Cannabis has been cultivated in Afghanistan for thousands of years, to the extent that distinctive landraces have become established, and a putative subspecies C. sativa var. afghanica was proposed by the Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov in 1926—although much confusion surrounds Afghan cannabis' place in the nomenclature.
Cannabis has been cultivated in Afghanistan for thousands of years, to the extent that distinctive landraces have become established, and a putative subspecies C. sativa var. afghanica was proposed by the Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov in 1926—although much confusion surrounds Afghan cannabis’ place in the nomenclature.
C. afghanica in botanical taxonomy
To add to the confusion, the reputed cannabis botanist Robert Connell Clarke placed C. afghanica with the C. indica subspecies, leading to it being occasionally referred to in the literature as C. indica var. afghanica. Furthermore, some breeders occasionally refer to Afghan strains as being ruderalis, although even wild-type Afghan cannabis usually has higher cannabinoid content than ruderalis strains.
Perhaps even more confusingly, C. afghanica exhibits many of the traits usually associated with indica varieties. The leaves are usually extremely wide, and are dark green with occasional purple tinges. The cannabinoid content is high in THC but also high in CBD and CBN, leading to a soporific, sedative effect. The mature plant rarely exceeds two metres in height, and there is little space between the internodes and dense, resin-rich flower sites.
How Afghan hashish is produced
Afghan hash is produced from the dried flowers and leaves, which are threshed and sieved to produce a trichome-rich powder locally known as garda. Garda may be of several grades, from the highest or “first”, which contains the highest ratio of resin to leaf matter, usually down to “third”, which will contain far more impurities. This stage of processing is usually performed by the farmer, who then sells the garda to hash-makers.
The hashish is then produced by filling the palm of the hand with garda, then lighting a match to encourage softening and melting of the powder—unlike Moroccan hash, which is usually dry-sieved and pressed without use of heat. As the powder melts, the hash-maker will manipulate and roll it until a dark, sticky ball of hash is formed. Due to the time-consuming nature of the process, this hand-rolled hashish can be fairly expensive, especially when the quality is known to be high.
Afghanistan’s cannabis industry
Afghanistan has been a major hash-producing country for many centuries, and since 2010 has been the world’s biggest producer of hashish. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report Afghanistan Cannabis Survey (2010) estimated that up to 24,000 hectares (Ha) of cannabis is cultivated in Afghanistan each year.
This is not the largest area devoted to cannabis in the world—Morocco, with around 47,000 Ha, has almost double—but the abundant resin production and copious harvests Afghani farmers can achieve means their hashish yield is exceptionally high. According to UNODC figures, Afghani hash-producers can achieve yields of up to 145kg of hashish per hectare, compared with just 40kg/Ha usually achieved in Morocco.
Since 2008, the focus has shifted from opium production to cannabis for much of Afghanistan’s rural farming population, as less risk is involved, overheads are lower and net income higher. It costs up to three times as much to process a hectare of opium poppy than one of cannabis; net income yielded by the former is just $2,005 compared with $3, 341 from opium. In 2011, around 65,000 household grew cannabis, compared to 47,000 the year before.
Cannabis policy in Afghanistan
Despite Islamic prohibition of use of narcotics, there is a widespread subculture of both opium and cannabis use in Afghanistan that has persisted throughout centuries. The Taliban has also been instrumental in—often brutal—suppression of drug production and use, implementing an opium ban between 1994 and 2000, although there is a widespread belief that the profits yielded from hashish production in fact partly go toward funding the group.
Subsequent to US intervention in Afghanistan, many have criticised the new approaches to opium and cannabis that have been put in place. In 2009, a Pentagon target list of fifty Afghan drug lords believed to be linked to the Taliban was issued, with orders to capture or kill those named therein. US attention has thus far been focused on opium, which many believe led to the shift towards cannabis production post-2008. However, since the release of the Afghanistan Cannabis Survey, UNODC officials have stated that “reducing Afghanistan’s cannabis supply should be dealt with more seriously, as part of the national drug control strategy”. It is therefore possible that renewed international attention will be paid to cannabis in Afghanistan in the coming years.