A brief history of cannabis consumption in India

September 5, 2018

While the rest of the world is busy tapping all the resources cannabis can provide humanity with, we in India, are sitting on our asses enforcing laws based on false facts and claims.

Cannabis was (and is) a vital part of the culture in India, it's just that its role has changed. What used to be a healthier alternative to alcohol and tobacco, a spiritual stimulant, moreover, a medicine is now something that you could be thrown in jail for, something teens use to rebel, something that's inherently considered atrocious. We never had a drug problem before we banned cannabis, it actually emerged immediately after we banned cannabis in 1985.

With all the recent researches and changed law models, it's needless to say that legalizing cannabis is the future, but as of now there is little to no talk about legalizing cannabis in India. India, as a people, is harder to influence, majorly because of the diversity, but the thing about cannabis is that, we used to love it. Not just some of us, but all of us, look back in time and you'll find that irrespective of the section of India you're looking at, people used cannabis in some form.


The Atharva Veda mentions cannabis as one the five most sacred plants on Earth and it also says that a guardian angel resides in the plant’s leaves. It refers to the plant as a “source of happiness” and a “liberator”. Ayurveda considers the cannabis plant to be of great medicinal value, so common is it in Ayurveda that it has been called the “penicillin of Ayurvedic medicine”.

Sikh fighters often took bhang while in battle to help them fight better and numb their sense of pain. A remnant of this tradition exists to this day with the Nihang, a Sikh order, who ritually consume the plant.

The Unani system of medicine practised by Muslims in medieval India also used cannabis as a cure for diseases of the nervous system and as an antispasmodic and anticonvulsive.

The Mughal emperor, Humayun was particularly fond of a sweet cannabis confectionary called‘ma’jun’ (the hash brownie of the medieval ages one could say).

When the British came to India, they were taken aback by how widespread the use of cannabis was in the country. At the time, it was thought that cannabis might be responsible for insanity and to determine whether this was true as well as document the use of cannabis in general, the government started work on the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report. The report was to look into the cultivation, preparation, consumption and the social and moral impact of cannabis, and possible prohibition. The commission was thorough and sampled a large and diverse group of people in a range of situations.

The conclusion of report was surprisingly in support of cannabis; the plant was deemed completely harmless in moderation and in cases of excessive consumption the ill-effects are not clearly marked. Whatever damage is done by the excessive use is, however, confined almost exclusively to the consumer himself; the effect on society is rarely appreciable. Moreover, alcohol was found to be much more destructive (no surprise here). Thus, the report saw no reason to ban cannabis, it stated-“To forbid or even seriously to restrict the use of so gracious an herb as cannabis would cause widespread suffering and annoyance”.

Furthermore, the use of the plant for religious purposes is also widespread. It is particularly associated with Lord Shiva, in temples all across the nation cannabis is used as an offering during the worship of Lord Shiva. Not to mention, the highly prevalent use of bhang during Holi every year.

Over the years there has been a cultural paradigm shift and the modern India has somehow made peace with the idea of more destructive western intoxicants: alcohol and cigarettes. The West (the very people that made us ban it), ironically,is now realizing what we knew since the beginning, and they’re slowly making amends for the blunders of their past. The question is: when will we atone for the sins we have committed against this wholesome plant?





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