Harvesting and Preparing Marijuana and Hashish


Scientific Foundations

To obtain maximum potency, the timing of the harvest is critical. Sometime after the seed has become fully mature, the plant will begin to senesce and die. Cetrahydrocannabinol production begins to decrease and cetrahydrocannabinol begins to degrade into cannabinol (this happens in the living plant as well as after harvest). Unfortunately, a reliable, scientifically-proven method of determining exactly when to harvest in order to maximize cetrahydrocannabinol and minimize cannabidiol has yet to be developed.

One approach is to harvest the plants continually by pinching off or pruning the flowering tops. Another is to cut them back severely to within a foot or so of the ground, leaving some leafy branches, which are removed several weeks later when the new branches have sprouted. Outdoor growers who have to deal with climatic fluctuations tend to harvest their whole crop as soon as it’s mature, but in areas where the climate remains mild, large outdoor crops can also be harvested continually for as long as six months.

Farmers in Asia sometimes bend the stem of the plant near the base or cut it and insert a small stone or a piece of opium a few days before harvest. They believe that this will increase its potency, but there are no reliable data on this point, and there is no apparent mechanism by which potency increase could occur. After harvesting, it is common practice to hang the cut plants upside down for curing. These and other methods may rest on the mistaken belief that cannabinoids are synthesized in the roots and translocated to the top of the plant. This is not true. Actually, the specialized cells which synthesize cannabinoids happen to be more numerous and perhaps more active in the flowering tops than elsewhere.

Most descriptions of the preparation of Cannabis products are second-hand repeats of nineteenth century accounts — none too accurate to begin with. The accounts generally derive from India and adjacent areas and use the native terms for the products. Since the procedures they describe are the world’s oldest for the preparation of Cannabis products, it is appropriate to recount a few of them here. Most are from the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report (1893-1894).

Marijuana: Harvesting and Hashmaking in India

Hashmaking in Lebanon

In 1932, Lys described the preparation of hashish in Lebanon, specifically in the areas of Zahle, Ras-Balbeck and Horns. Sometime between August and November, depending mainly on when the seeds were originally sown, the females are harvested and left for a week in the open air. The plants are then placed in the shade for further drying. When dry, the tops are shaken and gently beaten over a cloth. The resultant powder is sieved to eliminate the larger pieces of stem and the seeds. The highest quality is that obtained from the first shaking (hashish zahra or zahretel kolch), which is brown. The remaining powder is placed in small cloth bags and steamed. The resin melts partially and is pressed into the desired shape, usually foot-shaped pieces called soles or turbahs. Second quality (zahret el assa) is light brown, and the more crumbly third and fourth qualities are greenish yellow or green.

Hashmaking in China

I.C. Chopra and R.N. Chopra, the Indian marijuana experts, have said that the highest yield and best quality charas (hashish) comes from the western area of Sinkiang province near the town of Yarkand. It may still be produced there, since a recent visitor to China reported legally purchasing hash and hashpipes and seeing old people getting stoned in the parks.

There, the plant grows at altitudes up to 5000 feet and reaches ten feet in height. At maturation (September and October), the female flower tops are collected and dried, then crushed between the hands into a powder which is passed through seives until it has the consistency of fine sawdust. This greenish powder is stored in rawhide bags during the four or five months of the winter. At the onset of hot weather, the powder is exposed to the sun long enough for the resin to melt. The resin is stored for a few days in 10- to 14-pound leather bags and then kneaded with wooden rods until each bag yields one to two pounds of the oil, which appears on the surface of the kneaded resinous mass. The charas is then transferred to hide bags for sale. As in other areas, cloth bags may be substituted for rawhide ones and steam may be used to melt the resin.

