The Legend of the Himalayan Herb - Cannabis and the Ancient Practices of Ayurveda

The World Health Organisation estimated a staggering 57% rise in chronic illnesses by the year 2020. The numbers may seem jarring, but the hike was undeniable given the massive impact our quality of life and health has seen in the past decade. This shift brings with it an increasing need to take efforts to improve this deteriorating state of wellbeing and health. A variety of remedies, gadgets and devices that claim to increase the longevity of life are already stacking up shelves on the market aisles. The growing concept of wellness has now become an industry of its own.

The true power of Ayurveda
This ever-increasing crowd of plant-based wellness tips and techniques has one thing in common. They all find their roots in the original system of wellness, Ayurveda. A refresher for the unacquainted, Ayurveda is a system of healing originating in the Indian Subcontinent. Dating back as far as 1500 BC, the reputation of this ancient system today has somewhat changed. The word Ayurveda often conjures images of old saints meditating in caves or concoctions of exotic herbs and chants. But in reality, even after all this time, the core of its philosophy has remained unchanged. What lies at heart is this unique way of life. One that identifies the potential of what is around us and harnesses its powers to help re-centre and rediscover the body's lost equilibrium.

This compilation might be ancient, but its impact rings true even in this day and age. Ayurveda as a system has inspired the working of several forms and philosophies of modern medicine that we know and use today. It is a vast and well-versed system that has stood the test of time, technology and progress like no other. The reason for that is, Ayurveda recognizes the uniqueness and complexity of the human body and has created a system that can adapt to those complex needs. It is a system of nature for these beings of nature.

What is the deal with Cannabis?
As the conversation around buzzing topics in wellness continues, another name that is worth mentioning is the Himalayan herb – Cannabis. In comparison to the widely hailed and inspired system of Ayurveda, Cannabis's road to fame has had a rocky start. Where Ayurveda experiences a reawakening in the modern world, Cannabis finds itself at the brunt of misinformed rumours and prejudice. Ones that further box it into the backward narrative of being nothing more than a recreational drug. The truth though is far from it. In fact, the relationship between Cannabis and Ayurveda or rather Cannabis IN Ayurveda goes way deeper than most have been led to believe.

The bond that goes all the way back
Cannabis has been a part of Ayurveda from the very start. It is considered as one of the five sacred plants in the scriptures that is used to make Soma, an elixir for immortality. In Ayurveda, Cannabis is considered as a plant of high medicinal value that helps heal ailments like high blood pressure, gut issues, loss of appetite, insomnia, diarrhoea, phlegm etc. Written around 2000 BC, the Atharva Veda, a compilation of 20 books on knowledge and daily Vedic practices, is where one finds the earliest known mention of Hemp Leaf Extract. As a sacred guardian, used in yagna or ritual fire, to ward off demons, evil forces and enemy powers. It was also considered as a liberator and source of joy and happiness, used to cure diseases and relieve anxiety

The Sushruta Samhita is another foundational Ayurvedic text, that details the various uses of Cannabis. Written by the Father of Surgery and Indian Medicine, Sushrut, it mentions the use of purified Cannabis or "Shudha Bhanga" as an anaesthetic for surgical procedures. Compiled between 100 - 200 BCE, the Charak Samhita is a Vedic text that mentions the use of Cannabis or Vijaya for treating conditions of pain, pyrexia as well as for the purpose of sedation and anesthetization during surgeries. 

Featured in as many as 191 formulations and more than 15 dosage forms, the medicinal properties of Cannabis are unmatched. Conditions like anxiety, epilepsy and chronic pain, which in today’s day and age are in dire need of plant-based alternatives have found hope in Cannabis as an effective remedy.

Ayurveda however, does warn about the misuse of Cannabis for recreation. For doing so can cause doshic imbalances and lead to degradation of the mind, body, and soul. Pure Cannabis as a whole is regarded to be toxic and is hence always recommended to be consumed or used in combination with other ingredients after purification.

From a cultural standpoint, this ancient detailed account of Cannabis is what has also made it an important figure in Indian culture. Household remedies that make use of Cannabis have been a common sight for decades. Bhaang is a drink made using a ground paste of Cannabis leaves and flowers. Paired with cooling foods such as milk, yogurt, cardamom and fennel seeds, it is used as an effective remedy to treat conditions such as glaucoma and hypertension. As a topical salve, Kshatantak Malam which contains ground Cannabis leaves, chaff flower and onion is used to heal deep cuts, wounds and burns.

Turning over a new leaf with Cannabis
With its versatile range of uses and applications, Cannabis has the power to become the next must-have staple. But, the question still remains. In this journey of rekindling our roots and relationship with Ayurveda, why has Cannabis been exempted from enjoying a newfound place in modern society?

The anti-marijuana propaganda of the West along with the impact of British colonisation led to subsequent criminalisation of Cannabis in India, making it virtually non-existent in Ayurvedic healing today. Its notorious reputation today has also often been linked to the rise in recreational use. Cannabis has been taboo for years despite its long-standing presence in our culture.

But all hope is not lost. The growing need for holistic healing inspired by the principles of Ayurveda leaves plenty of potential for Cannabis to carve a new niche and make itself known again. With the recent legalisation of CBD in India, Cannabis is gradually making its way back into Ayurvedic clinics. The potential is there, and the science checks out. What is left is a matter of changing perceptions, opening minds and leading conversations.

It is the need of the hour to look beyond the hearsay and accept and acknowledge the facts. We must put prejudices to rest and embrace what the culture truly speaks. It is only then can we move beyond the name and dive deeper into the true potential of this miracle plant. In the race of wellbeing, this wonder plant may be the underdog, but it is only a matter of time it will make its way to the top.

Written by Shamooda Amrelia, Doorbeen Creatives


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