CULTURE
A Short History on the Invention and Evolution of Weed-Infused Candy
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Cannabis candies take center stage during the Halloween holidaze. But where did they get their start, what did the first weed treats look like, and how have they developed over time?
Published on October 31, 2019

Lead illustration by Brian Blomerth

Cannabis edibles often come as sweets like candies, brownies, and chocolates. This is due to the cannabis extract’s strong, bitter flavors, which culinary artists can easily mask with other flavors and heaping teaspoons of sugar. And while we know quite a bit about where cannabis likely originated, as well as the plant’s ancient uses, we know very little about how weed became a food.

Obviously, the first people to use marijuana for medical or religious purposes smoked it, usually by ceremoniously burning it. Or in the case of the nomadic Scythians of the 5th Century BC, they got high in vapor baths (essentially OG hot boxes) instead. Others created oils, salves, or balms with the plant, but the origins of infusing weed’s essence into foods remains historically murky.

So, while the cops and naysayers try to frighten everyone away from legalization with the annual Halloween-weed-candy scare, MERRY JANE is here to provide a little context for how we got to the point we’re at today, where cannabis edibles now make up anywhere from 12 to 15 percent of the regulated market. Estimates project that edibles will corner $32 billion in worldwide sales by 2022.

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India, 900s CE: Bhang

History’s first documented weed edible isn’t a hard candy or baked good. It’s a drink, which is a little ironic, considering that drinkable cannabis products are currently the worst-performing sector in the legal markets.

Anyways, the first recorded cannabis foodstuff comes from India, and it’s called bhang (yes, pronounced just like “bong”). Bhang, which is thousands of years old, is traditionally served during the yearly Holi ritual that reveres Shiva or Kali, Hindu’s destroyer-creator god who just-so-happens to hold weed in such high esteem that it’s one of the icon’s most recognized religious symbols. Even young children are permitted to drink bhang, but only during the Holi festival.

Bhang comes with a simple preparation. Basically, pulverize the cannabis flowers, run them through heated, clarified butter called ghee, then mix the mash with milk, cinnamon, cloves, sugar, and other spices. Special government-licensed stores in India sell bhang for religious purposes, though many are known to look the other way when tourists want to try some just for the heck of it. 

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Morocco, 1000s CE: Majoun

Majoun or majun is a fudgy cake-ball first created by the nomadic Berber tribes in North Africa. Sometime in the 11th century, the Berbers became assimilated into North Africa, with most of them concentrated in the area which we now call Morocco.

We have no idea when the Berbers first made majoun, but we can safely assume it’s been around for nearly a thousand years. Majoun can be prepared without weed, but the traditional recipe calls for cannabis extract (and datura seeds, which can sprout into the powerful hallucinogen known as jimson weed). In 2013, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain got to see some majoun traditionally prepared in Morocco, but, as he said to the camera, “network standards and practices prohibit me from even tasting this delicious and reportedly mind-altering treat. I'm guessing, anyway. So until I see Chris, John, and Wolf [of CNN] doing bong rips in the Situation Room, I will of course abide by these rules, because that's the kind of guy I am.” 

That’s too bad, since majoun is what ultimately inspired the pot brownie’s popularity in the US. More on that later, though.

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The West, 1800s CE: Candies

While Central and East Asia knew about the wonders of weed for thousands of years, it took awhile for the folks in Western Europe (and later the US) to catch on. Cannabis extractions have long been included in foods, drinks, and snacks for medicinal purposes since ancient times, but seeing as most cultures never felt the need to print cookbooks (cooking used to be an oral tradition passed along through families), we don’t know when the first weed candies were made, or who made them.

But we do have old timey advertisements from the 1800s which show that, indeed, cannabis-infused candies have been with us in the West for years. The one featured here came from a Chicago newspaper in 1864. Notice that the “Hasheesh Candy” was marketed for medicinal use, such as treating “confusion of thoughts,” nervousness, and fever, but it was also sold as something to get you thoroughly fucked up: “A pleasurable and harmless stimulant confectualized” for “seekers after pleasure and the marvelous.” 

Why did this explosion of weed products occur in the 1800s? It was the time of empires, and Western Europe and the US both busied themselves back then by conquering foreign nations and subjecting those conquered people to colonial worker-ant conditions. Many of these colonies were in Central and East Asia, and the imperialists brought the medicines and traditions from those cultures back to the West. In the cannabis realm, the most famous among them was Dr. William Brooke O'Shaughnessy, an Irish physician who discovered medicinal weed while traveling in India. Sometime around 1841, he brought weed oil back to the British Royal Society, where he pitched it as a non-toxic treatment for cholera, convulsions, tetanus, and rabies.

While we may never determine who first began producing and marketing weed candies back then, we do know these treats were hot items in the 1800s. For instance, the world’s most powerful ruler at that time, England’s Queen Victoria, ate weed-infused chocolate truffles to manage her debilitating menstrual pain

Gallery — Weed-Infused Food From Our "Baked to Perfection" Column:

US, 1950s: Brownies

We usually think of the ‘50s as an American era filled with god-fearing individuals who attended church every Sunday, dressed the same way, got their milkshakes at the local mod diner, and danced… badly.

Most folks don’t associate the ‘50s with weed brownies, but that’s the same decade our community’s most iconic edible started entering the mainstream.

In 1954, San Francisco’s Alice B. Toklas, most famous for being the life-partner of feminist Gertrude Stein, published The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book. While most of its recipes are fairly sober, one stuck out in the popular imagination: Hashish Fudge, based on a majoun recipe she got from a friend.

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Randy Robinson
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Based in Denver, Randy studied cannabinoid science while getting a degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. When not writing about cannabis, science, politics, or LGBT issues, they can be found exploring nature somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Catch Randy on Twitter and Instagram @randieseljay
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