Cannabis from the perspective of Indian Traditional Medicine, Ayurveda
”The Latin name ‘Cannabis indica’, later ‘Cannabis sativa’ already suggests that cannabis grows, and is traditionally used in India.”
Biljana Dušić, M.D.
Counsellor of Ayurvedic medicine, ADITI Ayurvedic counseling studio
Cannabis grows wild in the Himalayas, in India from Kashmir in the east to beyond Assam in the west, but also in Iran and all throughout Central and West Asia. (The Latin name ‘Cannabis indica’, later ‘Cannabis sativa’ already suggests that cannabis grows, and is traditionally used in India.) Cannabis is nowadays cultivated mostly in the tropical and subtropical parts of India.
In traditional Indian medical texts, cannabis has first been mentioned a couple of thousand years ago in the Atharva veda, whereas ayurvedic traditional texts do not mention this plant until the Middle Ages. The ayurvedic names of cannabis are “vijaya” – ‘the one who conquers’ and “siddhi” – ‘subtle power’, ‘achievement’. Ayurveda differentiates between three therapeutic parts of the plant. They have somewhat different actions on the body, and are given separate names. Bhang is a name for the leaves of male and female plants, and in certain regions of India the name is also used for flowers of the male plant. The name ganja is given to the flowering tops of the female plant, and charas is the name for the plant resin, which naturally exudes from leaves, stems and fruits of plants that grow in the mountains between 2000 and 3000 m of altitude. Nevertheless, some confusion exists regarding the names in India – in South and West India the difference in meaning between the names bhang and ganja has almost disappeared: the name ganja is used to denote the cannabis plant in general, including the leaves; and the name bhang is in some regions given to a drink made from ganja.
In Indian pharmacopeia, all parts of the plant are denoted as somewhat narcotic (the most powerful narcotic is in the plant’s resin, charas). But different parts of the plant can also stimulate digestion, act as analgesics, nervous system stimulants, can have sedative, spasmolytic, diuretic, and aphrodisiac actions. The plant is, according to ayurvedic basic energy (virya) differentiation, warming, and its long-term use dries up the body. With moderate use, it works first as a nervous system stimulant and powerful aphrodisiac, later its action is sedating. Habitual, prolonged use of Cannabis leads towards disbalance of all three basic physiological forces in the body (as Ayurveda recognizes them) – vata, pitta, and kapha – and as the result of this disbalance chronically poor digestion, melancholy, sexual impotence, and body wasting.
In Ayurveda, bhang is used to treat high blood pressure (this therapy is usually of limited duration, until high blood pressure is corrected with other ayurvedic measures), the juice is used for lowering intraocular pressure (glaucoma), and for short-term stimulation of the nervous system. Some martial artists in northern India, mainly wrestlers, take bhang with a paste made of almonds, pistachios, black pepper, saffron, rose petals etc., mixed with fresh cow’s milk – to ensure long term concentration during exhausting all-day practice, and to help the body (as their art demands the body to be as heavy as possible) to ingest enormous quantities of food, without losing its digestive power. Fresh leaf juice (bhang) is also used to treat dandruff, as a preventive measure against parasites in hair; also in cases of earache, and against bacterial inflammations and infestations of the ear. The juice is also diuretic, and therefore is used in treating inflammations of the bladder and kidney stones. Dried leaf powder is applied on fresh wounds to promote healing (new granulation tissue development). A poultice of crushed fresh leaves is used on the skin in cases of different skin infections, rashes, neuralgias – for example erysipelas, Herpes zoster, Chickenpox, eczema, etc. – to diminish pain and itching. Combined with other herbs, bhang can be used against diarrhoea – for this purpose, it is most usually combined with nutmeg (ganja may also be used for the same purpose – mainly with nutmeg and honey). With digestive herbs (like cumin, fennel, anise, . ) bhang can be excellent for stimulating appetite and digestion; with aphrodisiac herbs and foods (almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, saffron. ) it becomes an excellent aphrodisiac. When the leaves (bhang) on the other hand are mixed with tobacco, the plant diminishes appetite, and acts as an anti-aphrodisiac. In these cases, the actions of the cannabis plant are modified by other herbs in the mixture.
The most powerful narcotic, as mentioned above, is in the plant’s resin, charas, and it is used in Ayurveda in aroused psychiatric states, in manic states, sometimes also (short term use) for chronic insomnia, but also for chronic pain in terminal phases of tuberculosis and malignant tumours. It is also administered in cases of chronic debilitating dry cough, like in pertussis, and in patients with lung cancer – ayurvedic doctors prefer cannabis over opium in these cases, as cannabis (compared to opium) does not produce nausea, loss of appetite, constipation or headache.
1. Indian Materia Medica
2. Robert Svoboda: “Ayurveda, Life, Health, and Longevity”
I.CANNA.BLOG Cannabis from the perspective of Indian Traditional Medicine, Ayurveda ”The Latin name ‘Cannabis indica’, later ‘Cannabis sativa’ already suggests that cannabis grows, and is
Cannabis and Ayurveda:
What every patient should know about healing with cannabis.
Ayurveda knows that anything that exists in the physical world can be used as medicine. Cannabis is no exception. It is found in over 80 traditional healing formulas, several of which are easily available in pharmacies in India. Cannabis is used in spiritual practice in some sects, as an element in rituals, taken as a sacrament on specific holidays, and for regular use by spiritual adherents. Cannabis is considered the least problematic of the ‘intoxicant’ substances; a poison / visha which can be used to great benefit by humans. Sativa is indigenous to India with the earliest known cultivation dated 900BC. Until the 1980’s it was sold in government run shops both for medicinal and recreational purposes. Sanskrit calls cannabis: “soother of grief,” “the sky flyer,” “the poor man’s heaven.”
