The Ganja Houses of the 1800s

If you were to take a stroll down an old street in the 1800s, you might have come across a strange establishment called a ganja house. These houses were where cannabis smokers gathered together to enjoy the benefits of hashish. They also offered patrons a much calmer experience than smoking opium, which was popular at the time.

At the time, smoking cannabis was still experimental and sporadic. These havens allowed people to smoke and consume marijuana in peace without having to worry about the judgment of others.

In this article, we'll discuss the ganja houses of the 1800s in more detail and take a look at a literary account by H.H. Kane in Harper's monthly of these establishments from 1883.

Cannabis In The 1800s

Cannabis has been used for centuries for multiple purposes, including medicinal, religious, and recreational. Its use dates back as far as ancient Asia.

Yet, it was not until the late 1800s that cannabis began to be smoked and enjoyed in the western hemisphere for its psychoactive properties. This is primarily due to the spread of hash, also known as hashish, a concentrated form of cannabis.

At the time, no laws against cannabis existed, and you could find it openly in various forms such as hashish or marijuana. Cannabis was also used as an ingredient in many medicines and was even advertised in medical journals.

In the early 1800s, recreational cannabis use was frequently confined to certain circles, such as artists and musicians. However, it wasn't until the late 1800s that recreational cannabis became more popular and widespread. There were also ganja houses popping up in the United States and most likely different European countries during this time.

Once cannabis started to gain popularity, people began to experiment with different ways of consuming it. One popular method was to mix cannabis with tobacco and smoke it in a pipe. Some people ate it, and others rolled the cannabis into cigarettes, which is still a common way to smoke cannabis today.

H.H. Kane's Account of a Ganja House

In 1883, Harper's New Monthly Magazine published an account of a ganja house written by H.H. Kane.

Kane was visiting friends in New York when introduced to a ganja house. He entered the establishment and found several people smoking cannabis products. The cannabis products being smoked appeared to be of high quality, and Kane noted that the experience was much more enjoyable than smoking opium.

Kane's account provides a unique perspective on ganja houses in the late 1800s. It offers insight into the different types of people who smoked cannabis and the atmosphere they created.

If you're interested in learning more about Kane's ganja house experience, check out the video below:

What Are Ganja Houses and What Was Their Purpose?

Ganja houses were designated places where cannabis smokers could come together and enjoy the effects of hashish and other cannabis products. In addition, patrons often enjoyed other pleasures, such as teas, opium, and tasty treats.

These ganja houses were most likely found in larger cities, such as New York, and served as a place of respite for cannabis users without worrying about being judged. In fact, ganja houses were often seen as quite special, especially for women, as they allowed them to smoke in peace.

Ganja houses were often adorned to enhance the effects of cannabis usage. These homes might be quite opulent and contain ornamental features like lights and music to enhance the smoking experience. For example, in Kane's description of a ganja house in New York, he details elaborate gardens, elegant colors, and intricate fabrics. These intricate details helped create an environment conducive to smoking cannabis by making the experience more pleasurable.

The ganja houses of the 1800s were quite different from the dispensaries we see today. They weren't necessarily there for people to purchase cannabis products but rather smoke them. Although it's possible that some ganja houses may have sold cannabis products, this was likely not their primary purpose.

Who Frequented Ganja Houses and Why Were They Popular?

According to Kane's account, these ganja houses were typically frequented by men and women from the upper and middle classes. These establishments were seen as a place to socialize and relax in a time when opium smoking was becoming more popular and frowned upon.

International travelers were also known to visit ganja houses to try different cannabis products from around the world. At the time, ganja houses served as a place of experimentation and allowed people to engage in activities that they couldn't do elsewhere. In addition, they provided an opportunity for people from all walks of life to come together and enjoy cannabis without judgment.

These houses also offered people an alternative experience and allowed them to explore different sensations and mental states. At the time, ganja houses and cannabis were often considered much calmer and less harmful than opium dens, which were much more prevalent.

Cannabis Products Available in Ganja Houses

Like the cannabis products available today, the cannabis products of the 1800s varied in potency and effects. You could find hashish, marijuana, and other cannabis derivatives in ganja houses. Hashish was the most popular form of cannabis at the time and was made from the resin of the cannabis plant. Due to its potency, hashish may have produced more psychedelic effects than other cannabis products.

Marijuana was less potent than hashish but still produced psychoactive effects. Marijuana was made from the leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant and was often smoked in cigarettes or pipes.

A Different Experience Than Opium Dens

In the 1800s, ganja houses were seen as a different experience than opium dens. Since opium is addictive, it had much harsher side effects and was more frowned upon. Cannabis, on the other hand, was not considered addictive and offered a different sensation.

The literary account of ganja houses from Harper's New Monthly Magazine provides an interesting perspective on these establishments in the late 1800s. H.H. Kane, who visited a ganja house in New York, described the experience as much more pleasant. As a frequent opium smoker, he found the experience of consuming cannabis to be much more calming and enjoyable.

Club des Hashischins

Like the ganja houses in the United States, cannabis was experiencing quite a revival in Europe as well. For example, the Club des Hashischins was a group of Parisian artists and intellectuals who gathered together to smoke hashish in the 1800s.

Members of the Club des Hashischins included writers, painters, and other creative minds. They met regularly to smoke cannabis and discuss art and philosophy.

The club was not only a place for people to smoke cannabis but also to engage in intellectual discussions about art and life. It was a place for people to come together and explore their creative sides.

The history of these ganja houses and gatherings shows that people have enjoyed cannabis for centuries. Even though cannabis is illegal today, it's clear that the plant still holds a lot of appeal for many people. Hopefully, as legalization spreads throughout the world, ganja houses and gatherings like the Club des Hashischins will make a comeback and allow people to enjoy cannabis in a safe and comfortable setting.

How Did Ganja Houses Contribute to the Spread of Cannabis During the 1800s?

Not much is documented about the ganja houses from the 1800s, but it's clear that they played a significant role in the spread of cannabis use. From Kane's account, it seems that ganja houses likely helped to spread awareness about the benefits of cannabis smoking. They also allowed people from all walks of life to come together and unite under their shared love of cannabis and hashish.

These ganja houses offered people an opportunity to smoke cannabis without judgment and allowed them to explore different types of products. In addition, ganja houses were often frequented by international travelers who would bring back new strains of cannabis from their travels.

Ganja houses were an essential part of cannabis culture during the 1800s and most likely helped make smoking cannabis more mainstream.

What Happened to Ganja Houses During the 1900s?

Once marijuana started to gain more scrutiny from the government, ganja houses most likely began to disappear due to the increased risk of getting caught.

In the early 1900s, cannabis was deemed a dangerous drug, and its usage began to be criminalized. This led to the closure of many ganja houses and the end of their heyday. 

It's interesting to think about what could have happened if ganja houses were allowed to continue operating during the early 1900s. Perhaps cannabis would not be criminalized today, and we would be living in a very different world.

However, as history has shown us, prohibition does not work. It only serves to push these activities underground. Thankfully, these ganja houses remain an essential part of cannabis history and helped shape how we use and consume cannabis today.

In Summary

In the ganja houses of the 1800s, cannabis smokers had a free, safe place to smoke without fear of scrutiny from others. These ganja houses were often adorned in opulent and extravagant ways that enhanced the smoking experience. They also provided an alternative for those who wanted to explore new sensations or find refuge from opium dens which were more prevalent at this time.

It is clear that the ganja houses of the 1800s offered customers something unique and helped shape how society viewed cannabis and its consumption.

Want to learn more about cannabis and its history? Check out our other blog posts!