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Cannabis in India: Past, Present, and Future

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

Cannabis in India: Past, Present, and Future

In this article, we will delve into the intriguing history, current status, and potential future of cannabis in India. From its ancient roots to the evolving legal landscape, we'll explore how this versatile plant has played a significant role in India's culture, economy, and health.

Three Cannabis leaves, side by side, with two human beside the middle on

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Cannabis in Ancient India

3. Colonial Influence and Regulation

4. The Criminalization Era

5. Medicinal and Recreational Use

6. The Legalization Debate

7. Economic Impact

8. Health Considerations

9. Cultural Significance

10. Cannabis and Spirituality

11. The Global Perspective

12. Future Prospects

13. Challenges Ahead

14. Conclusion

15. FAQs


1. Introduction

Cannabis, which is also known as marijuana or bhang in India, has a fascinating history in the subcontinent that dates back to around 2000 BCE. It has been an integral part of Indian society for centuries, with various preparations like charas (resin), ganja (flower), and bhang (seeds and leaves) being used for different purposes. Interestingly, cannabis is even mentioned in the sacred Hindu texts, the Vedas, where it is considered one of the five sacred plants and is believed to have a guardian angel protecting its leaves. In Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva, a prominent deity in many sects, is closely associated with cannabis, particularly "bhang." This rich tradition of cannabis use in India spans thousands of years, and in this article, we'll delve into the past, present, and the potential future of cannabis in this diverse country.


2. Cannabis in Ancient India

ancient indian people, holding cannabis leaves, four people, head made of cannabis

Cannabis has a fascinating history in ancient India, deeply intertwined with spirituality and healing. In the sacred Vedas, dating back to 1500 to 500 BCE, cannabis, known as "bhang" or "bhanga" in Sanskrit, played a pivotal role in religious rituals. Notably, Lord Shiva, the god of destruction in Hinduism, was believed to have used cannabis to turn his focus inward and harness his divine powers for the greater good. Beyond religion, cannabis found its place in medicinal practices, with ancient texts acknowledging its effectiveness in relieving anxiety, boosting appetite, clearing phlegm, and enhancing mental clarity.


But cannabis wasn't limited to Hinduism; it also had a significant presence in shamanic and pagan cultures, where it was used for deep contemplation, seeking enlightenment, exploring the realms of the subconscious, and even as an aphrodisiac during rituals. The plant's therapeutic properties were recognized not only in India but also by Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans. Ayurvedic medicine, too, embraced cannabis for its various healing qualities. So, the use of cannabis in ancient India wasn't just a religious affair; it was a diverse tapestry of spiritual exploration and holistic healing practices.


3. Colonial Influence and Regulation

During the colonial era, India experienced a profound transformation in its relationship with cannabis. This ancient plant had deep roots in Indian culture, serving a multitude of purposes over millennia. It was widely used as a traditional medicine for various ailments, featured prominently in religious rituals as a sacred herb, served as a profitable cash crop for farmers, and was occasionally consumed recreationally, albeit with potential health risks.


When British colonial rule was established, a shift in perceptions of cannabis occurred. The British government introduced regulatory measures aimed at controlling its usage, citing concerns related to public health and morality. In fact, the British Indian Hemp Drugs Commission of 1894-1895 conducted a comprehensive study on cannabis in India and found that it was not as harmful as previously believed. Nevertheless, these findings did not deter the British authorities from imposing stricter controls.


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4. The Criminalization Era

three people holding cannabis leaf, colorful background

After India gained independence, stricter regulations were imposed on cannabis. In 1985, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act classified cannabis as a narcotic, leading to its criminalization. Despite global shifts towards legalization, cannabis remains illegal in India, with penalties for illegal cultivation and trade.


Although there is recognition of cannabis's potential as a source of valuable resources like fiber and high-value oil in India's National Policy on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, illegal production can result in severe penalties. While India supported the removal of cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 2020, any future strides towards legalization should be based on scientific evidence and consider the potential consequences, especially among young people. Proponents argue that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, which are legal but come with their own set of risks. Enforcement agencies are working to combat illicit cannabis cultivation, although eradication efforts decreased from 2017 to 2018.


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5. Medicinal and Recreational Use

Cannabis use in India dates back over two millennia for both cultural and medicinal purposes. Traditional practices like consuming bhang during festivals highlight its cultural significance. Cannabis preparations like charas, ganja, and bhang are prevalent, with bhang lassi and bhang thandai being popular and legal options.


Medicinal properties of cannabis have been known for ages, with historical records mentioning its use to treat various health issues. In 2019, two Indian states, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh, allowed cannabis cultivation for medicinal and industrial purposes. Studies revealed that millions of Indians had consumed cannabis, and about 2.83% of the population were current users. While some research hints at potential health benefits, further studies are needed to fully understand the advantages and risks of medicinal cannabis use.


