Tag Archives: hashmaking

Moroccan Mountain high

A JOURNEY INTO MOROCCO’S HIGH MOUNTAIN CANNABIS CULTURE

Morocco is not only a land of delicious food and mouthwatering coffee, it is also the world’s largest producer of cannabis, with an estimated 134,000 hectares under cultivation.

Words and photos by CHRIS FOWLIE

THE highlands around the Rif Mountains, which face the Mediterranean Sea in the north of the country, account for more than forty per cent of global hashish production. Largely driven by the close proximity to the millions of cannabis consumers in Europe, hash is now Morocco’s biggest source of foreign currency. At least 800,000 people are directly employed in the industry, contributing at least 2 billion euros to the local economy.

Cannabis was first recorded in Ketema – now ground zero for dodgy hash smugglers and the occasional tourist disappearance – in the 15th Century. Today, most is smuggled to Spain and on to Europe by high speed motor boat departing from the northern ports of Martel, Oued Laous, Boh Ahmed, Nador, Tetoaun and Tanger. A lot also goes inside trucks and cars on ferries. In fact the smugglers have become so proficient and have opened up enough routes with their bribes and corruption they have caught they eye of the Columbian cartels. Coke is now being traffiked into Europe via established hash smuggling channels – another example of prohibition encouraging the spread of hard drugs.

THE LAW IN MOROCCO

Morocco is a hash and caffeine culture. Those two drugs are commonplace, whereas alcohol is against the law. Today cannabis is also officially prohibited and strictly punished but this has only been the case since Morocco gained independence from Spain in 1956, and shortly after the King granted the Rif Mountain areas permission to cultivate cannabis. This exemption has never been rescinded, and for the locals at least, hash can be consumed fairly openly.

Tourists are another story, being an easy source of bribes for the underpaid cops. I was told the police have no right to search people, but the general advice was to keep a low profile and restrict any smoking to the hotel.

MEANWHILE, BACK ON THE FARM

Having said that, we were not here to sit around the hotel. Chefchaoun is known as the gateway to the Rif Mountains and the start of cannabis country. It’s also bloody cold and rains a lot. After noticing a familiar smell and click of the lighter, I gingerly approached the hotel boy and asked very politely and nonchalantly whether he might possibly know anywhere… oh yes of course, he smiled, and was back in a flash with some very nice unpressed hash powder. Upon further testing it was determined to be of top quality so a question was put about perhaps paying a visit to the grower. Of course, he said, we do the package trip!

For the very reasonable fee of about NZ$150 we were picked up early the next morning by Grande Taxi and driven high up into the mountains near Bab Taza, where we were entertained with stories, fed delicious home cooked Moroccan food, shown how they make hash with a very informative and instructional workshop, taken on a tour around the fields, given some to try, and after a long and very enjoyable day were taken back home again for a well earned rest.

Our host Mustapha is a taxi driver during the off season but during the farming months his entire family is kept busy tending cannabis terraces that stretch high into the surrounding hillsides. Everyone around here does it, he says, and the local cops are paid enough to look away.

At several points along the winding roads to and from his isolated farm house we were beckoned and whistled at by young men on the road side, eager to “do business”.

CANNABIS CULTURE IN MOROCCO

Morocco is a Muslim country, where alcohol is forbidden but cannabis is widely tolerated. There are many Sufis in Morocco and cannabis use among them is commonplace.

Most Moroccans use cannabis kif or hashish pollen in a sebsi pipe. The hash pollen is collected from semi-wild, seeded cannabis flowers, grown on a massive scale for an export market that now helps sustain the Moroccan economy.

Nakhla or hookah pipes are common, even three headed beasts like that shown below, but they are only used for tobacco.

Mustapha explained the local cannabis culture to me. Moroccans smoke their ganja with tobacco. They put what they call Kif in a Sebsi, a long pipe made from several sections of wood with a small clay bowl, and they put hash into cigarettes.

Hash comes as loose unpressed powder, while Kif (or “grass”) is what is left over from hash production. It has been beaten and crushed and is very low quality, however can still be used as a mixer with the hash powder.

It is not unusual to see Moroccan men in traditional jeleba outfits in cafes smoking their sebsi pipes, often within view of nearby policemen. In the medinas of Chefchaoun and Fez the touts were relentless. “Pssst… get high before you die?” (must have assumed I was straight) “I have something to blow your mind… and no one will know!” (was he going to secretly kill me?)

