What is the Ayurvedic Perspective on Cannabis?

article migration image cannabis 0 jpg

The cannabis plant serves a thousand purposes and is a remarkably renewable resource (it literally grows like a weed). This global shift towards legalization is long overdue and offers hope that we can yet reverse the absurd suppression and violent defamation this sacred plant has suffered in the last century.

In his book, Shiva’s Broken Dream— detailing the world history of cannabis and the powerful movements to vilify it — Mel Thomas relates how,

The Vedas… describe how cannabis was created when the Gods stirred the heavenly oceans with the peak of Mount Mandara. A drop of amrita (heavenly nectar) fell from the sky and a sacred cannabis plant sprouted on the spot. Lord Siva brought the cannabis plant down from Mount Mandara for the pleasure of Mankind and for this the plant was consecrated to him [Siva].

Indeed, there are some intriguing theories that the cognitive and spiritual evolution of mankind was due in part to our interaction with sacred plants acting as vehicles for higher consciousness. For example, did you know mushroom spores can survive the vacuum of outer space?

The Ayurvedic tradition recognizes marijuana (known as vijaya in Sanskrit) as a medicinal herb. However, it is only ever recommended in minuscule doses, and always in combination with other more sattvic herbs to balance the tamasic effects of cannabis.

Alakananda Ma, a highly respected spiritual teacher and doctor of Ayurveda, acknowledges marijuana as “a muscle relaxant, euphoriant and analgesic” in her article on the topic. She explains,

Although long revered in India as a sacred plant of Shiva, ganja has, as we have seen, significant physical, emotional and spiritual impacts. In its ancient cultural setting, it has for centuries been used by world renouncing sadhus in conjunction with fasts and severe austerities.

In such a context, ganja could potentially be of value on the spiritual path, although this author has rarely met a ganja-smoking sadhu who had attained the ultimate goal. Taken out of its cultural context and introduced into a party lifestyle unheard-of in ancient tradition, ganja has become far more problematic.

This is a crucial point. Neo-hippies and new-age spiritualists often invoke the use of ganja as an ancient and therefore legitimate tool on the road to enlightenment. What these invocations generally lack, however, is the proper ceremonial context and attendant sattvic lifestyle habits that accompanied the practice in the past. Ritualistic inhalation of a sacred herb on rare, auspicious occasions is very different than daily spliffs or perfunctory bong rips.

As it is, marijuana is a common form of self-medication. Different people smoke different strains for different reasons. In Ma’s article, she provides a breakdown of these types according to the doshas:

Vata smokes Marijuana calm down; pitta to “mellow out” and to feel less angry and driven; kapha to suppress deep-seated grief.

Ma goes on to describe the phases that arise subsequent to ganja use, showing how it progresses through the gunas and acts as a “short-term euphoriant and long-term depressant”:

In the initial euphoria phase, the sattva guna is activated. Later, as giggles and ‘munchies’ set in, rajas predominates. Finally, the long-term effect is that of tamas, leading to a dull and foggy state of mind. Within this fog, the insights supposedly received under the mildly psychedelic impact of ganja cannot be integrated in any valuable way.

This description is consistent with this author’s experience. It’s a tricky business because when the euphoric effect has worn off and you awaken from your nap, all you remember is the euphoria. The subtle effects are lost in the mix, and it appears to have been a bit of harmless, perhaps even enlightening fun.

Thus, habitual use becomes prajnaparadh, or a “crime against wisdom,” wherein we know something is harmful, but we do it anyway. Ayurveda then provides a valuable perspective, offering reminders of the negative consequences of marijuana use. As Ma says,

[Marijuana is] a liver toxin. An important physical impact of Marijuana is sub-clinical hepatitis, a condition in which the liver is chronically congested, resulting in irritability, low-grade depression, slow wound healing, burning sensations, rashes, allergies and yellowish eyes.

Dr. John Douillard agrees that:

Marijuana is a tamasic drug that can negatively affect memory. According to the NIH, it is addictive and mind-dulling, and can do permanent cognitive harm if used in excess… The tamasic effects of marijuana can dull the mind, leaving the aspirant dependent on marijuana use with only an illusion of real spiritual progress.

In this author’s opinion, the “illusion of real spiritual progress” is the most dangerous component of all. The negative health effects are relatively minor compared to the profound despair that accompanies spiritual confusion.

