Another episode involving Thomas’ life in India, this time in Bengal, has long fascinated modern writers. It has been claimed he wrote the earliest first-hand account of the recreational use of cannabis in English. Robert Knox did not publish his account of the medicinal use of cannabis in Ceylon until 1681.
During 1676, a group of nine or ten young Englishmen were kicking their heels one afternoon when their conversation turned to the bangha the locals used. Each in turn denied having tried it but all were curious. They went to the bazaar where they purchased sufficient for each to have a pint. Returning to his house, Thomas called his servant and ordered him to fetch a faķĭr to instruct them on its use. The ascetic made them an infusion and each drank his share. Determined to maintain their dignity, the faķĭr was ordered to leave and they locked all the doors and windows. Certain no one could run into the street and no outsider could enter to witness their behaviour they settled down to wait. Very soon, one of the youths started weeping bitterly and continued to do so all afternoon. Another, terrified, put his head into a large earthenware jar, staying like that for over four hours. The third, angry, hit a door posts until his knuckles were raw. Whilst Thomas and a friend simply sat, sweating, the remaining young men lay on the carpets believing themselves to be emperors. He reflected that the use of cannabis exaggerated the participant’s existing mood.
Thomas was familiar enough with the market for cannabis to differentiate between bangha, grown locally, and gangah, a stronger version imported to India from Sumatra and five times more expensive. Gangah was more enjoyable at the expense of being much more addictive, taking only a couple of months to become dependent. Both forms were taken in a number of ways, all equally intoxicating: smoked mixed with tobacco, chewed or, as Thomas tried, as an infusion in water.