All I wanted was to satiate my intense munchies, and what’s great about Morocco is they eat these mouth-watering giant crumpets as big as dinner plates, and you can always get a delicious coffee to go with your top quality hashish.

ARRIVING IN MOROCCO, AND GETTING AROUND

  • Getting around by bus or train is easy. Grande Taxis (old beat up Mercedes) can be hired for trips between towns while petite taxies are used within towns. Getting lost in the Medinas is part of the adventure.
  • Touts will be waiting anywhere there are tourists. They are not dangerous, just annoying and relentless. Don’t talk to them. Scoring from them would be risky and more expensive.
  • Ask a taxi driver, but don’t be timid – tell them exactly what you want and don’t take any bullshit. Always remember when getting in a taxi to negotiate the fare before it sets off!
  • The safest way for a traveler to make a good connection is to ask discreetly at the hotel. Often the belhop will be pleased to make some extra money. Plus, tourists are recorded with the police as being their guest so the hotel has an interest in tourists remaining safe and happy. If caught, offer to “pay the fine now”.
  • When shopping, whether for hash or slippers, haggling is a national sport. Get into it, but be warned: attempts to cheat are also commonplace (eg fake souvineers, fake hash).

HANDY WORDS TO KNOW IN MOROCCO

  • Any French or Spanish!
  • Hello/Goodbye = Salam/Besalam
  • Thanks/No thanks = shoukran/la shoukran
  • Baraka! = Stop!
  • Pollen = dry sift hash powder
  • Hadala = the best hash (should cost about NZ$5-7/gram)
  • Grass = crap but makes a better mix than tobacco
  • Sebsi = traditional Moroccan smoking pipe.

[Originally published in NORML News Winter/Spring 2010]

Bubbleman: talking heads

Well known among hash connoisseurs, Bubbleman has promoted the ice water extraction process for the last ten years with his company Fresh Headies, makers of the Bubble Bag system. This is now an eight bag kit, that comes with or without a compact specialised washing machine, which lets anyone extract the active ingredients of cannabis. He’s also an accomplished pot-ographer, specialising in macro photos of mouth-watering trichomes and full-melt bubble hash.

CHRIS FOWLIE caught up with Bubbleman in Amsterdam over a lump of Shibani Amber – water hash from a Pakistani strain grown in Morocco – as they discussed the elusive search for an unadulterated high.

What’s the most important thing to understand about making great hash?

Where the medicinal values of cannabis exist are in the glandular trichome head. Not in the stalk, not the pistil hairs, not in the bud or the plant matter. Unless they have broken off and lodged into the leaf or melted onto the leaf, they don’t exist in those places. They just grow in the gland head. So if you remove as much contaminant from those heads as possible, like the plant matter, the stalks, and the seeds, the pistilate hairs and you get just these heads, upward of 90 to 98 percent pure heads under the microscope, then you are really truly experiencing the medicine of cannabis. Why would we dilute it, even it was diluted on the plant matter? Why would we dilute it at all?

Everyone always says when the have a hit of the full melt, the high is incredibly clear. Compared to smoking a blunt or some other method of smoking, it is an incredibly clear, up, high.

Getting these heads into at pure state is to acquire the best possible hash. Obviously at one point you will realise you can go through the cannabis strains to find where the really best is for one for you, depending on what you use it for recreational or medicinal. But what the water does is it allows the laymen, Joe Blow, everyday citizen Joe, to make a quality of hash that is unparalleled to anything that they would have ever tried to make before. The use and the ease, with the transfer chamber of the water keeping everything floating, while the resin breaks and sinks. The glandular trichome head secretes these cannabinoids and terpenes and turpeniods inside the head and the outside is a wax membrane, so when we freeze this wax membrane with the ice and the water it becomes brittle, and when we mix it up in the machine, in the Bubble Now my little washing machine, it washes the resin off. It breaks it off the plant and then it falls through this screen bag that is holding all the leaf together. They sink in the water. That transfer chamber of water really makes it so people can make a pure form of hash, whereas dry sifting – the same technique with dry screens – it is one in a thousand people who can make a melty product with dry sifting screens. It is an art form. When you do a sift and you get this gold powder, unless you are using a microscope, you are not going to get a pure product. You are going to end up getting capitate stalks and cystolith hairs. They can make up 60 to 70% of the hash, non-active material. And if you don’t understand that they are non active and you don’t understand that only the head is active then you realise, well that’s the best you can make it and that is what most people think.