Hashmaking in Greece

A report by Brotteaux in 1934 describes a different process used by the Greeks. According to him the males were weeded out as soon as they were recognizable. When the females were fully mature and the basal leaves began to yellow, they were harvested and dried. The flowering tops were crushed between two pieces of linen which yielded a resinous powder, then placed in white linen bags and squeezed in a press. The press produced flattened cakes with the mark of the fabric on them. The preparation of hashish in Greece was described by Rosenthaler in 1911. At that time plants were grown only in the Tripolis area, since neighboring areas had failed to yield potent material. About three to four million kgs were obtained each year. Rosenthaler says nothing about separating males and that the product, in contrast to that from India, was full of seeds. Seeds were sown in February and March and harvested at the end of August. The plants were cut, bundled and placed in the open to dry for two to three months. Then the seeds and stems were separated and the stems were burnt and used as fertilizer. In December and January the entire harvest was turned into hashish in factories employing 80 to 100 workers each. They collected the dried bundles and beat them with sticks to yield a powder, then sifted through a series of sieves in a tiresome and expensive process. Only 10% of the original material became hashish. Most of that was exported by devious routes to Egypt.

Potent Preparations for Smoking, Drinking and Eating

For thousands of years Cannabis has been made into a variety of beverages, foodstuffs and, since the sixteenth century, smoking preparations. It has been commonplace, especially in smoking mixtures, to add other potent psychoactive drugs. The possible additive or synergistic (producing a different or greater effect together than alone) effects of these combinations have not been studied. Opium and the leaves of various Solanaceae (tobacco, henbane, Datura), the latter containing scopolamine type compounds (jimsonwecd), have been frequent additives. The anassa or nassa formerly used in Russia was probably of this type. The hashish kafur used in the East contained opium and a sweet-smelling substance mixed with powdered hashish and rolled into thin sticks five to ten cm long for smoking.

The drinking preparations are of two main types. For assis, one grinds the leaves or tops in a mortar with water and consumes the whole thing. For the esrar type, one macerates the leaves with alcohol mixed with syrups or jams diluted with water of roses, jasmine or orange blossom. Bers (or berch), chastig and chats-raki (anise scented) are of the esrar type. A preparation of this sort was very popular among underworld people in the Krasnodar area of Russia in the 1930’s.

Not surprisingly, most of the eating preparations contained large quantities of honey or sugar. Manzul contains about 10% hashish mixed with sesame oil (and often cocoa butter), powdered chocolate, spices and seasonings. A wide variety of crushed or chopped nuts or seeds may be added, and the thick paste is often cut up into flat discs one cm thick and three cm across. Hashish is sometimes added to the helwa (haloua, heloua) type of confection so popular in the Middle East. These sweets are characterized as aphrodisiacs in Arab medicine — with opium, cantharides (Spanish fly) and seeds of Strychnos nux-vomica containing strychnine frequently added. Majagun is very similar except that honey and then gum arabic powder arc added to form a paste which is made into pellets for swallowing. Synonyms are magoon (India), majun (Turkey), and madjun (North Africa).

For dawamesk (or dawamesc) the hashish powder or flowering tops are simmered in butter or oil of almonds or sesame and strained. The oily extract containing most of the cannabinoids is flavored with cinnamon and cloves, musk, etc., and aphrodisiacs are often added. Mapushari is the term used if rose extract and powder are added. Mosmok, mosjuk, teriyaki, banghia, tnalak, assyuni, and teridka are names for related preparations. The following is the recipe for a confection of this type from Morocco.

  • Almonds and walnuts 1 kg
  • Cubeb, Nutmegs, Malaguetta pepper 250 g
  • Datura seeds, Belladonna Berries 50 g
  • Cannabis Tips, Honey 1 kg
  • Butter 500 g

Garawish varies in that the ingredients are added to a well-cooked syrup, thickened with further heating and poured on an oiled surface to cool. In Algeria, barley sugar was used in its preparation.

Powdered hashish or flowering tops are sometimes added to rahat lokum (Turkish Delight) along with starch, sugar, water, nuts and essences of rose and orange. The hard, rectangular pieces are rolled in starch and sugar in the East, but the familiar candy of this name is sold in the West without the coating.

The stuffing in dates sometimes contains hashish. Kiste, kibarfi, misari, and kulfi are prepared in India and occasionally elsewhere; and briji, capsh, ikinji and zahra are found in Syria and Palestine.

Selections from the book: “Marijuana Chemistry: Genetics, Processing, & Potency”, 1990.