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How Cannabis Fits into the Ancient Indian Medicinal System of Ayurveda

2 minute Read

The use of cannabis dates back thousands of years, so it’s no surprise the cannabis plant has a place in ayurvedic medicine. Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine originating from India. Ayurveda relies on the principle that the body and mind are connected, while healing depends on balancing your body’s elements.

The ayurvedic system classifies everyone’s body into three doshas, or constitutions, and provides information for the kind of lifestyle and diet that match your body type. It upholds in high regard a person’s relationship to different foods, herbs, and plant medicines — so of course, this medicinal system also takes into account cannabis.

According to ayurveda, everything has the potential to be medicinal — including cannabis. Among all the intoxicating substances, ayurveda considers cannabis to be the least problematic. However, that’s not to say you should overindulge.

In Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language, synonyms for cannabis imply its benefits especially for soothing grief. The cannabis plant is appreciated as one of the five anti-anxiety herbs, helping us engage in conversation, social relationships, deeper awareness, and pleasure, while also relieving depression.

As ayurveda pays much attention to the various elements that may cause imbalances in the body, such as excessive water or heat, it also identifies which elements cannabis brings to the table.

According to ayurveda, heating (ushna), drying (ruksha), and astringent (kshaya) are all inherent qualities in the cannabis plant. Cannabis is also defined by tikshna, or the ability to penetrate body tissue quickly, and laghu, or lightness.

When you think about the endocannabinoid system, or the body’s inherent network of cannabinoid receptors, this all makes sense. For instance, cottonmouth could be a symptom of ruksha, while the plant’s pain relieving qualities may indicate tikshna.

The cannabis plant’s heating quality can help with digestion, anxiety, and muscle relaxation, while its dry and astringent qualities can benefit diabetes, glaucoma, or swelling. Cannabis also has grahi, a holding quality, which helps the body retain nourishment better and enhances food assimilation, which can be helpful for IBS.

However, the cannabis plant also has less ideal qualities like madam, or drunkenness, and moham, distorted perception.

The distinction between cannabis as a medicine and a poison depends on the dose. If it’s not used properly, cannabis can cause tamas, or delusion and lethargy, rajas, over-activity, and sattwa, clear, heightened awareness.

Often, ayurveda suggests combining cannabis with other herbs or plant foods. It could be a good idea to add an herb that has the opposite effect to cannabis to balance it out — such as a cooling agent, since cannabis already provides heat. Cooling herbs may include cumin, cilantro, fennel, or rose.

Dairy is also often used in conjunction with cannabis. Milk is thought to balance out the plant’s negative qualities like lethargy or its more aggressive mental effects, like paranoia if you get too high. That’s why the traditional bhang potion (essentially a cannabis smoothie) is also made with milk. Meanwhile, ghee, or clarified Indian butter, is used to purify cannabis and enhance its healing properties. Ghee’s coolness also balances the cannabis plant’s heat.

Essentially, the idea behind ayurveda is to achieve balance. Every food, plant, and person has its own properties and requires a counter so that you don’t suffer from imbalance. Even cannabis, as much as it can help stimulate and nourish the endocannabinoid system, needs to be used properly and carefully to keep the body stable.

How Cannabis Fits into the Ancient Indian Medicinal System of Ayurveda