Despite decades of conflict and strict religious rule, Afghanistan’s ancient weed culture remains vibrant.

Once in town, I noticed a few weed plants growing around people’s houses, probably planted for personal use. The further we drove from the centre, the more conspicuous the weed plants became among the neighbouring cotton fields – until, finally, they occupied entire plots of land.

Although it’s been cultivated for centuries, cannabis has been illegal in Afghanistan since the 1970s. For my own safety, I knew it was crucial to get off on the right foot with the local farmers. Mazar-i-Sharif is a vibrant and friendly town during the day, but at night it’s dangerous enough that people don’t go outside. At first, the farmers clearly didn’t trust me, but once they realised I was only interested in taking pictures of their work they let me take a closer look.

I was struck by how many different types of plants could be found in the same field. Small and large, narrow and wide-leafed, green, blue, purple, their heads full of seeds and shining with resin. Some smelled like berries, others like cat piss. This biodiversity, clear to the naked eye, is preserved by the farmers’ traditional approach to growing. Instead of buying new seeds, they sow a portion of the previous year’s, gathered from pollinated plants.

The harvest season is between October and December. After that, the plants are dried and processed. Afghans don’t smoke cannabis heads; instead, they turn the plant into hashish. This traditional method filters the cannabis resin, making it more concentrated – a practice that likely originated somewhere between northern Iran and northern Afghanistan in the Middle Ages.

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