Harmonized elements: does cannabis have a place in Ayurveda?
Many Americans have heard of yoga, an ancient Vedic practice prominent in the West for decades. Less are aware of Ayurveda, a natural system of medicine originating in India thousands of years ago. The goal of the practice is to restore balance in life by using natural remedies and implementing lifestyle changes.
As more practitioners explore combining yoga with the plant, some might ponder how it might fit into Ayurveda. Simmi Chopra, an Ayurvedic practitioner at SIDH Ayur in New York, explained the nuanced place cannabis holds in the system. Many practitioners regard cannabis as a toxic herb because of the way it impacts the body and mind.
“The Ayurvedic practitioners in South India use mainly nontoxic herbs,” Chopra shared. “For them, the medical benefits of calming the mind, and pain management for which cannabis has a positive effect can be achieved by other herbal formulations. For them, the side effects outweigh the benefits of cannabis if it is not purified properly and if the consumption is more than recommended, so these Ayurvedic practitioners refrain from the use of cannabis.”
Cannabis in Ayurveda
In North Inda, a branch called raja shastra purifies toxic herbs (upavisha), herbs-metals formulations (rasa aushadhis), and metals (bhasma), believing that in their refined form, the compounds become targeted, potent, and fast-acting. This purification process is also used for cannabis, and nothing is comparable in the U.S. market.
There are various purification methods. In one, cannabis leaves are boiled for hours in a muslin cloth with herbal decoctions. The leaves are then dried and boiled in muslin again, but this time in cow’s milk. After repeating this process three or four more times, the leaves are dried and used.
The herbal decoction is generally formulated to balance the heavy, inert nature of the cannabis plant. Topical and sometimes edible preparations are administered under the supervision of trained practitioners. Chopra shared that smoking it will only enhance the “toxic” aspects of the herb.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda designates the way we regulate our body, mind, and behavior into three doshas, translated from Sanskrit the word means “that which can cause problems.” These doshas relate to the elements and categorize different people into vata (air), pitta (fire), or kapha (earth). People heavily influenced by vata are said to get easily overstimulated, pitta is quick to passion, and kapha is solid but slow to move.
People in these doshas are influenced by gunas or energetic forces. The gunas are rajas (passion, excitement), tamas (dullness, withdrawal), and sattva (balance). Many believe that the goal of Ayurveda and yoga is to achieve sattva, and cannabis is all tamas—with some rajas.
“Long-term use can diminish a person’s will and ambition, leading to dullness, confusion, lethargy, and depression,” Chopra said. “Purification of cannabis as well as mixing the detoxified version of cannabis with other herbs and small doses is needed to remove the tamasic, addictive quality as well as the other side effects mentioned.”
The second line in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali states the purpose of the practice: “Yogas citta vritta nirodhah.” This translates to “yoga is the cessation of mind chatter.” Those who study the Sutras may translate this as keying into the present moment through quieting the mind. Many cannabis yoga practitioners believe that cannabis is facilitating this mission.
Chopra points out that this might not be a cure-all.
“What people feel using tamasic herbs like cannabis during yoga is a false calmness or false excitement. Tamasic herbs hide the emotions and do not lead to sustainable clarity. The role of yoga is to attain a sattvic mind so we can handle the stress of life and other emotions that we face in a calm contained manner and not just hide or artificially excite our minds temporarily.”
That said, the winter is also considered tamasic, as well as canned foods, leftovers, and onions. The Earth needs winter, and most people eat all three of those things at least once a week and live full lives.
Much like the endocannabinoid system, ayurveda is all about balance and equilibrium. Someone overstimulated may benefit from a calming herb during asana, but other practitioners may opt to refrain from only doing yoga while stoned.
“What people feel using tamasic herbs like cannabis during yoga is a false calmness or false excitement,” Chopra expounded. “Tamasic herbs hide the emotions and do not lead to sustainable clarity. The role of yoga is to attain a sattvic mind so we can handle the stress of life and other emotions that we face in a calm contained manner and not just hide or artificially excite our minds temporarily.”
Turns out cannabis has a place in Ayurveda but not a starring role. Ayurvedic practitioners do sometimes add special preparations of the fan leaves to herbal formulations, but there is no mention of cured flower and smoking is not on the menu. A refined form of the plant, however, is sometimes the right fit with the help of a trained practitioner.