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India's 17 Lesser-Known Cannabis Facts

India's 17 Lesser-Known Cannabis Facts

India's profound cannabis legacy intertwines with the Vedic, Hindu, and Ayurvedic realms. Its spiritual, medicinal essence merges with diverse strains, cultivation, and evolving government views, marking a millennia-spanning narrative. Let's dive in!

India's 17 Lesser-Known Cannabis Facts, Old temples in India, cannabis hemp leaf, Taj mahal, Red fort

Cannabis cultivation is an important source of income for local farmers in parts of India, particularly in the Himalayan region.

Cannabis cultivation is legal in India for industrial and horticultural purposes, but not for other purposes. In select Indian states, there's a movement toward legalizing cannabis cultivation for medicinal and industrial purposes, aimed at bolstering the economy. For example, Himachal Pradesh anticipates an annual income of ₹18,000 crore by regulating cannabis growth, easing its ₹60,500 crore pandemic-induced debt, and creating jobs. Similarly, in Punjab, experts and farmers advocate for cannabis cultivation to combat the deadly impact of synthetic drugs like 'Chitta' and alcohol, saving lives and steering people away from addiction. The Indian government encourages research and cultivation of cannabis with low THC content, but it is strict with its Cannabis policy, and holding even a small quantity of weed can lead to rigorous imprisonment of up to six months or a fine.


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Bhang, a traditional drink consumed during Holi, is made from ground cannabis leaves and milk.

Bhang, a green paste derived from female cannabis plants, holds a higher THC content and is a key element in Indian festivities like Holi and Maha Shivratri. Commonly paired with thandai, a milk-based drink, bhang is also incorporated into various treats like lassi, snacks, chutneys, and pickles. Its preparation involves grinding cannabis leaves and flowers into a paste mixed with warm milk and spices. Consuming bhang is a long-standing tradition during Holi, believed to heighten sensory experiences. With roots in Ayurvedic medicine, bhang remains a culturally significant cannabis edible in India. Bhang lassi is a drink that's made of yogurt or milk, nuts, spices such as cardamom and cinnamon, rose water, and cannabis. Bhang is traditionally distributed during the spring festival of Maha Shivaratri and Holi in India.


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Charas, a type of cannabis resin, is highly regarded as the best form of cannabis worldwide.

Charas is a cannabis concentrate made from the resin of a live cannabis plant, which is handmade in India and Jamaica. It is considered by some to be the finest form of cannabis in the world. Charas has been used for thousands of years for medicinal and religious purposes across the Indian subcontinent. The plant grows wild in Northern India along the stretch of the Himalayas. Charas is made by rubbing fresh marijuana flower between the palms, and the hemp flowers are used to make it. Charas remains popular in the subcontinent and is often used by Indian sadhus for religious purposes. The Naga Sadhus, Aghoris, and Tantric Bhairava sects smoke it freely as an integral part of their religious practice.


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Uttarakhand state in India now allows cannabis cultivation for medicine and industry.

The Indian state of Uttarakhand has legalized cannabis cultivation for medicinal and industrial purposes. The Centre for Aromatic Plants in Selaqui, Dehradun, is the nodal agency for hemp cultivation. The state has favorable weather conditions and abundant availability of the hemp plant. Uttarakhand was the first state in India to legalize cannabis cultivation. In July 2018, Uttarakhand became the first Indian state to legalize hemp farming, establishing itself as the leading producer in the country. Licenses for cannabis cultivation have been granted by the state government under the Excise Act, primarily in specific regions where the Hemp plant thrives, historically used for fibers and seeds by locals. This legalization has created opportunities for self-employment through commercial cannabis cultivation. Those interested in obtaining a license for hemp cultivation in Uttarakhand can access information on the application process and the designated districts for cultivation.


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In 2017, the Himachal Pradesh High Court decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use in the state.

In 2017, the High Court of Himachal Pradesh ruled that possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use is no longer a criminal offense in the state. Recently, the state government has been considering legalizing cannabis cultivation to generate revenue and promote medicinal benefits.

The government has formed a committee of legislators to look into the legalization of cannabis cultivation in the state and submit its report within a month. The committee will examine the industrial and medicinal benefits of cannabis and the pros and cons of its cultivation.


The Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, has stated that the government will make a decision regarding cannabis cultivation depending on what the report concludes. Under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) of 1985, a complete ban has been imposed on extracting the resin and flowers of the cannabis plant.