In the United States, there is strong public support for marijuana legalization, with a significant majority favoring either medical and recreational use or medical use alone. Eighty-eight percent of U.S. adults believe in some form of marijuana legalization, reflecting shifting attitudes towards cannabis in the country.


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6. The Legalization Debate

cannabis leaf inside a thought cloud, yellow background

In recent years, there has been a growing debate around the legalization of cannabis in India. Advocates argue for its potential economic benefits and medical applications, while opponents express concerns about public health and misuse.


Pros of Legalizing Marijuana in India

  1. Increased Tax Revenue: Legalizing marijuana would allow the government to tax its sale, which can generate significant revenue for public services and development.

  2. Reduction in Crime: Legalization can lead to fewer arrests and incarcerations for drug-related offenses, reducing the burden on the criminal justice system.

  3. Positive Economic Impact: The legal cannabis industry can boost the economy by creating jobs and stimulating related businesses.

  4. Medical Benefits: Marijuana has a long history of medicinal use and has proven effective in treating various health conditions.

  5. Employment Opportunities: Legalization or decriminalization could open up new job opportunities in the cultivation, distribution, and retail sectors.

Cons of Legalizing Marijuana in India

  1. Public Health Concerns: Marijuana use has been associated with health issues such as respiratory problems, cognitive impairment, and addiction.

  2. Misuse and Addiction: Legalization might lead to increased misuse and addiction, especially among vulnerable populations.

  3. Lack of Regulation: Without proper regulation, there's a risk of unsafe products and practices in the cannabis market.

  4. Social Stigma: Marijuana use is still stigmatized in many parts of India, and legalization may perpetuate negative stereotypes.

In conclusion, the debate over cannabis legalization in India involves potential economic benefits, medical applications, but also concerns about public health and misuse. It's a complex issue that requires careful consideration of all these pros and cons.

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7. Economic Impact of Cannabis in India

Cannabis legalization in India is a hot topic with passionate arguments on both sides. Let's break down the key points in a simple, friendly way.


Benefits of Legalization:

  1. Boost in Tax Revenue: Legalizing cannabis could bring in a lot of money for the government – up to Rs. 50,000 crore every year, according to some experts. That's like finding a gold mine for the economy!

  2. Job Opportunities: Think about all the jobs that could pop up! From farming to making products to selling them in stores, legal cannabis could reduce unemployment and help the job market.

  3. Less Pressure on Police: Imagine if the police could focus on bigger issues instead of chasing down cannabis users. Legalization could ease their workload and let them focus on more important matters.

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8. Health Considerations

Cannabis leaf having more than 7 section, spiritual leaf, colorful

The health implications of cannabis use are a critical aspect of the debate. Understanding the potential benefits and risks associated with cannabis consumption is essential for making informed decisions about its legalization.


Marijuana, often known as cannabis, has both potential benefits and risks associated with its use. It's crucial to be well-informed to make decisions about its legalization, as the lack of knowledge can have significant public health implications.


The Downsides:

  1. Impairments: Marijuana use can impair various aspects of life, including body movement, thinking, problem-solving, memory, and learning.

  2. Health Risks: It may lead to hallucinations, paranoia, breathing problems, and harm to a fetus's brain in pregnant women.

  3. Long-term Effects: Heavy, long-term use can result in lasting impairments in memory and attention, which can worsen over the years.

  4. Mental Health: Marijuana use has been linked to mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among teenagers.

  5. Heart Concerns: Exogenous cannabinoids, found in marijuana, can disrupt vital processes in animal models, potentially leading to cognitive and behavioral abnormalities.

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Here's a look at some of the potential advantages it may bring:

  1. Lowering Blood Pressure: Cannabis may help in lowering blood pressure, which is beneficial for heart health.

  2. Reducing Inflammation: It has anti-inflammatory properties, potentially aiding in the management of inflammatory conditions.

  3. Preventing Relapse in Addiction: Cannabis could play a role in preventing relapses in drug and alcohol addiction, supporting recovery efforts.

  4. Treating Anxiety Disorders: Some individuals find relief from anxiety disorders through the use of cannabis.

  5. Relief of Chronic Pain: Cannabis has been used to alleviate chronic pain, offering an alternative to traditional pain medications.

  6. Improving Lung Capacity: Surprisingly, it may improve lung capacity, challenging stereotypes.

  7. Regulating and Preventing Diabetes: There's evidence suggesting that cannabis might help regulate blood sugar levels and prevent diabetes.

  8. Fighting Cancer: While more research is needed, some studies suggest that cannabis compounds may have anticancer properties.

