1675: English sailors get high on cannabis in India

Thomas Bowrey (died 1713) was an English mariner, merchant and ship-owner. As a young sailor, Bowrey made many trips along the spice route, traveling to Africa, India and south-east Asia.

Bowrey was an also an avid writer and a student of foreign lands, cultures and customs. His travel diaries, spanning 1669 to 1679, were discovered and published at the beginning of the 20th century. These papers describe an incident in the mid-1670s when Bowrey and “eight or ten” of his men were on leave in Bengal.

While there they sampled some of the local bhang, or cannabis-infused water. According to Bowrey’s diary, he and his shipmates each paid sixpence for a pint of bhang, which they guzzled down behind locked doors:

“It soon took its operation upon most of us… One of them sat himself down upon the floor and wept bitterly all afternoon; the other, terrified with fear, did put his head into a great jar and continued in that posture for four hours or more… four or five lay upon the carpets highly complimenting each other in high terms… One was quarrelsome and fought with one of the wooden pillars of the porch until he had little skin upon the knuckles of the fingers.”

Bowrey himself “sat sweating for the space of three hours in exceeding measure”. He described bhang as a “bewitching” substance; anyone who uses it for a month or two cannot give it up “without much difficulty”.

Source: Thomas Bowrey, Geographical Account of Countries Round the Bay of Bengal 1669-79, published 1905. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.