Regardless of the ecstasy, one may experience while practicing yoga stoned, or toking up before meditation, the herb ultimately represents one more layer of veiling between the human mind and God-consciousness. Even worse, it gives the fleeting sensation of having attained some measure of sattva, only to leave the mind and body wallowing in tamas.

The goal of spiritual practice is to become firmly established in unity consciousness. Temporary glimpses of such bliss may serve as motivation on the path, but should never be mistaken as the attainment of the goal. Unfortunately, many of the cosmic experiences available through marijuana bring the user one step forward then two steps back.

Similarly, marijuana’s well-known propensity for pain reduction can also serve as a detriment to emotional growth and spiritual development. In this article, Dr. John Douillard explains that,

It is said in Ayurveda that the pain is directly across from the bliss, and the reason for the pain is to get our attention so that we can go through the pain and experience a deeper, more real aspect of the self and let a more loving and powerful version of ourselves out.

According to this perspective, experiencing the pain is essential for emotional and spiritual growth. Once you take away the pain you have taken away the road map to mental and emotional maturity. Additionally, according to Alcoholics Anonymous, emotional maturation stops at the age ones starts drinking or doing drugs.

Habitual marijuana use can definitely cause arrested development. In the course of my youth, I remember a seemingly miraculous burst of personal maturation that just happened to coincide with an extended break from smoking.

Though it is not physically addictive, marijuana is powerfully habit-forming, and can thus be very difficult to put down. Thankfully, Ma has some recommendations for how to ease off.

An herbal smoking mix, using herbs [such] as Red Clover, Osha, and Mullein can be used in place of or together with ganja as part of a plan to reduce ganja use. Adding Brahmi or Jatamansi to this mix will limit the tamasic impact of ganja.

In summary, the global movement to legalize cannabis is an enormously positive shift towards social and ecological justice. We have waged war against Mother Nature for far too long and now is the time is for reconciliation. That being said, marijuana is a powerful plant that, like many medicines, has the potential to both heal and poison. Let us all use our best discrimination as we engage with this sacred green entity.

If ever in doubt, please seek the expert guidance of an Ayurvedic practitioner. Or, if your local dispensary is not yet wise enough to employ a full-time holistic herbalist, trust the knowing that arises from within your own intuitive heart. So long as you aren’t stoned, you’ll not be led astray.



What's your Ayurvedic dosha? Take this quiz and find out

article migration image mandala 647x300 jpg

The balance of your Ayurvedic doshas, also known as prakruti, is a key part of understanding your holistic health.

Doshas are the three energies found in nature, and also in the human body. They are broken down into three types: vata, pitta and kapha. The doshas are responsible over our bodies, minds, emotions, and thoughts. From birth, we are each individually made with a very specific blend of the five basic elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. That unique blend is your prakruti, or what uniquely constitutes your individual body, and can be broken down by a combination of the three doshas: vata (ether + air), pitta (fire + water), and kapha (water + earth).

The three doshas are the building blocks to understanding our prakruti, and once you understand which is your dominant dosha, you can know what your balanced state looks like. This is vital, as through this lens you can spot exactly when your body goes out of balance, and how to bring it back into balance. Humans are being of nature, constructed from the same five elements, and thus can use the opposing elements as needed to bring us back into balance.

It all hinges on knowing your doshas, however. You can get a general sense of where your dosha balance lies, and go from there to correct the problems. You can even seek out the help of an Ayurvedic practitioner, who can take a look at your insights and prescribe anything from food and herbs to a new lifestyle. Thanks, Ayurveda!

Tally up the number of v’s, p’s, and k’s you receive (standing for vata, pitta, and kapha), whichever you have the most of is your dominant dosha:

1. Physique

  • v) I am a slender person and I hardly gain weight
  • p) I am medium build
  • k) I am well built and I gain weight no matter what I do

2. Skin

  • v) My skin is dry, thin, and itches often
  • p) My skin looks flushed; I have lots of moles and freckles on my body
  • k) My skin is smooth and soft, it looks pale sometimes

3. Hair

  • v) My hair is dry, thin and brittle
  • p) My hair is neither dry nor oily (for men: I have a receding hairline)
  • k) My hair is thick, full, lustrous, and slightly oily

