Cannabis from around the world!

Dr Sona A Pungavkar
Cannabis has been used as a sacred plant, either as a medicine or in religious ceremonies,  across the world from South-east Asia to North America. It has played a significant role in many cultures, shaping their beliefs. Let us explore the connect between various traditions and Cannabis.
Most religious authorities discourage the use of intoxicants, but at the same time advocate use of herbs to allow a clear mind with a sense of well-being and increased productivity.
Referring to the connection between Cannabis and the Hinduism, it is widely known that the plant holds an important place. It has a mention in Ayurveda, being considered as a source of joy and happiness. It has been known as being the favouritefood of Lord Shiva and is consumed as Bhang and smoked during Holi and Mahashivratri, an integral part of the worship.
In Sikhism, bhang is apart of the religious rites. The disciples are encouraged to drink the sacred preparation during Dussehra, by mixing with water.
While religious use of Cannabis is firmly documented in Indian traditions, other religious practising Christianity and Judaism also have a reference to it’s use. The debate continues whether the mention of the plant “kanehbosm” was indeed Cannabis, that God wanted Moses to use in the anointing oil, as mentioned in Exodus.
Although, there is no definite mention of prohibition of Cannabis in Islam, the tradition discourages the use of some substances, which can cloud the mind, labelling them as haram (forbidden), which could be extrapolated to the result of overuse of Cannabis. However, the therapeutic effect of the plant could be labelled as halal (allowed), as is for various other medications in the religion.
The Sufis, also part of the Islamic religion, are a breakaway sect, who believe in directing their consciousness towards God. They found use of a cannabis as a propellant for the same. They carry the belief that, the feeling of well-being, generated through the use of cannabis can help to reach the state of enlightenment. Sheikh Haydar, the Persian founder of the religious order of Sufi, was well aware of the plant’s potential to be an instrument that enabled spiritual commune with God. He had requested the cannabis plant to be grown around his grave, after his death.
The Buddhist religion is also focused on the follower’s own spiritual development. While commonly, it is forbidden to use any intoxicating or mind-altering substance, some sects of Buddhism believe otherwise. They consume Cannabis to aid them in reaching Nirvana, Buddha is depicted with a bowl of Soma in his hands, which some consider as being made up of Cannabis.
Much like India, China was also well aware of Cannabis’ medicinal and spiritual benefits since ancient times. In fact, the earliest mention of Cannabis as a medicine worldwide, has been found in a Chinese pharmacopeia titled Divine Farmer’s Herb Root Classic, published in 2727 BC. Taoist shamans would blend it with ginseng, to make a special concoction, that they believed would assist them in revealing truths about the future.
In the German world of Pagans, the cannabis plant is said to contain the feminine energy of Freyja, the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. It was believed that consuming the plant allowed her essence to enter one’s body.  The plant was utilised during spiritual and fertility rituals and was given such importance that hemp clothes and seeds were given as a gift to the dead, while harvesting it was a cause for celebration.
According to records by ancient Greek historian Herodotus (484 - 425 BC), Cannabis was used both medicinally and recreationally by Scythians and Assyrians. These groups travelled to, and settled in Greece, introducing the local people to the plant. Cannabis incense was used in Scythian bathhouses, the effects of which are said to have made them “shout for joy.” The Greeks are also recorded to have detailed lists maintained by some physicians for ailments that could be treated with the plant.
Even in Egyptian culture, Cannabis is likely to be used regularly, probably as a part of their religious rituals, as traces of the herb have since been found in the systems of several mummies. Mention of the Cannabis’ medicinal properties, have been found in one of the oldest finished medical textbooks, The Ebers Papyrus, written roughly around 1550 BC. It mentions it’s use to alleviate pain and inflammation and to fight depression and other psychological problems. There is some evidence that it might have been used to  treat glaucoma, cataracts, haemorrhoids, vaginal bleeding, and even cancer.
In Genesis 1:29, it is quoted “Then God said, “I give you every seed- bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”  CHS firmly believes that every natural herb, including cannabis plant, is a gift from God. With every passing day, it is more obvious and clear that cannabis has a myriad of health benefits, both physiological and psychological. We, at CHS, are prepared to bring this wonderful herb to the Indian people for healing and providing an improved quality of life, very soon.
The author is a Cannabis researcher, a senior radiologist and Vice President, Cannabis Health and Sciences.