This Irish Physician Was An Expert On Bhang In 19th C. India
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IF William Brooke O’Shaughnessy had got his dream job — a professorship in Medical Jurisprudence at the University of London — then he wouldn't have become a pioneer in the West's understanding of the medical uses of cannabis. 

On completing the second of his two India stints, O’Shaughnessy was known more for the advancements in telegraphy that he made possible in the subcontinent. Yet, his earliest (and enduring) achievements lay in a field closer to his specialisation. 

Circa 1830s,O’Shaughnessy — recently married and looking to make his name — had arrived in Calcutta. He took up a position at the city's Medical College Hospital, which would later be the site of many of his famous studies on cannabis.

At the time, the Colonial powers had invested in a fair amount of scholarship to understand their "subjects" better, in order to ultimately control them better. There was a lot of interest in indigenous customs and practices, and this was the backdrop against which O’Shaughnessy's medical trials unfolded.  

The recreational and religious use of cannabis among the local population had long been a sore spot for the Colonialists — a product of their staid Western worldview. If the War on Drugs was this era's most vociferous campaign against illegal intoxicants, then the Colonial clampdown on cannabis was notable for its time. Habitual cannabis users were admitted in asylums, as the use of bhang and other hemp related products was seen as a sign of mental illness.

O’Shaughnessy proved far less rigid than his counterparts. He began investigating the local use of cannabis to ameliorate a variety of symptoms and ailments. He also noted favourably, its effect on the demeanours of those who consumed it: saying they  took to singing and dancing to show their elevated state of mind.

In his 1842 volume, The Bengal Dispensatory, he included several recipes for hemp edibles, including 'sidhee', 'subjee' and bhang, as also for 'majoon' (or ma’jun),  a cannabis-infused milk-based sweet that Emperor Humayun preferred. Another recipe was for "weed ghee", made with cannabis butter, milk and sugar.

From 1839 to 1843, O’Shaughnessy carried out his meticulous (if occasionally ethically grey) experiments on bhang use. Seizures, rheumatism and cholera were some of the conditions he felt cannabis might ease. He also established that bhang/hemp could effectively treat "infantile convulsions" — nearly 200 years before the US' FDA reached a similar conclusion. Much of the prejudice against cannabis in the colonies was done away with, when the govt-backed "Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission", published in 1894, noted that there was no basis to believe bhang and other forms of cannabis use were bad.

Now if that isn't a bhang-ing good story, what is?