India, Religion and Cannabis

marijuan

The Religious Relevance of Cannabis

Since time immemorial, Cannabis has been a part of the Indian history. The use of cannabis has never been limited to the mortals, but the deities of the Hindu mythology have been known to use cannabis. . Lord Shiva, the lord of destruction also smoked cannabis. It has been an indispensable part of Hinduism. It was used for a spiritual purpose, for internal liberation.

In Atharva Veda, a sacred text of Hinduism, there is a mention of Cannabis. It is considered to be one of the ‘five most sacred’ plants on Earth. This plant could be used to help attain spiritual freedom, control fear, and gain happiness. It helps one  engage with and consciously be aware of and  learn about their own reality and introspect. Many sages use cannabis due to its association with elixir and Shiva. They turn their backs on material aspects of life, consider it as a tool to attain spiritual freedom.

How Cannabis is consumed in India

In the religious discourse, Cannabis is often consumed in the form of a drink. Nuts and spices, like almonds, saffron, pistachios, poppy seeds, pepper, ginger and sugar are mixed with cannabis and boiled with milk. This drink is known as ‘bhaang’, often consumed during the Hindu Festival, Holi. Wise consumption of bhang is believed to cleanse sins and unite one with Shiva, the ultimate. Sometimes, ‘bhaang’ is rolled into tiny balls and consumed.

The use of Cannabis is not only confined to the religious rites. Like all the people in the world who smoke up, Indians popularly use Cannabis to attain the high induced by it. With no spiritual aspects attached, it’s just for entering the trance state. The most common way is to roll a joint and smoke. It’s called gaanja, and it consists of flowers and the upper leaves of the female plant. In ancient times, gaanja was smoked in earthenware pipes called chillums.

Smoking the plant in the form of a joint is often known to induce a better and greater high than consuming it in the form of the drink, bhaang and the use of it is not just restricted to special occasions.

Cannabis as a Cure

Cannabis has great potential and is also widely used for its medicinal properties. It’s has found its way in the medical industry. There is an increasing acceptance of Cannabis in the pharmaceutical sector, Scientists and Doctors are welcoming the use of cannabis for curing various illnesses. This may seem to be a new development, but the benefits of marijuana have been well stated in the Indian Ayurveda and Atharvaveda system. There are shreds of evidence that in the 9-10th century, Cannabis was used to treat conditions like sleeping disorders, gastrointestinal disorders headaches, and labour pains.

Its massive medicinal potential has been long known but denied.

India’s Cannabis Culture: An Inspiration for New Yorkers

Cannabis being revered in India inspired Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky to organise protests to legalise Cannabis in New York. In 1964, pro-cannabis protests started in America. Protestors at Tompkins Square Park chanted “Om Hari Namo Shiva”. They mentioned how Indians openly Cannabis used in India and they wanted the same to happen in their country.

Cannabis during Colonization

When the Britishers invaded India, they were shocked by the widespread usage of the Cannabis. They had to commission a study of Cannabis’s cultural significance and its effects. They observed that it was a means of solace, a cure for diseases and a way to connect to one’s God. It was almost impossible to restrict the use of something so intrinsic to the culture.

For the sake of sanity and the good health of the ‘natives’, the British imposed a tax on Cannabis in 1798 which was aimed at reducing the cannabis consumption.

Ban on Cannabis

In 1961, in a UN Convention, America put pressure to put Cannabis into the synthetic drug category.

In 1985, the Prime Minister of India enforced an act called Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. According to this law, the government prohibited the production, trade and consumption of cannabis. Only the use of leaves and seeds was permitted and was subjected to State’s regulations. Cannabis cultivation was somehow legalised just for making industrial hemp, medical purposes and also  for horticulture purposes.

The illegal status of Cannabis leads to illicit trade and crimes associated with it. Countries with the legal status of Cannabis have allowed easy access to Cannabis; one can use dispensary delivery to get it as well and legalising it also allows the product to be brought under taxation, thus regulating the use of it.  They are considered to have better happiness index, less crime associated with drugs and more jobs opportunities in the hemp industries. Adding to that, Forbes has stated that the hemp industry in the US has great potential to create job opportunities. It can outperform the manufacturing industry in terms of jobs. After legalising Cannabis in some states of the US, the crime rates have become significantly low. Also, the sales of alcohol and tobacco also went down.

According to a study, alcohol and tobacco are 114% harmful than Cannabis. Consumers who are aware of the same fact easily switch to Cannabis, considering it a better substitute of attaining this high. This becomes another reason for not legalising Cannabis in India. Alcohol and Cigarettes are a great source of revenue for  the government. Cannabis, if authorised, can hugely hamper the sales of the two significant sources of income.

Way Forward

Considering the religious and therapeutic relevance of Cannabis, it must be easily accessible in the country. Cannabis addiction is a rare thing, that’s why one doesn’t need to worry about it. Lawful trade of Cannabis will not only minimise the illegal trading but also, reduce the rise in alcohol and tobacco addiction. The government can impose taxes, which can compensate for  the loss of revenue from the alcohol and tobacco industry.

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