Other people, very far and few between, realise that you can use tighter screens to gently with a card slide back and forth the resin – in a cold environment – and those stalks will become brittle. Walking them back and forth over the screen will push those stalks and cystolith hairs through and leave the heads on top. It is very labour intensive. It takes a long time to do a small amount that way.

There are other methods to acquire full melt dry sift, like putting a bunch of bud in a silver bowl and putting it into your freezer. Just give it a couple of swirls. The resin that will stick to the outside of that, if you put your finger and gooped it all up, will be a full melt hit. But that is not making an ounce, that is not making ten grams and the bubble bags do.

How do people get the most from their bags?

Listen to the directions. Following the directions is definitely the way for people to get the most from their bags. At the least, it’s the way to get their bearings with the bags. It’s where you get your starting point. Even if you fuck it up and do it all wrong, you can still make an incredibly strong water hash compared to what you know. But the point is that if you do it all right and you use the right material and you don’t make these mistakes, you can make exceptional hash. It’s a very different quality of high.

The key instruction is not to over mix. Since I’ve been selling the BubbleNow that’s really improved. Anyone who’s thinking to get the most, they want to get more. All they’re really doing is cutting their hash. You’re not getting more, you’re lowering the quality of your hash There is a lot to learn from using all the bags and separating all the grades because you can actually separate the different highs. You can separate out the munchies from the knockouts.

I figure if the plant wanted us to get high, and we are humans, we would want it do it in the purest form.

What difference has the ice hash products made to global hash making and appreciation?

It has put hash back in the hands of the every day Joe. Back in the day you had to know someone who knew someone. He doesn’t have to go down to the pool hall and try and buy it. Dudes all over the place are making their own bubble, even if it is from compressed Mexican weed that they are buying, or if it is from their own little crop that they have people are making it themselves. It is really quick and clean and easy.

Are there any tricks to cleaning it up?

The biggest trick is having a spray bottle of ice cold water. Then you take the bag, and I usually flip them inside out over a smaller bowl and tighten the screen, so I can scrape it all up. I’ll push down the screen a tiny little bit into the bowl, and then I will spray. It will create a pool and I’ll scoop it up with a spoon and put it in the pressing screen.

The most important trick is to dry it properly. It needs to be dabbed gently with the pressing screen – which really isn’t a good name. I’m going to start calling it the dabbing screen, because I don’t want people pressing the resin wet. It is the worst thing to do because the heads tend to breach. They’re popping and they’re mixing with the moisture and the oil’s trapping the water molecules and not allowing it to release and when that happens the hash never dries properly. It‘s weird and sticky. Gently dab water out with the pressing screen with a towel on either side so you can get it into a paddy that you can scoop up onto cardboard and chop real thin and spread over the cardboard. The cardboard acts as a desiccant.

Which of the screens produce the best bubble hash?

It’s hard to say, I hear a lot of people say 45, most people say 90 and 73, I like the 90 first almost exclusively. It tends to be the meltiest, it tends to be the strongest, it tends to be the tastiest. I don’t know if it is just the mid grade generalized head for the majority of strains that were growing in North America and Holland. I know that in places like New Zealand and Australia people really appreciate the 25 and 45 microns for the outdoor sativas that have just been blazed in the sun. The trichomes are not huge monsters, they are real tiny pinheads that are wicked strong and unique profiles and they get trapped in the smaller bags more often than not. It is a generalisation, doesn’t mean you wont find an indica that has super tiny heads and maybe you will find a sativa that has big ones but in general people from Australia and New Zealand have told me when they run their outdoor plants, that they get really nice in the 25 and 45 and that doesn’t surprise me at all.

What are the hallmarks of great hash?

It is hard because there is full melt out there, people do make butane oil and mix it with dry sift and lower quality hashes and make these really good looking hashes that can fool even the best. But the perceived high is too intense and it is not a positive vibe in the end. A lot of people enjoy smoking butane extractions but it is not worth the dangers of the ethyl mercaptan and the sulphides they put in the butane. By law butane is an odorless gas. They need to put smell into it so they add this ethyl mercaptan and it is oil soluble and it ends up in the oil. It is accumulative in the body and effects the central nervous system. People say they do a purge but when something when something is oil soluble and it bonds in a molecular level I highly doubt you are getting that out.