Within Ayurveda is a vast body of established knowledge:
- how cannabis works
- what it can be used for
- long-term and short-term effects
- how to use it so that it does not cause any problems in the body or mind.
For thousands of years Ayurveda has compiled information on how to use cannabis as a medicine and how to treat the effects of over-use. There is knowledge relating to growing the most powerful (chemically, medicinally, & spiritually) plants that includes specific planting techniques, fertilization with ayurvedic formulas, and chanting over plants. The main use of cannabis (phala shruti or ‘fruits of use’) is for serious digestive disorders like IBS or Crone’s where the tissues are weakened so the body is not able to assimilate food (classically known as grahani). Related disorders that are effectively treated are: abdominal pain, indigestion, diarrhea. Some cannabis formulas are designed to enhance reproductive health. Currently cannabis is used widely to counter the symptoms of old age: body aches, lack of hunger etc. Additionally it may be used in a variety of vyadhis or ayurvedic diseases where pain is a main component. It is also occasionally used for mental health (convulsions, possibly asperger’s and autism), especially by encouraging sleep and countering stress response. It is extremely important to remember that cannabis is never used alone in Ayurveda but always balanced by other herbs and foods. It is a powerful substance and needs to be treated with the respect that any powerful substance is treated with. It is said that there are no side-effects to Ayurvedic medicines. This implies that medicines are correctly chosen, taken in the proper quantity, and for the proper duration. When taken inappropriately the effects of the medicines will create imbalance. Cannabis is never used alone in India, but mixed with other herbs that balance out its less desirable effects. The following info will help you use cannabis wisely for your health.
Qualities of Cannabis: The qualities cannabis promotes : heat, dryness, and astringency. It is also quickly penetrates the tissues and has the quality of lightness. It is considered to ‘increase vibrations’ which is why its use enhances music appreciation and it is used to increase the potency of mantras and chanting. It is also known to enhance actions of the herbs it is used with. Extensive use will increase all 3 doshas or organizing principals of the body (Vata, Pitta and Kapha). This is a bad effect and will have problematic long-term implications. All sorts of disorders can manifest. So it is smart to balance your medication out as much as possible.
- Heat increases digestive ability and relaxes the tissues that in turn relieves pain and anxiety. But heat can also cause trouble with the blood and liver with long-term effects on skin and connective tissue.
- Dry and astringent qualities can benefit glaucoma, swelling, maybe diabetes symptoms, but lead to constipation and dehydration of the skin (and other organs).
- Dry, hot and penetrating qualities have a long-term negative impact on our reproductive tissue (shukra dhatu) and vitality (Ojas in ayurvedia-ese) —especially diminishing energy levels, ability to heal, and reproductive (yes; that means sexual) strength. Overuse can lead to the depletion of the tissues to the point that they no longer are able to do their jobs.
Beyond the effects of cannabis on the body through are its effects on the mind. There are 3 characteristics of the mind in Ayurveda: tamas (delusion and lethargy), rajas (over-activity), and sattwa (calm, clear awareness). Cannabis increases tamas and rajas when not used properly and ‘clogs’ the mind. This is not a permanent condition and alleviated if you follow some protocol with use.
Forms used Cannabis is taken in 3 different forms in India. Bhang is leaves, either male or female, cured in a specific way and typically boiled with milk and spices. Chara is resin, akin to kif or hash. Gangha is flowers, usually taken for pleasure but also made into many different medicines. Seeds and roots are used in some formulations.
How to imbibe for health: Keep the qualities of cannabis in mind: Focus on cooling, moistening, stable, and deeply nourishing foods, but avoid things that are too heavy. As always eat what is freshly prepared, cooked and eaten with love and pleasure.
- Milk fits all these categories and additionally counters the tamasic l lethargic mental quality of cannabis.
- Traditionally bhang is made by boiling leaves in milk with dates, sugar, saffron, cardomon, rose petals, and almond meal. Yum!
- Ghee (clarified butter) is used in the traditional purification of cannabis. The freshly dried herb is fried lightly in ghee to bring out it’s healing properties. Ghee is the ideal oil: it increases your ability to digest and assimilate what you take in, it supports vitality and reproductive health, it keeps your tissues cool and balances the burning heat of cannabis, it protects the eyes and skin and will give you an appealing glow!
- Satisfy cravings with grounding nourishing moistening foods: Rice (basmati is best), oatmeal, raisins (counter dryness and constipation) and Dates, fresh baked breads, cooked veggies, spices: cumin, coriander, fennel, cilantro, tumeric
- Nuts can over-heat you and cause digestive problems. Have seeds instead: Sunflower, Pumpkin, Sesame
- Gassy or bloated? use a pinch of hing / asophatida in your cooking.
- Medicinal use of cannabis in Ayurveda is always edible and often made into a sweet—remember the heating, dry, light quality of cannabis is balanced by the grounding, cooling and moistening effect of sweet things like milk, dates, sweet potatoes.
- When smoked cannabis is often chopped first with tiny amounts of herbs like vacha (calamus), sandalwood, jasmine, saffron etc. Other herbs to try are mullein, aloe, or mugwort.
- Pomegranate Juice is perfect for medicating. It quenches thirst and refreshes but is also great for the digestion and removes waste liquids from the tissues. It is especially good for people who tend to get swollen or bloated or have any history of parasites.
- Coconut water (ideally from an actual coconut) is great too– best for people who’s digestion is already pretty strong and perfect for athletes or those who work with their body.
- Licorice or Fennel Tea cooling, soothing, great for your blood and skin
Cannabis and Ayurveda: What every patient should know about healing with cannabis. Ayurveda knows that anything that exists in the physical world can be used as medicine. Cannabis is no