  9. Treating Depression: Cannabis may offer relief to some individuals suffering from depression.

  10. Relieving Insomnia: It can help with sleep disorders by promoting relaxation and better sleep.

  11. Treating Epilepsy: Cannabis has shown promise in reducing seizure frequency and severity in epilepsy patients.

  12. Managing Nausea and Weight Loss: It's been effective in managing nausea and stimulating appetite in some cases.

  13. Improving Quality of Life: Patients with various conditions report an improved quality of life with cannabis use.

  14. Reducing Tremors and Pain in Parkinson's Disease: It may help alleviate tremors and pain in Parkinson's disease patients.

  15. Improving Motor Skills in Parkinson's Disease: Cannabis could improve motor skills for those with Parkinson's disease.

  16. HIV/AIDS Patients: It has been used to manage pain and weight loss in individuals with HIV/AIDS.

  17. Treating Digestive Disorders: Cannabis may offer relief to those with irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease.

  18. Stabilizing Blood Sugars and Blood Pressure: Some evidence suggests it can stabilize blood sugars and lower blood pressure.

It's essential to emphasize that while these potential benefits exist, there are also risks and side effects associated with cannabis use. Consulting with a healthcare professional is crucial before considering cannabis for medical purposes to ensure safe and effective usage.

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9. Cultural Significance Of Cannabis In India

Cannabis has deep-rooted cultural significance in India, dating back centuries. Its presence can be traced to ancient Hindu scriptures known as The Vedas. In India, cannabis takes on various forms and names: charas (resin), ganja (flower), and bhang (seeds and leaves). Interestingly, bhang is often used in beverages like bhang lassi and bhang thandai, which are legal and popular.


Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine, acknowledges cannabis as an ingredient in some pain relievers and aphrodisiacs but in small amounts. It's essential to note that Ayurveda doesn't endorse smoking cannabis.


The use of cannabis in India goes beyond just medicinal and recreational purposes. It's deeply ingrained in the historical, socio-cultural, and even political fabric of the country. People use cannabis as an offering to deities and as a means of connecting with the divine.


Despite its rich cultural history, cannabis use can pose challenges related to diagnosis, treatment outcomes, and health issues. Nevertheless, it remains a fascinating and multifaceted part of India's heritage.


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10. Cannabis and Spirituality In India

a human meditating, doing namaste pose, cannabis leaf

Cannabis has a rich history in India, deeply intertwined with religion and culture. It's been used for centuries and holds significant importance among Indians. Especially among ascetics and mendicants, a variant known as 'bhang' is commonly consumed and shared during festivities. It's considered auspicious during Hindu festivals like Shivaratri, Krishna Ashtami, Kali puja, and Holi. Even Lord Shiva, one of Hinduism's principal deities, is often called the 'Lord of Bhang.'


In the Atharva Veda, one of Hinduism's sacred texts, cannabis is listed among the five most sacred plants on Earth. It's described as a 'source of happiness' and a 'liberator.'


Cannabis is believed to help individuals connect with their inner selves and the universe. Hindu beliefs guide how cannabis should be used, reflecting how cultural systems can shape complex experiences. The effects of cannabis can vary widely depending on factors like dosage, frequency of use, and how it's consumed. This complexity may explain why modern research on cannabis often yields contradictory results.


In Hindu culture, cannabis is embraced in diverse ways, accommodating its paradoxical effects. It's believed to both hinder and enhance motivation to work. Above all, moderation is emphasized, and popular folk wisdom guides its responsible use.


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11. The Global Perspective

Cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, is a widely grown and used illicit drug. In fact, it's so prevalent that approximately half of all drug seizures worldwide involve cannabis. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 147 million people, which is about 2.5% of the global population, use cannabis each year.


In 2017, the Global Burden of Disease study reported that there were about 289.7 cases of cannabis use disorder per 100,000 people, which is a measure of problematic cannabis use.


The cannabis market is on the rise worldwide. It's expected to grow by nearly 15% from 2023 to 2028, reaching a market volume of about US$102.90 billion in 2028. Cannabis consumers around the world spent an estimated $415 billion on high-THC cannabis in 2020, and this annual spending is projected to increase to $496 billion by 2025.


In 2020, the global cannabis market was valued at approximately $20.47 billion, and it grew to $28.26 billion in 2021.


It's worth noting that the legalization of cannabis in North America seems to have led to an increase in daily cannabis use, especially among young adults, and a preference for more potent cannabis products.


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12. Future Prospects

Cannabis has been generating quite a buzz in India lately, and it's not just about getting high. While it's important to note that cannabis use is still illegal in India, there are growing movements pushing for its legalization or decriminalization.