However, neighboring Uttarakhand became the first state in the country to legalize cannabis cultivation in 2017, and controlled cultivation is being done in some districts of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. The Central government has given legal status to the cultivation of cannabis in some districts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh.


The Himachal Pradesh assembly has been given the right to cultivate cannabis and transport it under the NDPS Act. The deliberation over cannabis legalization is not new in Himachal Pradesh. The state government has been actively working on a policy to bring cannabis cultivation under a legal mandate.

CPS Sunder Singh Thakur has demanded that hemp from cannabis should be allowed for usage, as it comes under the cannabis sativa class and can be used to make ropes, slippers, textiles, among other things.


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Cannabis likely came from India, though its origins are unclear.

Cannabis, believed to have origins in India though uncertain, has been a part of Indian culture for thousands of years. The indigenous strain Cannabis indica grows naturally in the Himalayan foothills. References to cannabis date back to The Vedas, Hindu scriptures from 2000-1400 BC, where it was esteemed as one of five sacred plants, believed to shelter a guardian angel within its leaves. In Ayurvedic and tantric texts, cannabis is known as Vijaya and samvid respectively. In Indian society, 'ganja' and 'charas' are common terms for cannabis preparations. Ganja, made from female plant flowers and higher leaves, and charas, derived from flowering flowers, are highly regarded. Charas, abundant in resin, shares potency akin to hashish. Recognizing widespread cannabis use, the British funded a significant study in colonial India by the late 1890s.


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The ancient Hindu text Rigveda mentions a plant called "som" which some scholars believe may have been a precursor to cannabis.

The Rigveda, an ancient Hindu text, mentions a plant called "som" or "hom" which may have been a precursor to cannabis and was used in religious ceremonies. The plant is associated with the god Soma and was used in rituals. Its exact identity is uncertain, but it is believed to have been a psychoactive substance. The god Shiva is also known as "Som-nath," which means "Lord of Soma." In the region where the Rigveda was composed, the plant is called "hum" and "som." Some scholars believe that the plant was a different psychoactive substance.


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India approves cannabis-based medicines for medical conditions like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

The Indian government has approved the use of cannabis-based medicines for specific medical conditions like multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. While trade and consumption of cannabis is banned under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act of 1985, the Central Government affirmed in January 2022 that the medical use of cannabis, or Vijaya, is allowed in India. The Centre further empowered the State Governments to permit/license, control, and regulate the cultivation, production, manufacture, transport, import/export, sale/purchase, and consumption of Vijaya and its derived cannabis-based medicines for industrial, horticultural, scientific, and medical purposes


Several pharmaceutical drugs based on cannabis, in purified and standardized form, have been made available for medical use. However, the use of herbal cannabis in medicine remains highly controversial, in part because of the lack of standardization among products to ensure safe and consistent dosing and in part because of disagreement over legalization.


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India has various indigenous cannabis strains, such as Malana Cream, Himalayan Gold, and Kerala Gold.

India is home to several indigenous strains of cannabis, including Malana Cream, Himalayan Gold, and Kerala Gold. Most Indian landrace strains are believed to be 100% sativa, and many botanists believe Cannabis sativa to be native to India. Some of the most popular and recognizable landrace cannabis strains from India are Manala, Parvati, Kumaoni, Nanda Devi, Idduki Gold, Nepalese, Rajasthani, Sillong Kush, and Sheelawti. Tropical India is the likely center of origin for classic Sativa-type domesticates (i.e., landraces).


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Cannabis use in India dates back to the Vedic period thousands of years ago.

Cannabis has been used in India for thousands of years, dating back to the Vedic period. In Indian society, common terms for cannabis preparations include charas (resin), ganja (flower), and bhang (seeds and leaves). Cannabis was used as part of Hindu spiritual practices and traditional medicine for perhaps thousands of years. Indian history and Hindu Aryan culture have the tradition of using cannabis, bhang, and other plants as medicine. These findings suggest that cannabis was used for medicinal and spiritual purposes in ancient India, and it highlights the long history of cannabis use in Indian culture.


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The Atharva Veda, an ancient Hindu text, considers cannabis as one of the five most sacred plants on earth.

The Atharva Veda, an ancient Hindu text, refers to cannabis as one of the five most sacred plants on earth and recognizes it for its healing properties. Ayurveda, a sub-script of the Atharva Veda, also recognizes cannabis as one of the five sacred plants in the Vedas. The Vedas call cannabis a source of happiness and a liberator. These findings suggest that cannabis was considered a sacred plant in ancient Hinduism, and it highlights the long history of cannabis use in Indian culture.