Truly great hash for me is hash that melts. Right off the bat. If I can hold the lighter up to it and it starts bubbling and melting and creating these clear domes, that is an exceptional quality of hash. If it is a nice light colour golden or blondish and when you hold a lighter to it goes yellow or amber really quick and melts, that is a pretty good sign. If it has been pressed, it should be hard. It shouldn’t be too, too soft. A too, too soft hash, like this hash here we’re smoking from the Dampkring, it‘s got a little bit of moisture. It should be hard. But still, I wouldn’t kick it out of bed for eating crackers! It’s pretty nice hash.

Ideally if you have done it right and you haven’t pressed it, it should be bone dry powder that you would be worried it would blow right off the table if you sneezed. But often bubble won’t, it just sticks.

Why did you get into macro photography?

Macro photography has opened up a world of doors for me, just in terms of the message I’m trying  to get out to people about seeking an unadulterated high. Pictures are worth a thousand words. When I show them a photo of melting hash on the screen or trichomes with big bulbous heads or smaller heads you can just see it. It is teaching us. Being able to see, to get down at those smaller levels, is something we are all interested in, to know what is going on.

I use a Canon 40D but I have just ordered the 5D Mk2 which is supposed to be exceptional. I’m shooting with a specialised macro Canon lens called the MPE, it is 65mm and I shoot with the 24EXMT dual flash and that’s also from Canon. You need the dual flash with the macro lens or it is just not happening.

I’ve looked throughout the plant and photographed at different weeks. Trichome development starts pretty early and they grow pretty fast. There’s always all sizes. You’ll never find a plant with one size trichome. All the variety, and they’re always at different maturity states, never all clear or all amber. I find amber is directly related to the death of the leaf or the plant matter. As it starts to decay the resin itself starts to decay. Maybe the cell membrane is breached and oxygen starts to get to it. So macro photography is good for knowing what is going on at a small level. Seeing how good your hash is. And what better way?

A big thanks to Bubbleman for sharing his wisdom with readers of Norml News. Anyone who wants to know more should check out www.fullmeltbubble.com where there are forums on dry sift, import hash and bubble hash, plus heaps of macro photos and photo essays on using the bags, the machine, and do it yourself methods.

[Originally published in NORML News Winter 2009]

 

Switzerland: at home on the hemp farm

By Chris Fowlie

Swiss law says that smoking cannabis is illegal, but does not mention growing or selling it. This creates a unique situation where everything is kept hush-hush but right out in the open.

I had the pleasure of visiting a Swiss hemp farm near Bern. Ten thousand plants of Dutch and Swiss origin lay unfenced near a main road. The farmer told me he started by planting cuttings directly into the ground. This had two problems: getting enough cuttings ready all at the same time meant creating a large grow-room, and if you’re going to do that then you may as well continue growing under lights; and secondly the unseeded nature of the crop attracted thieves who stole substantial numbers of plants. He now just throws seeds over the ground and rips out the male plants as they appear. He can’t keep up with all the males, so the buds get seeded but only lightly. This is enough to deter any thieves, but it also means he can’t sell the seeded buds as they are.

Instead, he designed and built a hash-making machine, which is basically a rotating silk-screen drum about 1.5m diameter by 2.5m length. Inside the drum are fins to carry the plant material to the top of the drum as it tumbles. The silk screen is just the right size to let the THC-laden trichomes (or “crystals”) through, leaving the plant material behind. The machine will turn 40kg of cannabis plant into 2-4kg of hash in under an hour. This is completely legal as long as none of it is smoked, so to satisfy the authorities that his hemp is not actually for smoking, he also built a seed cleaning machine and an essential oil extractor.

This year’s European summer has been very wet, and when we visited it was following yet more rain, which had a disastrous effect on the hemp crop. Many of the plants were infected with a mould which was quickly spreading in the damp conditions. The weather was forecast to clear for the next week so a decision was made to wait for the sunshine then harvest the crop early, remove the mouldy parts and make hash from what was available.

I was told that the past three summers have been similar, with conditions too wet for the hemp blossoms to mature without getting mould or fungus. If this weather continues, Swiss hemp farming could be forced indoors and out of the mountains.