Cannabis chronicles: Ancient India


The earliest record of cannabis in Indian literature is dated as early as 2000 BC – “bhang”, however it is not clear if it is direct reference of cannabis or another sacred plant. According to written sources the plant was known in India at least from 1000 BC. It is recommended for treatment of catarrh accompanied by diarrhea, excess production of phlegm and biliary fever. The medicinal quality of cannabis are described in more details by Narahari Pandita in 300 AD in “Rajanirghanta”. It is possible Indian surgeons to have used the plant as anesthetic.

Garcia de Orta
Garcia de Orta

Garcia da Orta described the social use of cannabis in 1563 – to produce intoxication, cause hallucinations, increase appetite, allay anxiety, promote merriment and induce sleep. Cannabis was an important part of the traditional herbal medicine, known as Ayuverdic. It was used to treat conditions like digestive disorders, diarrhea, cholera and dysentery, colic, malarial fever, nervous diseases, insomnia, mania, epilepsy, hysteria, gonorrhea, urethritis, reduced appetite, gout, rheumatic diseases, migraine, dysmenorrhea, cough, asthma, bronchitis, oliguria, dysuria, pain and heat stroke. In addition, cannabis was applied externally to treat open wounds, hemorrhoids, conjunctivitis, arthritis, erysipelas and toothache. Cannabis was also used as a prophylactic against malaria and cholera.

In 1659 Aurangzeb, Emperor of India, prohibited the use and cultivation of “bhang” but the prohibition was virtually impossible to enforce. In 1893-1894, the British Government, commissioned the seven volume Indian Hemp Drug Commission Report but Indian government took the view that cannabis use is part of Indian society and would be impossible and unreasonable to ban it.

Cannabis was also claimed to focus the mind for the purpose of meditation and was also taken to promote pleasurable intoxication and as an aphrodisiac. The plant also had veterinary uses – promotion of bovine lactation, disinfection of sheep pens, treatment of intestinal worms and general tonic for bullocks, and even as aphrodisiac prior to mating. [1, 2]

Indian charas of good quality is said to have a resin content of about 35–45% [63], which according to some calculations, might yield a theo- retical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of up to 30%. [2]


The god, Shiva is frequently associated with cannabis, called bhang in India. According to legend, Shiva wandered off into the fields after an angry discourse with his family. Drained from the family conflict and the hot sun, he fell asleep under a leafy plant. When he awoke, his curiosity led him to sample the leaves of the plant. Instantly rejuvenated, Shiva made the plant his favorite food and he became known as the Lord of Bhang.


During the Middle Ages, soldiers often took a drink of bhang before entering battle, just as Westerners took a swig of whiskey. One story tells of the Sikh leader, Gobind Singhs’s soldiers being scared by an attacking elephant with a sword in his trunk. Terrified, the men nearly mutinied until Singh gave one courageous man a mixture of bhang and opium. The herbs have him the strength and agility to slip under the elephant from below and kill him without endangering himself. This act of courage led Singh’s men to victory over the enemy. [3]



  1. CANNABIS The Genus Cannabis
  2. Cannabis in India: ancient lore and modern medicine
  1. History of Cannabis in India 


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