Disease is nothing new to humanity; it has been there since the first human beings themselves. The discovery of fire and the wheel made life easy, and likewise, ancient cultures also developed healing practices with the substances and resources they could access with ease. Accordingly, a number of them also developed herbal medicine knowledge. The ancient science of Ayurveda was one such science.
Many familiar with the health benefits of cannabis wonder if our Ayurvedic ancestors also recognized those benefits. Well, as Dr. Achintya Mitra, Research Officer (Ayurveda) / Scientist at CARI (Central Ayurveda Research Institute), opines, it indeed does. Obviously, chemicals like CBD were not known back then. However, it appears that the Indian healers were quite acquainted with some of its benefits.
Legal obstacles for Ayurvedic cannabis research in India
In India, the central NDPS Act governs cannabis and its use. The legislation classifies cannabis as a narcotic regulated by states. As Dr. Mitra points out, referencing the article The use of cannabis leaves in Indian ayurvedic medicine,
“This means that cannabis leaves cannot be produced (i.e., separated from the cannabis plant) or used for commercial purposes without a license. So, for example, if a medicine manufacturer wishes to use cannabis leaves in its medicines, it ought to have an appropriate license to procure cannabis leaves and use them for medicinal purposes. Needless to say, the manufacturer will also have to pay a ‘duty’ (or tax) for the procurement of cannabis leaves.
The marketing of medicines in India is regulated by Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 (DCA). At present, there is no pharmaceutical medicine containing cannabis or cannabis leaf (or cannabinoids) that is approved under DCA for sale in India. If any pharmaceutical manufacturer were to introduce a cannabis or cannabis leaf-based medicine in India, it would have to first undertake clinical trial of such medicine and establish its safety and efficacy. Undertaking clinical trials is an expensive and time-consuming process. To add to that, cannabis is hardly cultivated officially in India. So, it is difficult to procure standard quality cannabis or cannabis leaf that may be required in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals containing cannabis or cannabis leaf or their extracts.”
Cannabis as per Ayurveda
But people wishing to explore the medicinal benefits of cannabis in India can take heart. “Ayurveda as a branch of medicine explicitly recognizes use of cannabis and cannabis leaves in manufacture of ayurvedic medicines. This means that if a standard ayurvedic medicine is to be manufactured which contains cannabis or cannabis leaves, then no clinical trials have to be undertaken prior to its commercial launch. This makes ayurvedic system of medicines an obvious choice to manufacture and sell cannabis and cannabis-based medicines,” says Dr. Mitra
As he further informs us, “Some Ayurvedic formulations like Jatiphaladi Churna, Madananada Madaka etc. having cannabis as an ingredient.”
Leaves of Cannabis Sativa Linn. are bitter, astringent, tonic, aphrodisiac, alterative, intoxicating, stomachic, analgesic, and abortifacient. It is used for the treatment of convulsions, otalgia, abdominal disorders, malarial fever, dysentery, diarrhea, skin diseases, hysteria, insomnia, gonorrhea, colic, tetanus, and hydrophobia. Its excessive use causes dyspepsia, cough, impotence, melancholy, dropsy, restlessness, and insanity. In order to reduce these toxic effects, Bhangā is boiled with Babbula Tvak kvātha for 3 h, and the powder obtained is triturated with Godugdha. Toxic effects of Bhangā can also be reduced by triturating with Babbula Tvak kvātha and frying the powder obtained in Cow Ghee.”
However, there is one significant difference between medicines with cannabis in Ayurveda and the standard cannabis consumption method. This is, “in Ayurveda, cannabis is being used after proper purification as per traditional method,” explains Dr. Mitra.
However, those looking for a high will be disappointed with the Ayurvedic use of cannabis. According to Dr. Mitra, “Cannabis is recommended only for therapeutic purpose, not for recreation purpose in Ayurveda.”