Cannabis Consumption in India: A History

Editor’s Note: In her latest post for Points Kawal Deep Kour resurrects a past editorial feature: ‘Cannabis: Global Histories‘. She contributes to this rich history by outlining the multitudinous roles and affordances of cannabis within Indian cultures.


Much before the Irish physician Sir William Brooke O Shaughnessy (1808-1889) introduced cannabis into Western medicine sometime around the mid-nineteenth century, Ganja (hemp) had already been part of India‚Äôs living culture as medicine and an intoxicating agent – even before 1000 B.C. The use of hemp in India was also mentioned by Jewish physician Garcia de Orta in 1563 and subsequently by the Dutch administrator in India, Hendrik van Rheede ( 1636-1691) who in his treatise, Hortus Malabaricus (the garden of Malabar) described that ganja smoking was popular on the Malabar coast. Ganja is an intoxicating drug, derived from the leaves of the Cannabis Indica plant. The philosophy of cannabis consumption in India entails the sacred lore of having emerged in the form of a pot of nectar while the gods and the demons were churning the ocean with the help of mountain Mandara and Vasuki, the serpent king. It was named Vijaya and was believed to bestow victory upon its votaries. It is said that the Gods then wished that it be sent to live with humans on Earth and aid in their merriment and enjoyment of the pleasures of life. 

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