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Cannabis was traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat pain, inflammation, anxiety, and other ailments.

Cannabis has been used in traditional Indian medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including pain, inflammation, and anxiety. Ayurvedic physicians have prescribed cannabis for many of the same reasons people value it today. The first major work to describe the uses of cannabis in Indian medicine was the Ayurvedic treatise of Sushruta Samhita. Cannabis was also employed by traditional folk medicine in the treatment of diseases. These findings suggest that cannabis was used for medicinal purposes in ancient India, and it highlights the long history of cannabis use in Indian culture.


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Indian sadhus, or holy men, have long used cannabis as a tool for meditation and spiritual practice.

Indian sadhus, or holy men, have long used cannabis as a tool for meditation and spiritual practice. The use of cannabis provides the sadhu with a link to their gods, and it is a substance favored by Lord Shiva. Cannabis is illegal in India, but its prevalence is remarkable across the social and spiritual landscape of India. A variant called 'bhang' is frequently consumed and offered as part of festivities. These findings suggest that cannabis has been used for spiritual purposes in India for a long time, and it highlights the cultural significance of cannabis in Indian society.


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The British government in colonial India banned cannabis in 1837 as part of their efforts to control and subjugate the Indian population.

The British colonial government in India regulated cannabis due to its extensive use. A large-scale study was commissioned by the British in the late 1890s to examine attitudes towards cannabis. The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission was established in 1893 to investigate the cultivation, preparation, distribution, and use of cannabis in India. The British feared that cannabis could cause madness and that its use was a threat to colonial power. European and Asian attitudes towards cannabis are identified and historicized in the colonial archives of British India.


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Despite the ban by the British, cannabis was still commonly used in India for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

Cannabis is considered a sacred plant in several religions and has been used as an entheogen in the Indian subcontinent since the Vedic period. Despite the British ban, it continued to be widely used in India for both medicinal and recreational purposes. Many street vendors openly sell products infused with cannabis, and traditional medical practitioners in Sri Lanka sell products infused with cannabis for recreational purposes and religious celebrations. While Indian laws criminalizing cannabis date back to the colonial period, Uttarakhand became the first state of India to legalize the cultivation of hemp for industrial purposes in November 2015. The UNODC World Drug Report 2022 highlights trends on cannabis post-legalization, environmental impacts of illicit drugs, and drug use among others.

Furthermore, the use and acceptance of medicinal cannabis continue to evolve, as shown by the growing number of states now permitting use for specific medical indications. Pew Research Center reports that with more states authorizing the use of marijuana, the public continues to favor legalizing it for medical and recreational purposes. This indicates that the use of cannabis is becoming more widely accepted and legalized around the world.


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In the 80s and 90s, India became a global hub for cannabis culture, with hippies and seekers from around the world flocking to places like Goa and Manali.

During the 1980s and 1990s, India became a hotspot for cannabis culture, attracting hippies and seekers from around the world to places like Goa and Manali. The Hippie Trail, a popular overland journey between Europe and the primary sources of cannabis in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Nepal, led to the rise of cannabis tourism in India. This trend continued into the 90s, with India becoming a hub for cannabis cultivation and production. However, in recent years, India has cracked down on drug use and possession, with strict laws and penalties in place.


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The Indian government cracked down on cannabis use in the 2000s due to pressure from the US and international drug control agencies.

According to UNODC, the US and international drug control agencies have been pressuring countries to crack down on drug use for over a century. In the 2000s, the Indian government began to crack down on cannabis use in response to this pressure. The 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment by the DEA highlights the shift in the drug landscape in the United States over the past decade, with opioids becoming a major threat. However, research has shown that state-level marijuana liberalization policies have been evolving for the past five decades. While collaboration among law enforcement, health, and social service agencies can help reduce demand, it is important to consider the impact of drug control policies on individual rights and public health.


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In conclusion, India's intricate relationship with cannabis is deeply rooted in its historical, spiritual, and medicinal landscapes. From the Vedic age to modern times, cannabis has been intertwined with Hindu traditions, revered in Ayurveda, and celebrated for its diverse strains. Its journey encompasses spiritual reverence, medicinal applications, and the evolving perspectives of the government, crafting a narrative that spans centuries, enriching both traditional and contemporary outlooks on this versatile plant. This is all about India's 17 Lesser-Known Cannabis Facts, see you in the next one.


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