In this talk we will survey what is known about the use of cannabis in India from the earliest records until modern times. In my book, The Tawny One: Soma, Haoma and Ayahuasca (London/New York: Muswell Hill Press, 2017), one of the chapters was devoted to this topic. Although there are a few occasional references in the Vedas (the oldest religious texts of South Asia) to what may be cannabis, the plant does not appear in medical texts until around 1,000 years ago. The use of cannabis for recreational purposes was mainly introduced into India by radical Sufis (known variously as Qalandar, Heydari or Malang) in the 13th century. Some South Asian yogis use cannabis heavily as a form of tapas. The use of cannabis was made illegal in India in 1986, since when recreational use has declined. However, in some areas cannabis is still legal, and bhāṅg (a form of the plant prepared for oral consumption) is still widely available in north India. In this talk we will also look briefly at different kinds of cannabis preparations in South Asia.
Dr Matthew Clark (PhD) is a Research Associate in the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics at SOAS (University of London). He specialises in yoga, sādhus, and the religious cultures of India. He is involved in the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies and is one of the editors of the Journal of Yoga Studies. His research in the last few years has focussed on soma/haoma, the ancient Asian ritual drink. His theory, presented in his recent book (The Tawny One: Soma, Haoma and Ayahuasca. London/New York: Muswell Hills Press, 2017) and several articles, is that it was originally made from plants that acted as analogues of ayahuasca, a powerful psychedelic concoction.