Welcome to Ancient Hash History 101. You can consider this a college level course on cannabis concentrates, meaning, if you don’t know what we mean by the term “hash” you might find the rest of this lesson a bit difficult to follow. Simply speaking, hash is a collection of the resin glands of the cannabis plant that contain the vital blend of cannabinoids and terpenes that we crave. There are many ways to “collect” those glands, and many ways to ingest them, but those are two different lessons for some other day. Here we plan to get to the root of the matter and try to figure out just how far back the relationship goes between humans and hashish.
Ok then, class is in sesh. Who has heard of the name Genghis Khan? That’s right, he was the most (in)famous leader of the fearless conquering Mongol tribe – think Game of Thrones Dothraki, but they don’t die from a shoulder poke. If you have ever listened to Dan Carlin’s amazing podcast, Hardcore History, you may already know that ol’ Genghis khan’d in so many women during his reign that geneticists today confidently proclaim that 1 in 200 men ON EARTH RIGHT NOW are direct descendants of that one man. But what you may not have known was that he and his roving band of rapists and killers were spreading another sort of seed as well – cannabis – from Afghanistan, to Russia, and Persia, and Central Asia once he unified the Mongol tribes in the year 1206.
Sufis and other peoples displaced by the Mongol invasions fled to the middle eastern lands of Arabia, bringing their hash-y habits with them and we begin to see the substance appear somewhat regularly in written texts from the time, including the legendary Arabian Nights in which King Omar pulls the ultimate wook-Cosby move and ninja-dabs Princess Abrizah to get her sleepy. Though it wasn’t until the 11th and 12th centuries that these contemporary mentions were made, we imagine that humans were dabbling with hash for hundreds of years (or more) leading up to this time.
Most historians point to the fact that the Koran, written in the year 632, makes no mention of hashish and that in itself is proof that humans were not making use of this form of cannabis yet. Well, that’s debatable, considering that the Koran does find the ink to claim that the Earth is shaped like an egg, that semen comes from between the ribs, that mountains are nailing the world down, and that meteors are stars that Allah is throwing at a demon. But, we do not have physical evidence pre-dating it, so we will use that era as a starting point.
Ibn Wahshiyya, an Iraqi alchemist, mentioned hashish in his Book of Poisons around the 10th century, marking one of the first pieces of written evidence of hash use. It was shortly after this time, in 1090 AD, that the legend of the “Old Man of the Mountains” formed. Arabian scribe Sheik Hasan ibn al-Sabbah tells us of an old man who would recruit and train young fighters with the promise of paradise - in this life and beyond - if they joined him in slaying his enemies. This cult of killers – the Hashishins – carried out their murderous methods for nearly two centuries from a fortress in what is now Iran. Their escapades even impressed a young explorer named Marco Polo, who brought home secondhand stories of a feared band of desert-dwelling assassins high on hashish. Some scholars believe that the term ‘assassin’ is rooted in this tale.
Aside from anecdotal evidence and religious screeds over a thousand years old, what we do know for sure is that mankind has been intrigued by the cannabis plant for over 5,000 years, which clearly predates Persians, Khans, and the rest. Anyone who has ever handled or trimmed a freshly chopped pot plant will tell you that the creation of finger- or scissor-hash is inevitable. To presume that it took humans thousands of years to actually light some of it on fire or stick it in one of their holes begs belief.
As influential as the wrath of the Khans was in the proliferation of cannabis and hash across the globe, perhaps the two main reasons for its ultimate rise in popularity did not come until the late 1700’s. It was during this era that traditional old world hash makers began to implement advanced sifting techniques to produce far bigger yields and superior product compared to their former trichome-abusing rubbing methods. This new tech allowed these outlaws to create 200 grams of hash from 100 KILOGRAMS of kief – or a measly .2% yield! They were stoked!
A thriving trade route was established along the Hindu Kush mountain range in what is now Afghanistan, winding through places like Mazar-i-Sharif – both locations later being adopted as the names of powerful strains of Indica-dominant cannabis. These routes continued deep into Pakistan and India, linking existing charas hash trade with Nepal and forming the “Hippy Highway” that countless adventure seekers travelled in the 1960’s seeking enlightenment (and terps!).
This new sift tech also allowed them to ramp up supply to meet a growing demand coming out of Europe and Asia which was fueled in large part by another new development of the era – mass production of tobacco in the New World. Blending tobacco and hash is a long standing tradition in both regions that persists to this day and one plant’s boom inadvertently carried another plant along with it.
By the mid 1800’s you could find hashish being sold legally on the drugstore shelves in Paris, France or even at the local “Les Club des Haschichins“, formed by intellectuals like Gautier, Baudelaire, and Rimbaud. Talk about high society! Less than a century later, however, prohibition had reared its ugly head worldwide when it came to weed and hash production went way underground, and mostly remained a domestic trade with only Morocco continuing to openly act as a hash exporter on the world stage. Other old school hash producing countries like Turkestan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Nepal and Lebanon basically produce enough for their local market and export little, if any, hash to their immediate neighbors.
Here in the U.S., cannabis prohibition is crumbling, state by state, but even pro-cannabis lawmakers still know little or nothing about hash or how to effectively regulate it. Ironically, it is that naive prohibition that has led to so much innovation in the hash-making scene as those flirting with the law recognized that larger yields meant more money for the same amount of risk and stoner-ingenuity did the rest. The result is the most popular products that we see on the market today – bubble hash, rosin, and BHO. We’ll dive deeper into more recent history and some of the legends of today in an upcoming article but for now get out your Scantron and your #2 pencil… just kidding there is no quiz! If you made it this far you are at the head of the class when it comes to the history of hash.
We know for sure that humans were ingesting hand-rubbed charas and hashish dating as far back as the 10th century. Speculation of anything before that is just a fine blend of common sense and assumption, but the odds are good that our first taste of hash dates back much further than the written word would indicate.