There is something to be said about the joy (or sadness) of scoring a piece of charas.
First, the feeling-out process takes place as the piece is pressed and massaged between one’s fingers to discern the suppleness and pliability.
If it feels too hard, an immediate sense of disappointment starts to sets in. And if you picked it up without taking a good look beforehand, then the disappointment quickly gives way to genuine fear:
‘Fuck, am I going to have to smoke this? I hope it tastes better than it feels.’
But even if it does pass the metacarpal massage test, more trepidation follows:
‘Please smell good. Please smell good. Please smell good.’
Or, for some of us, depending on the time of the year or the desperation of the situation:
‘Please don’t smell like Vicks. Please don’t smell like Vicks.’
As soon as the initial layer of plastic wrap is peeled off, the aroma starts to escape the packaging and float around faintly, instantly providing the answer to the most important question:
‘Higher wala or medium wala?’
If all goes well, the beholder's face portrays an expression of relief, satisfaction, jubilation, and sometimes, even (an attempt at) a poker face. If you’re not so lucky, you can rest assured that it will be impossible to hide your grief
Whether you paid in rupees or kidneys, hopefully, you’re satisfied that you know what you’re spending on.
At least, you think you know what you’re spending on.
What if you were to find out that charas isn't what you think it is; that it is possibly far from the best investment to make for your recreational activities because of what goes into it?
This is the point at which all the highly affronted ‘Bombay Bhaijis’ begin to offer their gyan. But as a result of the amount of dhyan I’ve given this, no amount of gyan is likely to change my opinion on what I'm about to tell you. (I’m open to other opinions, but I’m going to need some amount of science to back them up to take them seriously.)
But before we get to the big reveal, a quick 101 for those of you who aren’t aware of how charas is made:
The marijuana plant has a sticky surface. The stickiness is caused by the plant’s oils and compounds called Cannabinoids (including the notorious THC and the glorious CBD), otherwise known as the family of compounds responsible for getting you fucking baked.
Throughout the majority of the plant’s lifespan, these compounds grow on the surface of the plant almost like a thin layer of fine wax.
To make charas, a big, long bud of the marijuana plant is held between the palms by a labourer and rolled/massaged. Depending on the force, technique, and rate of hand movement, an amount of this sticky layer and some plant matter from the agitation remains on the palm of the labourer, who moves on to the next stalk and repeats and continues the process.
The sticky layer begins to accrue more and more, as it eventually becomes the colour of a dark chocolate. At some point, using its readily adhesive properties, the layer is peeled from the hands, pressed into shape (if needed) and the process restarts. You wind up with a ball of nothing but the psychoactive compounds and essential plant oils.
Sounds good, yeah?
Not to me. I see a few problems with this.
Human hands sweat. No gloves are worn in the process of rubbing charas, in case you were unaware. With a layer of black goo on your hands and the mountain sun shining down hard at 8000 feet above sea level, you can be almost certain that there is a small layer of sweat always forming on the labourer’s palms, mixing with the contents of the charas.
The lack of gloves also means that the same hands that rub your charas have probably also rubbed a nose, butt crack, and toenail before and/or during the time your piece was rubbed. It's hard to say how much of each is in there, but it is almost certain that there is some amount of mucus, nail grit, and bum-fluff in every ball of hash.
And that's just the beginning. Rub your hands together slowly for just two minutes. Tell me how much human oil and raw skin gets rubbed off of your hand. Most people can create a little black ball just by rubbing their palms together at the right speed and with the right force. This is just with the day-to-day filth that collects on our palms, and of course, the billions of dead skin cells. Yessir, ain’t no maal like that dead-skin-cell maal.
Furthermore, the removal of the charas from the palms is done by sticking and peeling; a big, sticky piece is pressed onto the charas-laden palm, and then quickly peeled off, pulling some of the charas off of the palm and onto the bigger piece. This is repeated innumerably until the palm is clean of charas. How many layers of dead skin gets peeled off in this process? Your guess is as good as mine.
So, the average content of unwanted filth in a piece of charas? As a complete shot in the dark, I’d say possibly anywhere from 10% to 40% depending on how it was rubbed, but who the hell really knows? Nobody is going to be conducting a randomised controlled trial on this any time soon.
But while we can’t measure it quantitatively, we can do it qualitatively. So we conducted what is really quite a simple test. A friend with some consistent regional hookups got some labourers to undertake a simple task: spend one day rubbing with powder-free nitrile gloves, and one day rubbing as they normally would.
The difference in end product was nothing short of staggering.
In comparison to charas made with gloves on, charas from bare palms was: significantly darker, far more gooey (glove charas crumbles like a cookie), filled with far more fibres when looked at under a simple magnifying glass, of a completely different smell and flavour.
The darker colour could have been for a number of reasons. Generally, darker colour is associated with the breakdown of phenolic compounds and/or chlorophyll. We do not have the pre-requisite knowledge to shed light on this process; a botanist’s or biochemist’s opinion would be valuable here.
Palm charas sticks together far more than charas made from the glove; this is a reproducible result with a 100% rate of occurrence. While glove charas breaks apart very easily, palm charas does not, and is more inclined to stay as a single piece rather than crumble. The fibres observed could be anything; we have no way of telling if they’re plant fibres or external, as the marijuana plant’s buds are covered in ‘brown hairs’ (pistils) that dislodge and become a part of the charas, regardless of whether we’re dealing with gloves or hands.
Smell and flavour were the largest distinguishing factors. Once taken into consideration, there was simply no way to tell that the maal rubbed by glove and palm was from the same batch of plants!
The palm-charas smelled far more sweet and ‘rounded’, in addition to having a strong smell of marijuana. The glove-charas did smell extremely potent, but the sweet smell was completely absent.
Clearly, there is something special happening during the palm rubbing process that is not happening when charas is rubbed with gloves. Through a process of elimination, one is left with the following, somewhat disconcerting assumption: the presence of skin cells, human oils, sweat, and assorted gunk in hand-rubbed charas makes it taste good. However weird that may sound, it is what it is.
Are you willing to smoke something with so much crap in it, regardless of what the crap may be, as long as it gets you baked? Pot for thought.
The Happy Farmer is the founder of Spliff Politics Co.