Potential for a Billion-Dollar Industry

The potential for a booming cannabis industry in India is significant. Market projections suggest a whopping 16.09% growth from 2023 to 2028, with an estimated market value of US$175.10 million by 2028. That's some serious green potential!


A Global Player in Cannabis Biopharma

India also has a chance to shine on the global stage when it comes to developing cannabis-based pharmaceutical products. This could position India as a leading player in the emerging field of cannabis biopharma.


The Knowledge Gap

However, there's a twist. Despite all the excitement, we still have a lot to learn about cannabis use in India. Research on various aspects of cannabis consumption in the country seems to be lacking, leaving policymakers in the dark.


The Need for Science-Based Policies

To make informed decisions about cannabis, it's crucial that any future moves towards legalization or decriminalization are grounded in solid scientific evidence and a deep understanding of the on-ground realities.


Shedding Light on the Unexplored

High-quality systematic research is the key to unlocking the mysteries of cannabis use in India. This research should delve into the social, cultural, and political factors surrounding cannabis use. By doing so, we can fill the gaps in our knowledge and make more informed choices about the future of cannabis in India.


In summary, India's cannabis industry has immense potential, but it's essential to base any decisions on sound scientific research. As we explore this budding field, we can unlock new opportunities and contribute to informed cannabis policies for the nation.


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13. Challenges Ahead

Road, cannabis leaf, challenges ahead for cannabis legalization in india

Cannabis legalization in India is a hot topic, but it's not without its hurdles. Let's dive into the details and explore the challenges this process faces. We'll also provide a list of useful links at the end.


1. Public Perception: First up, people have different views on cannabis. Some see it as a helpful plant with cultural significance, while others link it to crime and social issues. Addressing this, we need informative campaigns to clear up misconceptions, educate on the pros and cons of cannabis, and reduce the stigma around it.


2. Regulatory Frameworks: To make legalization work, we need solid rules. India has to create clear laws covering everything, from growing and selling to taxing and using cannabis. These rules should put public health, safety, and fairness first.


3. International Agreements: India signed international agreements that control drug use. These agreements might get in the way of cannabis legalization. To tackle this challenge, India might need to negotiate or change these agreements while following its international commitments.


4. Medical and Research Standards: For medical cannabis, we need strict rules. India should define which medical conditions qualify for cannabis treatment, ensure high-quality products, and support scientific research to explore its medical potential fully.


5. Preventing the Illicit Market: One big goal of legalization is to beat the illegal market. Regulators need strong measures to control the cannabis business and stop illegal activities from coming back.


6. Social Equity: Everyone should benefit from legalization. Policies should help marginalized groups get into the legal cannabis industry, clear old cannabis-related criminal records, and invest tax money from cannabis back into communities that need it.


7. Education and Harm Reduction: As cannabis becomes legal, we need to teach people how to use it safely and reduce harm. This includes educating on issues like driving while high and avoiding addiction.


8. Law Enforcement Training: Police need to know how to tell legal cannabis use from illegal activities. Proper training helps prevent unfair arrests and makes sure cannabis laws are enforced fairly.


9. Interstate Transport and Commerce: India is divided into states, and this can complicate moving and selling cannabis across borders. Creating clear rules for moving cannabis between states is important.


10. International Trade: If India wants to be a global player in the legal cannabis market, it needs rules and standards that fit with international trade norms. Cooperation with other countries is essential.


In a nutshell, legalizing cannabis in India is quite a journey, with challenges like changing public opinions, creating solid rules, dealing with international agreements, and making sure it benefits everyone. But with careful planning, education, and international cooperation, India can navigate these challenges successfully.


14. Conclusion

In this comprehensive exploration of cannabis in India, we've journeyed through its ancient roots deeply intertwined with culture and spirituality, the impact of colonialism, the era of criminalization, and the ongoing debate over legalization. While the future prospects of a billion-dollar industry and a global player in cannabis biopharma beckon, challenges such as regulatory frameworks, international agreements, and social equity must be addressed. As India navigates the complex landscape of cannabis, it stands at the crossroads of tradition, science, and policy, shaping its future with careful consideration.


15. FAQs

Q1: Is cannabis legal in India?

A1: No, cannabis is currently illegal for recreational use in India.


Q2: Are there any exceptions for medicinal use?

A2: Currently, there are limited provisions for medicinal cannabis use, but it remains tightly regulated.


Q3: What is bhang, and how is it consumed?

A3: Bhang is a traditional cannabis preparation consumed as a beverage, especially during festivals like Holi.


Q4: How does India's cannabis policy compare to other countries?

A4: India's cannabis policy is more restrictive compared to some countries that have legalized it for both medical and recreational use.


Q5: What are the potential economic benefits of cannabis legalization?

A5: Cannabis legalization could lead to job creation, tax revenue, and economic growth in India.


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