Cannabis (Hemp) has a long history of use in Ayurveda. Cannabis (Hemp) is known as bhaṅgā in Sanskrit. Cannabis (Hemp) is classified as a toxic substance by the ancient texts on Ayurvedic herbs, but it has been used in healing preparations after purification.  It is mentioned in many of the ancient texts on Ayurveda like the Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and Shargandhara Samhita.

The Anandakanda has a whole chapter dedicated to the herb, its toxicity, the procedure for purification, cultivation, preparation, and use.  In this chapter, the Anandakanda describes 9 successive stages of Cannabis (Hemp) toxicity.  This text also prescribes various antidotal therapies to counter the toxic and narcotic effects of excessive use of Cannabis.  We must understand that in most formulas traditionally calling for Cannabis (Hemp) in Ayurveda, that the Cannabis (Hemp) is now usually omitted due to issues with legality.  The use of Cannabis (Hemp) in mainstream Ayurvedic practice today is virtually non-existent.

Cannabis (Hemp) grows wild in the Himalayas, in India from Kashmir in the east to beyond Assam in the west, and all throughout Central and West Asia. Cannabis (Hemp) is nowadays cultivated mostly in the tropical and subtropical parts of India.

If one were to look for proof of how Cannabis (Hemp) has existed and influenced culture, one of the oldest Cannabis (Hemp) traditions dates as far back as 2000 B.C. and is still in use today. So now, presenting some insight from traditional Ayurvedic knowledge.

  • The Atharva Veda mentions Cannabis (Hemp) as one of the five most sacred plants on Earth and says that a guardian angel resides in its leaves. It also refers to it as a “source of happiness,” a “joy-giver” and a “liberator”.
  • Ayurveda considers the Cannabis (Hemp) plant to be of medicinal value and in the Sushruta Samhita (6 BCE) it is used to aid digestion and appetite.
  • The Unani system of medicine practised by Muslims in medieval India also used Cannabis (Hemp) as a cure for diseases of the nervous system and as an antispasmodic and anticonvulsive.
  • Mughal emperor, Humayan was particularly fond of ma’jun, a sweet Cannabis (Hemp) confectionary, the hash brownie of the medieval age.
  • Sikh fighters often took bhang while in battle to help them fight better and numb their sense of pain.
  • In Ayurvedic and Tibbi rituals, Cannabis (Hemp) was given orally to treat diseases like malaria and rheumatism.
  • Warriors would drink bhang to steel their nerves, and newlyweds would consume bhang to increase their libido.

The British, when they came to India, the use of Cannabis (Hemp) was so widespread that they commissioned a large-scale study known as the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report of 1894. The report was to look into the cultivation of the Cannabis (Hemp) plant, preparation of drugs from it, trade in those drugs, the social and moral impact of its consumption, and possible prohibition. Over 1,100 standardised interviews were conducted throughout India by medical experts. The commission was systematic and thorough and sampled a large and diverse group of people in a range of situations. Since then, sales of bhang are government-authorized with the issuance of a permit for vendors. Particularly popular in northern India, bhang in solid form, bhang lassis, and thandai or sardai beverages are sold, usually during festivals.

The ancient texts give details for several procedures for the purification or detoxification of marijuana. These texts also list the adverse effects of the use of unpurified marijuana. For medicine, marijuana is almost always consumed orally and not smoked.  The parts of the plant which are most commonly used in healing preparations are the leaves and fruits (called bhaṅgā).  The unpolinated flowers (called gāṅjā), the resin, the seeds, and the roots are also used in some preparations (though the roots are considered especially toxic).

Whatever part is used, Ayurveda always recommends some method of purification for this herb.  One procedure involves boiling marijuana in the decoction of Babbula (Acacia arabica). 

Other methods involve mixing it with milk in various ways.  The simplest procedure for the purification of marijuana involves soaking the herb in pure water for 24 hours.  After this the herbs is squeezed to extract remaining liquid and then dried.  After this, it is fried in cow's ghee over medium heat before storing for use in medicines.  This process helps to reduce the narcotic effects of marijuana and removes its toxic qualities. 

In Ayurveda, only marijuana processed in this way is considered safe to use for healing.  Watch the clip below to know more uses.

In traditional Indian medical texts, Cannabis (Hemp) 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 (Hemp) are "vijaya" - 'the one who conquers' and "siddhi" - 'subtle power', 'achievement'.

Cannabis (Hemp) has a long-held reputation in India for its religious and spiritual implications, particularly in Hinduism. The Hindu god of transformation, Shiva, is believed to have used bhang to focus inward and harness his divine powers, and Cannabis (Hemp) was deemed one of the five most sacred plants on Earth in the sacred Hindu text Atharvaveda. In certain Vedic rituals, Cannabis (Hemp) stems were burned in the ritual fire (yagna) to overcome enemies and evil forces, as Vedas refer to Cannabis (Hemp) as a “source of happiness,” a “joy giver,” and a “liberator.”

There is no stigma at all in provinces where Cannabis (Hemp) has been a part of daily life since the beginning of Hindu culture.  Drinking bhang daily is part of the social fabric and it is a tenet of many religious rituals and the consumption of bhang is considered a way to worship Shiva. The potent medicinal effects of Cannabis (Hemp) that are now being proven by modern science have been practiced for millennia in Ayurvedic medicine.