Bhang Lassi: The Indian Drink That May Be the World’s Oldest Cannabis Treat

Karthika Gupta
June 15, 2023
5 min read
Karthika Gupta
May 18, 2023
5 min read
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Ask any Indian if they have ever heard of bhang lassi, and chances are you will get a reference to two famous Bollywood movies that brought bhang into the limelight—Aap Ki Kasam (1974) and Silsila (1981). Both these blockbuster Indian films showcased bhang lassi (a cannabis-flavored yogurt drink) as a trippy concoction that people drank to get “high.” While there is some truth in that, it has a lot more cultural significance in India than just a way to get blitzed. 

Lassi is a traditional drink that is typically found in many South Asian countries. It is made by blending yogurt, spices, water, and sometimes fruits. It can be either sweet or savory. When cannabis is infused into this drink, it becomes a bhang lassi which is creamy, sweet, and slightly spicy. 

Bhang is an edible mixture that is made from the leaves, buds, and flowers of the marijuana plant, which many claim has been used medicinally as early as 2800 BC. In India, it has been added to food and drink for thousands of years and is still prominently consumed during many religious rituals, prayer ceremonies, and festivals.

The food of the god Shiva 

North India landscape.

The cannabis plant is often found growing in the wild in India, especially in the mountains and hills around the northern states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, and Rajasthan. But, in many of the villages around the Indian Himalayas, it is seen more as a weed than an edible. 

However, in Indian mythology and ancient Hindu scriptures, bhang is a sacred plant associated with the divine powers of Lord Shiva, the god of destruction and one of India’s most revered deities. It is believed that he used it to focus and harness his powers for the good of mankind, and bhang is often associated with nirvana (salvation). 

While bhang lassi is a drink that can be had at any time, it is especially significant during certain Indian festivals—Holi, celebrated in March as an ode to Spring, and Maha Shivaratri in February, which honors Lord Shiva. Bhang lassi is consumed by many adults as a way to acknowledge the change of the seasons and get closer to the gods in a euphoric state of mind. 

“Bhang lassi is very much a cultural expression in northern India. It is a way for people to connect with their beliefs and faith,” says Samta Gupta, a chef and food entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry. “But it also has practical benefits. The northern part of India gets unbearably hot in summer, and this drink acts as a cooling agent due to the yogurt. A tall glass of bhang lassi does wonders for the mental and physical disposition by acting as a source of happiness and a liberator,” she adds. It also makes for a refreshing drink on the weekend—the perfect way to relax and unwind. 

From bud to bhang 

India’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985 prohibits the production, sale, and consumption of certain parts of the cannabis plant. This excludes the leaves, flowering top, and seeds from which the resin has not been extracted. Since bhang is made from the leaves, and not made from part of the banned cannabis plant, it can be openly consumed in India. Government-authorized bhang shops are found in many North Indian cities like Jaisalmer, Pushkar, and Varanasi. According to the Asian Cannabis Report, around 15 million people in India consume bhang each year (about 1% of the population).

While there are many different ways of making bhang lassi, the traditional method is to blend fresh cannabis leaves, plain yogurt, a pinch of sugar, and nuts like almonds and pistachios, along with spices like ginger powder, fennel seeds, cardamon, and peppercorn, and water. 

In India, when lassiwalas (people who make lassi) make this drink using fresh cannabis leaves, they grind the roasted leaves into a paste-like consistency using a traditional mortar and pestle. The paste is then mixed with milk and strained before adding the yogurt, nuts, sugar, and spices. It is combined using a hand mixer in an earthen pot, which keeps the lassi cold. The bhang used is generally mild, but you can ask for a medium or strong lassi for a longer-lasting high. The result is a thick spicy drink that is sure to give the right kick—getting you closer to that happy state of mind—and, who knows, maybe even your version of moksha (enlightenment).

Where to have bhang lassi in India

bhang lassi drink

Because of the restrictions around bhang in India, it is important to have it at government-authorized shops. You can either have it on-site or get it packed to go. However, consuming bhang lassi is a very social activity so expect to be invited to join others at the table. Both Indians and Westerners can consume bhang lassi in India and while no one is going to check your ID or verify your age, avoid buying it for kids and young adults. Here are a few spots that are well-known across Northern India:

Sarkari Theka Bhang in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh

This government-authorized shop in the holy city of Mathura sells bhang lassi and sweets made from bhang leaves. 

Doctor Bhang in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

Perhaps the most famous bhang shop in India, this one has been around since the 1970s and reportedly even had a famous visitor: Anthony Bourdain. The shop sells bhang chocolates, sweets, and traditional lassi. You can choose the concentration of bhang in your lassi, so if it is your first time, go for the “baby” portion before jumping into the medium and large sizes.

Blue Lassi Shop in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

This 70-year-old shop is famous among Indians and Westerners who visit one of India’s most sacred cities, Varanasi. It serves both non-bhang and bhang lassis with lots of dry fruits for a more decadent version of the traditional drink.

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Last Updated 
June 15, 2023
Karthika Gupta
Freelance Writer

Karthika Gupta is a lifestyle and travel photographer, freelance writer, and podcaster. She writes about culture, travel, lifestyle and food across several different print and online publications. Follow her adventures on her site CulturallyOurs or on Instagram at @karthikagupta.

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