Chapter 4 - Relationship between Ayurveda and Cannabis (Vijaya Charita with Vikramm Mitra)
The science of healing has been described thousands of years ago by Vaidyas in India through Ayurveda. We inherit a rich history that dates back to almost 5000 years! Well, Ayurveda has provided this culture with an abundant source of information carried out with the assistance of immense research and understanding of plants. However, the question remains, if we have been able to utilize this vast knowledge in today’s time? I have had the privilege to talk on various subjects pertaining to the use of marijuana with our cannabis expert Mr. Vikramm Mitra who explains the intrinsic relationship between ayurveda and cannabis, and how modern research can take help from the same to comprehend more about making the best use of this plant.!
“We should be really proud to be a part of this culture which has openly spoken about the best use of cannabis for numerous purposes. Our ancient texts have thrown light upon the usage of not just the flower, but also the leaves, stems, seeds, so on and so forth. Our studies today can definitely take bits and pieces to complete the puzzle revolving around this plant. Moreover, it’s only now that we've been able to decipher the endocannabinoid system in our body. I feel that we are certainly living in the most interesting times in terms of rediscovering the potential of cannabis” says Vikram.
He further explains: “Villagers on the mountains used to live near those areas where ayurvedic plants were easily available for use. These people knew a lot about a variety of herbs, their availability as per the harvesting season, the requirement of sunlight and moonlight for a particular plant, and the medicinal value associated with them. Into the bargain, the study of Nadis or Nadi Vidya was very crucial in becoming an expert in ayurvedic medicines!”
We know for a fact that Nadi Vidya was widely used to treat different ailments in the body. As a matter of fact, it is still practised in some parts of the country, although in less numbers. Vikram recalls how a baba up in the mountains unfolded some crucial particulars in the field of ayurveda: “Our body comprises three types of Gunas and Nadis, and only with the knowledge of the Nadis can a person know about a person’s Gunas. Everything is a process and paying attention to the minute details works wonders. Besides, ayurveda is all about balancing the three energies, namely; Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. One suffers from any illness or diseases if there is an excess or deficiency of these three components in the body. As per ayurveda, the whole of cosmos is made up of five elements; air, water, earth, space, and fire. So, vata, pitta, and kapha is the permutation and combination of these five elements. Furthermore, as far as Nadis are concerned, the three principal Nadis run from the base of the spine to the head. These are: ida on the left side of the spine, sushumna in the center, and pingala on the right. Moreover, the nadis are said to connect at special points of intensity or energy centers called Chakras. Even though there are about 350,000 nadis in total, the three mentioned above are the most important.”
The Baba continued saying: “There are some people who are inclined towards ida, and some towards pingala, but it is of the best consequence if a person is in the sushumna because it represents the present. In olden times, the Nadi experts suggested people to not only consume the necessary herbs and plants using ayurveda, but also encouraged them to perform yogas and asanas to get the optimum results. This results in the increase of the immunity system, which protects an individual from diseases.”
But, what is the relationship between ayurveda and cannabis? To this, Vikram replied: “Cannabis or Vijaya was never consumed alone, rather it was mixed with a variety of other herbs and plants to treat the ailments. This is because vijaya is referred to as Upa-visha (moderately poisonous) and everything depends on how and when you use it. Some medicines require heating the plant with ghee, some require boiling, and some both. Thus, there are levels of purification process, also known as Shodhana, for this plant to be used in various medicines. For instance, as mentioned earlier, bhang recipes were mixed with caraway seeds and black pepper to negate the heavy effect of THC as well as the negative propensities of the plant. Not just this, but different strains were recognized to treat different ailments. To cite an example, there are some strains which increase your appetite, whereas others decrease it. So, depending on the necessity, these were provided to individuals. This only goes to say that the same plant gives a cooling effect as well as heating effect. How? That is because of the difference in the cannabinoid CBG (cannabigerol) content. Therefore, the same plant can help in cooling down the body and decrease the process of digestion, or heat up the body and increase the digestion process."
"In Ayurveda, there is a medicine called Mahajvaranga Mayarasa that aids to lower down high fever, which is infused with fresh vijaya leaf extract as its main ingredient. Similarly, there is another medicine with a different formulation called Abhravatika that helps regulate the body temperature and treat heat strokes, which also includes cannabis/vijaya.”
However, ayurveda does not just include the consumption of herbs and plants only, but also yogas and asanas. This was a more wholesome and holistic approach towards treating any disease from its core using internal as well as external methodologies. There were some people who were treated using plants only, whereas some were suggested to make use of both plants and yoga to treat their health complications. Yet, there were some who refrained from using cannabis plants too! For them, discrete techniques were put into effect. You see, our body is composed of numerous nerve endings and applying any force, heat, or medicine in these areas can succour in managing innumerable health issues and curing them with maximum benefits. Interestingly, those who did not want to smoke or consume cannabis, were made to use the plant through their belly buttons.
Vikram continued: “There were people who did not want to consume this plant. Consequently, vaidyas used the technique of Pechoti where herbs mixed with vijaya ark (ark refers to the process of boiling an herb, collecting its steam, and cooling them down in liquid form to use them as medicines) were used and given through their navels (nabhi).”
Me: “But why use the navel?”
Vikram answered saying: “Firstly, the navel is affiliated with the Manipura chakra. Secondly, there are about 70,000 to 80,000 veins that run directly through the navel where the gut is also present. Also, at the same time, ayurveda understands that although there are certain things that have stopped functioning, it believes that the natural qualities of these organs are still retained. Just like how a foetus is provided with the required nutrients through the umbilical cord, similarly the absorbing capacity of the navel still remains high after the birth. In addition, a lot of heat is also dissipated because of the Manipura (nabhi) chakra that, in turn, helps the medicine to travel all over the body. This is the reason why ayurveda has been using this unique technique since ages!”
Now, scientifically speaking, you can easily make the head and tail of what all research has already been conducted pertaining to this plant and where it coincides with the concept of ayurveda. This is what is so simple yet dynamic about ayurveda that it correlates with the findings of modern research. The molecular components of cannabis was found by Raphael Mechoulam in around 1991-92, and he proposed that there is an entire body of receptors in humans called the endocannabinoid system. These receptors are present in the central nervous system, in the peripheral tissues and other parts of the body. To my surprise, I found out that there is a very high concentration of such receptors (CB2 receptors) in the gut and navel area as well. That being the case, it very well solves this puzzle as to why the Pechoti technique was used widely in ayurveda and how it performed miracles for people back then using this sacred plant! Recently, modern science says that the rate of absorption and the bioavailability in the gut and navel area is very high too! Hence, such studies suggest that the anecdotal data provided by ayurveda can definitely assist in connecting the dots with modern science. Thus, the amalgamation of these two methods can give us more insight into the use of cannabis and how it can be utilized for the benefit of mankind. I’m sure that this indigenous system of medicine can ascertain some divine truths about this plant in the 21st century!