The Ayurvedic View of Marijuana

by vpk® by Maharishi Ayurveda & Dr. Mark Toomey, Ph.D. on July 5, 2012

The Proper Use of Herbs – Ayurveda’s Caution

It is understandable that some people may think at first that anything that is “natural” and gives a measure of relaxation is a good thing. But with experience, it becomes obvious that not every plant that grows in nature is necessarily safe or without negative side effects.

Today the hemp plant, or Cannabis sativa L. (cannabis for short), more commonly known as marijuana, is the subject of heated debate in the US. A recent campaign in California attempting to legalize marijuana narrowly failed. Although cannabis, like any drug, may have some health benefits (for example, under proper professional care, the therapeutic treatment of chronic pain and some neurological disorders), it may also have a number of adverse effects, including psychosis. Cannabis use during adolescence interferes with proper brain development, may cause anxiety disorders, and increases the risk of developing psychotic disorders later in life. The past forty years of research on cannabis and its active compounds clearly indicates that cannabis use is not without risks for brain dysfunction.

Marijuana is not a new plant. Its properties were described by ayurvedic physicians thousands of years ago in India. This article is intended to provide readers with an ayurvedic and medical perspective on the facts and risks for recreational and medicinal use of marijuana and its health consequences.

The ayurvedic texts declare that a medicine properly used becomes nectar and improperly used becomes poison.

Medical Research on Marijuana (Cannabis)

Current reviews of the medical research literature suggest that daily consumption of cannabis in teens is associated with depression and anxiety and development of schizophrenia. Studies indicate that its use can have an irreversible, long-term effect on the brain. Imaging studies show significant changes in brain function and, with continued use, the appearance of functional ‘holes’ — vast areas of brain matter that are dysfunctional. There is some evidence that regional structural changes are associated with cannabis use patterns as well as measures of psychopathology. The volume of cortical grey matter is progressively reduced in schizophrenia, with larger grey matter volume decreases associated with cannabis use. A current neurophysiological model indicates cannabis-induced schizophrenia is a distortion of normal late-postnatal brain maturation. Adolescent exposure to cannabis transiently disturbs physiological control of the endogenous cannabinoid system over brain function. As a result, THC (the primary active ingredient in cannabis) may adversely affect adolescent experience-dependent maturation of neural wiring within prefrontal cortical areas. Depending on the amount, time and duration of use, this may ultimately lead to the development of psychosis or schizophrenia. Together, these studies highlight the cannabis-related dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex, the central switchboard of executive control and decision-making. Think of the prefrontal cortex as the highest, most powerful value of the ‘intellect.’ As such, and as part of a distributed neural reward system, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for guiding our thinking, emotions and behavior along evolutionary, non-destructive pathways.

Drugs can be used, abused or addictive. Abuse is a behavior that continues to occur in the face of obvious negative consequences because one is uneducated or unaware; however, addiction is a brain disease characterized by impaired behavior control that is evident to others while the individual affected becomes increasingly distorted and dysfunctional in their thinking, feelings and behaviors. Gambling may be exciting, but you end up in financial and family ruin most of the time. THC disrupts prefrontal cortical function communication with other brain regions. If the prefrontal cortex goes offline, then our ability to monitor and respond properly to negative outcomes (think of a variety of brain and behavioral problems) is reduced and eventually lost. One is left with the addiction and increasing difficulties in life. Recent research suggests chronic interference with the endocannabinoid system by marijuana use may facilitate drug dependence and impair the body’s natural homeostatic balancing mechanisms.

The Biochemistry of Cannabis

The primary active ingredient of cannabis is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). This compound is the main psychoactive component of cannabis because it mimics the actions of naturally-occurring chemicals in the nervous and immune systems that are called endocannabinoids. THC does this by activating cannabinoid receptors. The endocannabinoid system is involved in a variety of critical brain processes including appetite, pain sensation, mood, and memory. These same receptors play a major role in drug abuse as well. THC alters the activity of central reward pathways in a manner that is consistent with other abused drugs. Most users have no understanding that current marijuana cultivation is yielding THC levels that are consistently 5-20 times more potent than those found in the 1960s and 70s. Thus, each inhalation can lead to considerably more impact subjectively that must be associated with larger, more disruptive levels in the brain.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a group neuromodulatory lipids (fats) and receptors. In recent years, this system has emerged as an important regulator of a wide variety of functions in the central nervous system. It appears to modulate widespread neuronal activities and is responsible for the fine-tuned functioning of the central nervous system, aimed at ensuring balanced functioning ─ homeostatic conditions ─ of the brain. Importantly, given its biochemical and physiological features, the ECS appears to act “on demand.” Thus, the system intervenes to maintain the body’s balance only when and where its activity is needed. The key words here are “on demand!”

