Cannabis and the Ancient Science of Ayurveda
By Surjeet Shetty. You can follow him on instagram at @brownmanroaming
The word Ayurveda can be simply translated as ‘the science of life’ or ‘the art of longevity’.
Ayurveda is an ancient system of holistic medicine that derives its roots from the Hindu religion in the Indian subcontinent. Some scholars argue that Ayurveda has been practiced since the prehistoric times, if not earlier.
Traditionally this knowledge was passed down from one generation of healer to the next, with the discipline of Ayurveda being interpreted and practiced in an infinite number of ways.
When I was growing up in India, Ayurveda wasn’t something that was taught, nor was it necessarily discussed at home, it just was. Kind of like the western notion of a home remedy, but practiced on a much larger scale, by about a billion people.
Whenever I would catch a cold or a flu, my grandmother (who could neither read nor write) would concoct a brew of healing ingredients like ginger, garlic, onion, black pepper, turmeric and who knows what else. Like it or not, I was told to chug it down like I was at Oktoberfest.
While Ayurveda has been practiced in the west since the early 20th century, the global wellness trends have firmly pushed it into the mainstream purview.
Yet for some reason, cannabis is a contentious issue among contemporary Ayurvedic practitioners and is rarely discussed as a plant compatible with this ancient practice.
ONE PERSONS MEDICINE IS ANOTHER’S POISON
According to experts like Dr. Robert Svoboda and his teacher Dr. Vasant Lad, Ayurveda is more than just a science of herbal medicine. It is a holistic healing system that incorporates philosophy, spirituality and science. To think of Ayurveda as only the science of mixing plant materials for herbal remedies is limiting at best. It is as if to say that mathematics is only good for the sake of doing basic arithmetic.
In Ayurveda, every human is viewed as a unique phenomenon, with each of us containing a universe within ourselves, while at the same time being inseparable from the vast cosmos. The emphasis is laid on achieving greater harmony, peace and longevity through the understanding our own individual constitutions. Empowering each person to decide what does and does not work for them.
The end goal is always to achieve a balance of the mind, body and soul.
CANNABIS IN AYURVEDA
Evidence shows that the cannabis plant originated around the Indian subcontinent. Mention of the plant’s healing powers and therapeutic uses are littered throughout ancient Indian texts. Even today cannabis can be found growing wild in some parts of India.
The plant itself is referred to reverentially in both ayurvedic scripture and Hindu philosophy. In fact, the Ayurvedic name given to cannabis is Vijaya, meaning victory. The Vedas (Hindu religious texts) speak of the great deity, Lord Shiva, bringing this sacred plant from a mythical mountain down to earth for the pleasure of all mankind.
Bhang is one such Ayurvedic remedy widely consumed around India and even popularised in the west. It is an edible preparation made by powdering the leaves of the cannabis plant along with mixed Indian spices and has long been used as part of the Ayurvedic diet.
These days you can get many different Bhang variations, some infused with decarbed flowers for a more modern cannabis experience.
Traditional Indian wrestlers in the Northern part of India, known for their strenuous training routines, often consume bhang mixed into a high fibre paste containing, almonds, pistachios, milk, and other spices. This decoction is said to be a great nutritional supplement as well as being an anti-inflammatory to aid in recovery.
Despite its prevalence, western Ayurvedic practitioners like Dr. John Douillard and Alaknanda Ma are rather critical in their assessment of cannabis. While praising the plant as sacred for its innate healing qualities, they claim that cannabis is also a liver toxin, addictive, and a low-grade depressive, that it even causes yellowish eyes.
Often these arguments are supported with clinical studies and random isolated cases. I can’t help but see this as a classic case of cannabis stigmatization in the west, further prohibited by the western approach to medicine as one-size-fits-all.
To be clear, I’m not against western medicine, however, it has invariably flourished on the principle of treating people based on isolated organs like liver, pancreas, kidneys and so on, which is the polar opposite to Ayurveda.
In Ayurveda normality must be evaluated individually, because every human constitution manifests its own particular composition.
SO WHAT’S THE VERDICT?
Today, even Ayurvedic practitioners in India are reluctant to sing praises of the cannabis plant, perhaps due to the stigma stemming from the western colonial mindset.
While cannabis may not be as bad as some Ayurvedic practitioners make it out to be (yellowing devil eyes and all), there is evidence to show that when used incorrectly cannabis can be habit forming and detrimental to some. Of course, unhealthy indulgences are littered across our culture with anything from fast food and sugar to video games and social media.
When it comes to cannabis and Ayurveda, it may help to keep in mind the core principle of Ayurveda. Always consider the harmony of your individual constitution and take stock every once in a while to see what your body is telling you.
The cannabis plant is many different things to many different people. For some it’s sacred, to others it is a healer, and to some others it is a muse for creativity. But to the vast majority of cannabis consumers, myself included, it is a source of great joy.
At the end of the day, cannabis is only a plant and we humans are the ones capable of abusing it. Not the other way around.