The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Oriental Joy Pills


Other Names


Fröhlichkeitspillen, gandshakini (Sanskrit), gods-chaki, hab-i nishad (Arabic, “joy pills”), happy pills, joy pills, madgiun, madjnun, madshun, majoon, majun, ma’jun, mojun, nepenthe, orientalische fröhlichkeitspillen


The term joy pills refers to combination preparations consisting of four basic ingredients: opium (see Papaver somniferum), Cannabis products, Datura seeds, and spices. These combinations are efficacious psychoactive aphrodisiacs that activate the nervous system simultaneously in numerous places. The recipes are from the Orient and are thought to be very ancient.

In ancient India, the most important of the vajikarana (= aphrodisiacs) were those that exerted a psychoactive effect; these were made chiefly of opium, hashish, wine, et cetera (Bose 1981). According to the early Ayurvedic literature (e.g., the Bavasita[1408], many recipes for aphrodisiacs contained opium, Datura metel, camphor, nutmeg, long pepper (Piper longum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), and bhang (Chaturvedi et al. 1981). During the Moghul period, inebriants composed of opium, hemp, Datura, and other substances (spices, alcohol) were common (Saleh 1981; Sangar 1980).

Joy pills were also known in Arabian lands, where they were used mainly by the dervishes:


They take opium dissolved in wine, milk, or water, and ingest it as “joy pills” (hab-i nishad), and since the 17th century they have also smoked it as a syruplike substance with various ingredients. . . . Opium leads the mystic within, transports him from the here and now, and inspires his contemplation of God. (Frembgen 1993, 202*)


In Europe, a variety of recipes for joy pills became known at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Encyclopädie der gesammten Volksmedizin [Encyclopedia of All Folk Medicine] of 1843 states that “hemp is the main ingredient in the joy pills of the Orient” (Most 1943, 225*). The name given the pills in this reference is interesting, as it makes reference to the famous Homeric nepenthe:


In order to dispel bad moods and hypochondria, the Orientals, who are also known to take delight in opium smoking and opium eating, take their refuge in a mixture: nepenthe by name, which consists of the powder of the dried, uppermost leaves and flowers of hemp, in combination with opium, areca nut, spices, and sugar, which they swallow in pill form. (Most 1843, 194*)


A book about poisonous plants contains the following entry under Datura metel:


The seeds are also a component of the Oriental joy pills, which also contain poppy juice, hemp, and several spices; to the Orientals, for whom wine is forbidden, these represent a surrogate for the same and are said to incite an indescribable sense of well-being. They have recently also strayed into Europe, and in Marseilles they produced veritable symptoms of poisoning (Berge and Riecke 1845, 101).


Freiherr von Bibra was also aware of this agent of pleasure:


Mojun is a very strong preparation of hemp, poppy, thorn apple, crow’s eyes, milk, and sugar, in other words, gondschaki, or joy pills, which were already mentioned by the ancient Sanskrit writers, appear to be entirely identical with one of the lighter Oriental preparations. (Bibra 1855, 271*)


We can certainly presume that joy pills were received with enthusiasm in certain European circles. They have always been renowned as powerful inebriants and extraordinarily effective aphrodisiacs. Reports of their effects often take on an effusive and poetic expression:


The joy pills are a flying carpet that bears one to the pearly strands of pleasurable sensuality. All of the senses are immeasurably heightened in the most exquisite manner. The inner happiness radiates throughout the body with the smile of bliss, just as the light of the sun allows the tears of heaven to appear as wonderful rainbows. The enjoyment of one’s own body, of one’s own being, and of existence, has a cultivated and subtle quality that sweetens life with the sense of divine eternity. The soul kisses the body, dances with it, and rides on the dragon of wisdom to the stars, which sparkle like the jeweled twinkling of the eyes of the immortals. Just as the blood flows through the body, the peace of the heart streams through the universe, which is illuminated in love by the breath of the gods. The Oriental joy pills are the ultimate, specific aphrodisiac.