The human body makes its own cannabinoids as a means of maintaining homeostasis. The whole system, like everything in the human body, is very delicate and complicated. Unfortunately, marijuana is like a ‘sledge hammer’ ─ a very potent, crudely-introduced influence that overloads the brain and bodily regulation. Use of marijuana distorts the intelligent functioning of the brain’s endocannabinoid system. Artificial ingestion of cannabinoids in the form of cannabis throws the body out of balance, interfering with an otherwise precise mechanism. Though marijuana may provide some short-term subjective high, its use may induce short- as well as long-term disturbance of the normal equilibrium of the ECS system and may contribute to a variety of different unwanted symptoms and diseases. Research also suggests that marijuana does qualify as a ‘gateway’ drug, increasing the likelihood that the casual user will engage in drugs that are both stronger and more destructive as the disease of addiction progresses — biologically, psychologically, socially and spiritually.

The Ayurvedic Perspective

One of the founders of Ayurveda, Dhanavantari, developed a medical lexicon of the qualities and effects of herbs, including cannabis. According to this description, cannabis is sharp, heating and light in its quality. Being sharp and ‘heating,’ it increases humoral bile and removes humoral phlegm. It also stimulates delusions, slows speech, and raises the heat of the digestive fire. Note that these ancient symptoms are all so common to the cannabis user of today: hallucinations, distortion of speech and cognition, and the ‘munchies.’

In Ayurveda, cannabis used as a recreational drug is considered toxic to the mind and body. It has been used for thousands of years as a component in various preparations, but not as an isolated herb. In Ayurveda, it is not considered an important herb. However, like any botanical, this herb can have some good effects, depending on what you are using it to do. When properly prepared in a synergistic formula and used in minute quantities under the care and direction of an expert, it can aid digestion. The use of cannabis is always in a synergy with other herbs and spices and never by itself. (No such products are sold in the United States.)

People ask why it would be that an herb that has medical use in some cases can cause negative side effects in other cases. According to the Ayurvedic texts, medicine properly used becomes nectar and improperly used become poison. When marijuana is used in ways not prescribed or intended (for example, in doses and for periods of time not prescribed), it can cause a host of imbalances and side effects including stimulating delusions and slowing speech.

“Recreational use of marijuana creates ama,” says Jadgish N Vaidya, director of Maharishi Ayurvedic programs at Lancaster Health Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts. “It impairs digestion and intellect, it upsets hormonal balances, and it can be addictive, in the traditional view of Ayurveda.” The classically-trained Vaidya, or Ayurvedic expert, adds, “It is not a path to enlightenment. Enlightenment is the moment-to-moment awareness of totality; the full inner and full outer value of awareness. Not the loss of awareness.”

Marijuana and the Mistake of the Intellect - The Ayurvedic Source of Disease

Pragya aparadh means ‘the mistaken intellect,’ which becomes isolated from the rest of the universe. It is considered in Ayurveda to be the root cause of all disease and problems in life. Through the mistake of the intellect, our physiology forgets its basis in the unmanifest, unified state of pure consciousness. There are three key elements to Pragya aparadh. All three features of this mistaken intellect are caused and aggravated by continued recreational use of cannabis.

  1. Buddhi Vibrhramsh is the disturbed intellect. In this condition one sees that which is harmful as useful.
  2. Dhriti Bhramsha is disturbed self-control where one cannot be restrained from that which is asatmya (unwholesome), or that which deranges the mind.
  3. Smriti Bhramsha is disturbed memory, where the texts say that the Self (sattwa) is covered by rajas and tamas.

Ayurveda states that the ideal mind is Sattwa, or purity. Intake of cannabis aggravates Rajas, as seen in the increase of appetite and in long-term users’ aggression, and Tamas, as seen in the dullness, tiredness, incoherent thinking and memory loss. Using cannabis, from an Ayurvedic perspective, for something other than what it is intended, in ways not prescribed or intended, causes imbalance to manas, the mind. Note here that these features are consistent with the loss of prefrontal cortex executive control over thinking, feeling and behavior associated with cannabis use. Increasing dysfunction in this brain region is a prime nexus for the extraordinarily potent hold of addiction and why overcoming addiction is so difficult.

