish’ also referred in the Muslim world to herbal cannabis in general. No one knows when hashish was first made with sieving techniques. There are claims in both Lebanon and Afghanistan that the technique was invented there (Clarke 1998:72).
Since the 1960s high-quality hashish has been renowned in the mountainous places Mazar-i-Sharif and Balkh (Afghanistan), Chitral (Pakistan), Maalbek in the Bekaa Valley (Lebanon) and Ketama (Morocco). A small amount of very high-quality hashish has for many centuries been made also in northern Iran, in the area bordering Turkmenistan. Egypt has a long, documented history of cannabis culture dating back to the 13th century, when it was introduced there by Qalandar and Haidarī Sūfīs. However, very little hashish has ever been made in Egypt (a small amount is still made in Sinai); the bulk of it was always imported, mostly from either Turkey, or Lebanon/Syria, a huge trade that continued at least until the mid-1980s (Ram 2020:20–24; 118).
Hashish was also made in quantity around Bukhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan before production largely shifted from there to Yarkand (in East Turkestan/Shinjiang, in south-west China) and Kashmir in the late 1800s (Clarke 1998:45). Several travellers have told me that excellent hashish is still being made in the former Soviet republic of Georgia; it is apparently the best available in Russia.
There is also a history of hashish production in Bangla Desh and, until the advent of communism in Eastern Europe in the 20th century, in the Balkans: in Macedonia and (former) Yugoslavia. This seems to be almost certainly due (again!) to Qalandar Sūfīs, who had a significant presence in the Balkans from the 14th–15th centuries onwards.
From the early 20th century until the 1960s Lebanon and Afghanistan were the world’s largest manufactures of hashish. Production in Lebanon increased greatly around 1905 to supply Egypt, a trade that amounted to fifty or sixty tons annually by the 1930s (Ram 2020:38). Since the late 1970s Morocco has been the world’s largest producer. Very recently, production and exports have slightly increased in Algeria. Since the 1970s, entrepreneurs have made sieved hashish in countries that had no prior history of production.
Hashish in India
From the 1800s until 1934, when the Chinese government outlawed hashish production, Yarkand (in China) was the main supplier of hashish to India; it was considered to be the best quality. In 1923, nearly fifty-four tons of hashish passed through the government warehouse in Leh, in the Indian, Himalayan state of Ladakh; and that does not include smuggled hashish or hashish entering India via the other main trade route, which passed through Chitral in the northern mountains of Pakistan.
In India, hashish is made in the Muslim regions of the states of Kashmir (where it is called gard, ‘dust’; a small amount of caras is also made in Kashmir), in Bihar, in the lower hills of eastern Uttar Pradesh (bordering Nepal), and in Rajasthan. (There may be other states in India where hashish is produced, but I have never encountered it.) Production is only significant in Kashmir. The hashish produced in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan is only for local consumption.
Hashish manufacturing processes
The aim in both sieving and rubbing is to separate mature resin glands from the small leaves in the female buds. Whether by sieving or rubbing, only around half of the THC-filled glands are actually collected from the plant (Clarke 1998:62–76). In general, the higher the altitude that cannabis plants grow, the more resin is produced (though this is not true for all strains), because one of the reasons that the plant produces the resin is to protect it from ultra-violet light. A rule of thumb is that the benchmark altitude above which plants produce greater and more potent resin is 2,700 metres.
Several varying techniques are used for sieving. Mature female plants are first harvested and then taken to a barn (or similar) to dry out, often hung upside down. The dried tops and flower heads are then shaken lightly over a silk cloth pulled taught over a tub of some kind. The finest, grey/yellow/red dust (the mature resin glands), which are between 60 and 120 microns in size, falls and may pass through the pores of the cloth. This separates out all plant material from the resinous dust and is the highest quality. Alternatively, a larger metal mesh may be used first, and then a finer silk or cloth mesh is used again on the same material after the first sieving.
Several metal sieves of progressively coarser mesh may be used to produce lower quality hashish, containing proportionally more plant material. This usually results in at least three grades of hashish. In Lebanon, up to eight grades used to be produced. The highest grade in Morocco is known as ‘Zero Zero’/‘OO’; lower grades are referred to as 01, 02, etc. In the 1970s the grading system went up to 09. Sieving is best done in cold, dry weather, in the autumn.
Plants may first be threshed or beaten between sheets to detach the resin. Clarke (1998:129) describes how in the past in Afghanistan dried plants were first put between carpets; then the family would jump around on the carpets to release the resin powder. The resultant mix of plant material and resin would then be filtered through a fine cloth to separate out the resin powder.
The final stage of production is pressing. A small amount of resin powder is often hand-pressed; this is usually reserved for the farmer. The bulk of the powder is then placed either in plastic bags (in Morocco) or cloth or linen sacks (in Lebanon) and then pressed into slabs in devices that often use car jacks. The resin powder is sometimes mixed with a little water in Afghanistan before pressing. In Yarkand it was first steamed in cloth sacks. The resin powder is sometimes heated before pressing. Heating, usually over coals, turns the yellow/brown resin powder black.
The most common adulterant—amongst many—to hashish is vegetable oil, which is indicated by an acrid taste and a blue flame when heated. Some sand and dirt may also be found in low-quality hashish. The highest grades are particularly potent and full of flavours.
Cherniak, Laurence (1979). The Great Books of Hashish (Volume I, Book 1, Morocco, Lebanon, Afghanistan, the Himalayas). Berkeley, California: And/Or Press.——— (1982). The Great Books of Cannabis and Other Drugs or Researching the Pleasures of the High Society (Volume I, Book II). Oakland, CA/Toronto: Damele Publishing Co./The Arts Services Agency Inc.
Cherniak, Lawrence, and Alan Dronkers (2007). Hashish: The Joy of Making and Curing. Estate Studios & the Hash Marijuana Hemp Museum.
Clarke, Robert Connell (1998). Hashish! Los Angeles: Red Eye Press.
Gold, D. 1989 . Cannabis Alchemy: The Art of Modern Hashmaking, Methods for Preparation of Extremely Potent Cannabis Products. Oakland, CA: Ronin Publishing Inc.
La Valle, Suomi (‘Historical Profile’ by John Julius Norwich) (1984). Hashish. London/New York/Melbourne: Quartet Books.
Nahas, G. (1982). ‘Hashish in Islam, 9th to 18th Century’. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, vol. 68, no. 9, pp. 814–831.
Ram, Haggai (2020). Intoxicating Zion: A Social History of Hashish in Mandatory Palestine and Israel. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Sumach, Alexander (2016) . A Treasury of Hashish. Berkeley: Ronin Publishing Inc.