Lost Food Remedy: Maltos-Cannabis

Stephen Andrews
29 Nov 2021

Mysterious Swedish hemp medicine found its way to America at the end of the 19th-century. Doctors of the era described Maltos-Cannabis as "a digestible and very nourishing medicine" that gives good results in a brief period of time. The edible hemp goodie originated in Stockholm and was reviewed in various American publications.

Before cannabis became prohibited as the result of intense global propaganda that virtually satanized the plant, various nations garnered their own unique relationship with the plant. Traditional Thai medicine has dictated that small amounts of the plant should be added to meals to help the sick recover faster from an ailment. In India, a local cannabis concoction known as Bhang has been used for millennia in Hindu religious practices and as an Ayurvedic health supplement for nausea, pain, and vomiting. 

In Scandinavia, one such medicine, traced to the late 19th-century, was Maltos-Cannabis. It was a Swedish hemp-infused malt edible with sedative properties, and its use spread in neighboring Denmark and Norway. The product disappeared sometime in the early 20th-century. 

An 1899 pharmaceutical reference book printed in Philadelphia defines Maltos-Cannabis as "a Swedish nutrient in [the] form of a yellowish-white powder, possessing a taste of first saline, later sweetish, and then acrid and bitter."

More than one American publication advertised and featured product reviews for Maltos-Cannabis, however. An article from 1895 from the paper Svensk Amerkanska, a Denver paper for Swedish-speaking immigrants, marketed Maltos-Cannabis as cannabis-based candies for Swedes in the U.S. who want to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The article describes Maltos-Cannabis preparation as a new type of medicine made from hemp seeds and malt sugar, therefore the name. 

Reportedly, the edible item was presented at an exhibition in Antwerp, Belgium, where it was distinguished with medals. In Europe, it was advocated by prominent doctors who prescribed the food remedy to patients suffering various ailments. The same apparently happened in the U.S.; the Red Cross Chemicals Works in Chicago began preparing the product, and M.D.s were keen to prescribe to patients.

A Jan 1985 edition of the Medical Advance Journal that features product reviews from doctors says that "Maltos-Cannabis is excellently prepared, showing an even uniform composition. The combination of fat, proteid (nitrogen), and carbohydrate is in such proportion that the substance contains the essential food constituents in their most easily assimilated form. I consider Malton Cannabis a highly nutritious and stimulating food remedy. The taste is pure, strong and in my opinion agreeable." 

Another doctor noted: "One patient gained 14 pounds in that many weeks," and a third said it's an "excellent nourishment in case of anemia."

These and similar ads clearly illustrate that doctors touted Maltos-Cannabis as a medical product. However, it remains unclear if the hemp food was labeled as medicine or simply stood as a health supplement. 

A lot of other questions remain unclear, to be honest. When did the use of this healthy, nutritious hemp product stop, and why? What were the recipes for its preparation? I can't keep wondering if there's someone out there, perhaps in Sweden, who knows how to prepare the original Maltos-Cannabis treats as they did in the 1890s? 

Stephen Andrews