“Bangue is also common in India, almost like amfion [= opium]; the seeds are like hemp seeds, the same is true for its leaves although they are a little smaller. The Indians eat these seeds and its leaves, but somewhat crushed, they say that it provides a good appetite for eating. Sometimes the leaves and seeds are mixed together, combined with areca or nutmeg leaves or massa, and sold on the corners in order to attract the good graces of the women. The wealthy enrich this bangue with cloves, camphor, ambergris, musk, and amfion, it dispels all of one’s worries and makes them forget their misery, while at the same time it makes them happy and finally puts them to sleep, which some women make diligent use of when conducting the business of marital love, and themselves approach the male customers. It is also used by those burdened with much work and by slaves kept under hard conditions so that they might forget their burden from time to time. Even among those who are most sorrowful, or who are given to melancholy, it awakens an unnatural, happy mood and is thus a kind of remedy for melancholy, but only in the proper proportion, not too much and not too little, and as so long as one experiences its effects.”






(1677, CH. 9, 30*)


“Ma’jun is an electuary that the Mussulmen [Muslims], especially the most debauched of them, take as a nerve stimulant, inebriant, and remedy for pain. An overdose will not infrequently lead to mental derangement. According to folk belief, it provides inebriation (kaifa) [and] courage (quwwat) and is used as an aphrodisiac. The main ingredients of this electuary are ganja, milk, butter, poppy seeds, datura or thorn apple flowers, nuxvomica powder, and sugar.”






Even today, Oriental joy pills are a part of the Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia:


Majun or sweetness from hemp (Cannabis), consists of ghee and water as well as bhangganjacarasopium, poppy seeds, dhatura (Datura innoxia) leaves and seeds, cloves, resin, anise, caraway, sugar, butter, flour, milk, cardamom, and tabasir. A dosage of one and a half to one drachm is sufficient for someone who takes this drug frequently. It tastes sweet and has a decidedly pleasant scent. Occasionally, Stramonium seeds are also added, but never Nux-vomica. The effects are astonishing: ecstasy, a sense of elation, the feeling of flying, heightened appetite, and strong sexual desires. (Thakkur 1977, 317)


It is certainly no coincidence that this recipe is reminiscent of the composition of witches’ ointments.

The following ingredients are required for each person: 0.3 g opium, ten datura seeds, 0.3 to 0.5 g hashish, and spices, resins, et cetera as desired. The ingredients are mixed together and added to clarified butter. The mixture should be poured out as soon as it has melted into a mass (cf. Rätsch 1990).



Green Chinese or Japanese tea (cf. Camellia sinensis) should be drunk as the pills are ingested to counteract the somniferous effects of the opium. The full effects usually manifest about four hours later and last for at least twelve hours.



See also the entries for Cannabis indicaDatura metel, and Papaver somniferum.


Abel, Ernest L. 1984. Opiates and sex. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 16 (3): 205–16.


Anwari-Alhosseyni, Schams. 1981. Über Haschisch und Opium im Iran. In Rausch und Realität, ed. G. Völger, 2:482–87. Cologne: Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum für Völkerkunde.


Berge, Fr., and W. A. Riecke. 1985. Giftpflanzen-Buch. Stuttgart: Hoffmann’sche Verlags-Buchhandlung.


Bose, A. K. 1981. Aphrodisiacs—a psychosocial perspective. Indian Journal of History of Science 16 (1): 100–103.


Chaturvedi, G. N., S. K. Tiwari, and N. P. Rai. 1981. Medicinal use of opium and cannabis in medieval India. Indian Journal of History of Science 16 (1): 31–35.


Gawin, Frank H. 1978. Drugs and eros: Reflections on aphrodisiacs. Journal of Psychedelic Drugs 10 (3): 227–36.


Rätsch, Christian. 1990. Die “Orientalischen Fröhlichkeitspillen” und verwandte psychoaktive Aphrodisiaka. Berlin: VWB.


Saleh, Ahmed. 1981. Alkohol und Haschisch im heutigen Orient. In Rausch und Realität, ed. G. Völger, 2:488–91. Cologne: Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum für Völkerkunde.


Sangar, S. P. 1980. Intoxicants in Mughal India. Indian Journal of History of Science 16 (2): 202–14.


Thakkur, Ch. G. 1977. Ayurveda: Die indische Heilund Lebenskunst. Freiburg: Bauer.


Vetschera, Traude, and Alfonso Pillai. 1979. The use of hemp and opium in India. Ethnomedizin 5 (1/2; 1978/79): 11–23.


Wilson, Robert Anton. 1990. Sex and drugs. Phoenix: New Falcon Publications.