4. Face

  • v) My face is oval
  • p) My face is triangular (pointed chin, prominent jaw line)
  • k) My face is round

5. Eyes

  • v) My eyes are small; they feel dry often and have a bit of dullness (usually brown)
  • p) My eyes are medium in shape; sharp & penetrating (usually blue)
  • k) My eyes are big and round in shape, full eyelashes

6. Hands

  • v) My hands are generally dry, rough; slender fingers; dry nails
  • p) My hands are generally moist, pink; medium fingers; soft nails
  • k) My hands are generally firm, thick; thick fingers; strong & smooth nails

7. Joints

  • v) My joints are small, prominent bones, and often crack
  • p) My joints are medium and loose
  • k) My joints are large, sturdy, with lots of muscle surrounding

8. Activities

  • v) I am a very active person (always on the go, mind constantly thinking)
  • p) I like to think before I do anything
  • k) I am steady and graceful (I don’t like to rush)

9. Actions

  • v) I walk fast and talk fast
  • p) My actions are very thoughtful and precise
  • k) I like a slower pace and I take my time to accomplish things

10. Sleep

  • v) I do not sleep soundly at night. I tend to toss and turn. I wake up early in the morning
  • p) I am a light sleeper but if something wakes me up, I can go back to sleep easily
  • k) I am a heavy sleeper

11. Appetite

  • v) Varies, sometimes I feel hungry, sometimes not, I feel anxious if I don’t eat
  • p) I always feel hungry. If I don’t eat I get irritable and angry
  • k) I don’t feel very hungry. I can go without food easily for a day

12. Bowel Movement

  • v) I tend to have constipation and can go a day or two without a bowel movement
  • p) I am regular and sometimes stools are loose (tend to get diarrhea)
  • k) I have no problem. I wake up to go to the bathroom.

13.Voice

  • v) My voice tends to be weak or hoarse
  • p) I have a strong voice, I may get loud sometimes
  • k) My voice is deep, has good tone

14. Emotions

  • v) I am a born worrier, I often feel anxious and nervous
  • p) If things don’t happen my way, I feel irritable and angry
  • k) I am a happy person, very caring and loving

15. Weather Preference

  • v) I love warm and humid weather
  • p) I enjoy cool weather, I dislike a warm climate
  • k) I like warm but dry weather

16. Sweating

  • v) I sweat little but not much
  • p) I sweat profusely and it might have an unpleasant odor
  • k) I never sweat, unless working very hard

17. Memory

  • v) I remember quickly and forget quickly
  • p) I remember what I want to remember and never forget
  • k) It takes me a while to remember, but once I do I never forget

18. Actions

  • v) I tend to be spontaneous
  • p) I am a list maker. Unless I plan, I don’t do anything
  • k) I don’t like to plan, I prefer to follow others

19. Stamina

  • v) I like to do things in spurts and I get tired very easily
  • p) I have medium stamina
  • k) I can work long hours and maintain good stamina

20. Mind

  • v) My mind gets restless and racing easily
  • p) I get impatient easily
  • k) It takes a lot to make me mad. I usually feel very calm

21. Decision Making

  • v) I change my mind more often and will take time to make a decision
  • p) I can make a decision easily and stick with it
  • k) I want others to make the decisions

22. Personality

  • v) “Is it too late to change my mind”?
  • p) “It’s my way or the highway”
  • k) “Don’t worry, be happy!”

23. Sports

  • v) I like action
  • p) I like to win
  • k) I like to have fun

24. Health Problems

  • v) My symptoms are mainly pain, constipation, anxiety and depression
  • p) I often get skin infections, fevers, heart burn, and hypertension
  • k) I tend to get allergies, congestion, weight gain and digestive problems

25. Hobbies

  • v) I like art (drawing, painting, dance) and travel
  • p) I like sports, politics, and things that get my adrenaline pumping
  • k) I like nature, gardening, reading, and knitting
Read Article

More In Lifestyle

Our unique blend of yoga, meditation, personal transformation, and alternative healing content is designed for those seeking to not just enhance their physical, spiritual, and intellectual capabilities, but to fuse them in the knowledge that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.


Use the same account and membership for TV, desktop, and all mobile devices. Plus you can download videos to your device to watch offline later.

Desktop, laptop, tablet, phone devices with Gaia content on screens

Discover what Gaia has to offer.

Testing message will be here