Cannabis use also interferes with ojas, the master biochemical which promotes unity, immunity and balance on all levels of mind and body. The physiology reflects ojas through its balanced self-referral functioning. When ojas is imbalanced or obstructed, the result is susceptibility to disease; incoherent thought, speech and action; an inclination to laziness; somnolence; and increased sleep. Ojas is also associated with sukra, or reproductive tissue. Recent research has shown the immunosuppressive effects of cannabinoids, causing the susceptibility of cannabis users to certain cancers and infections. Modern research suggests that heavy marijuana use lowers men's testosterone levels and sperm count and quality.

As indicated, used as a recreational drug, cannabis is toxic. Smoking is a delivery therapy for some herbs for a variety of conditions in Ayurveda. It is not used in any Maharishi Ayurveda treatments in the US. Traditionally, this kind of delivery requires the strict preparation of ingredients in precise formulations for very specific conditions. If used at all, it is prescribed at specific times by trained experts under careful expert guidance. It is further stated in Ayurveda that if one smokes the wrong substance at the wrong time, it will create disease.

Cannabis smoke contains 400 compounds including 60 cannabinoids. However, because of its lower combustibility it contains 50% more carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons including naphthalene, benzanthracene, and benzopyrene, than tobacco smoke. A recent Canadian study found that marijuana smoke caused significantly more damage to cells and DNA than tobacco smoke. There is now convincing evidence that, due to this toxicity of cannabis, regular usage damages DNA, leaving the possibility of the initiation of cancer development.

Mental Imbalance

Research indicates that loss of mental stability is one significant side effect from recreational marijuana use. In Ayurveda the Sanskrit term Unmaada means ‘a profound impairment of judgement, perception and clarity.’

The cause of Unmaada is multifold:

  1. The aggravation of the doshas
  2. Regimens not conducive to health
  3. Uses of substances or behaviors not conducive to health

These conditions can cause the mind and intellect to lose their state of balance. Unmaada is characterized by perversion of the mind, intellect, consciousness, memory, desire, manners, behavior and conduct.

These traits can be seen in cannabis users as the different kinds of Unmaad.

  • Vata unmaada is characterized by longing for eatables not available. It is also characterized by out-of-context or inappropriate incoherence in speech, smiling, laughing, dancing and singing.
  • Pitta unmaada shows excitement, on inappropriate occasions, about hazardous or harmful activities; or becoming amotivational.
  • Kapha unmaada is seen as becoming slothful and sleepy, developing an aversion to cleanliness, staying in one place, inappropriate silence and sluggishness in speech and manner.

Alternatives to Creating Balance

It is understandable that people seek out natural substances like herbs to bring balance to their lives, to relax and to relieve pain and stress. However, from the perspective of modern science and from Maharishi Ayurveda®, the use of marijuana can create serious imbalances in the mind and body, especially when used recreationally. The pleasurable effect of a recreational substance is transient at best, with substantial negative side effects with continued use. And, though there are those who hope that marijuana might contribute to their health and enlightenment, it is the opinion of Ayurvedic experts that it does the opposite, contributing to loss of mental balance and integration. Research documents that the evolution of brain function associated with the experience of enlightenment depends upon increased neural coherence or integration. The use of marijuana, regardless of its ability to induce some subjective temporary relief, is incompatible with the path of enlightenment. Introducing disorder has never been an effective source of creating orderliness and balance in brain function.

Well being, happiness and enlightenment are based on creating an integrated state of balance and wholeness in all the different and complex systems of the body. There are many safe, alternative health promoting modalities that an expert in Maharishi Ayurveda can recommend to help you achieve remarkable stable states of balance, relaxation, connectedness, integration and freedom from pain.

First, they may recommend an array of safe herbal formulations and natural health therapies, including massage and sound therapy.

Second, and most importantly, they would recommend the experience of transcendence through the practice of the Transcendental Meditation® technique. Research on the Transcendental Meditation (TM) and TM Sidhi program has demonstrated the beneficial effect from this simple effortless program for the individual, including better health and increased happiness, confidence, self-esteem, IQ and creativity. Research on this practice documents the rapid and continued development of brain wave coherence significantly correlated with increased sense of self, reduction in anxiety, improved self image, improved academic performance, increased reasoning ability and higher levels of creativity and intelligence. Research on the recreational use of cannabis has not.

The Transcendental Meditation Program is a time-tested way to eliminate the mistake of the intellect (Pragya aparadh). It offers a direct means to transcend and gain direct experience of the underlying unified pure consciousness which restores balance to both mind and body. During this experience, the prefrontal cortex becomes remarkably more orderly, both during the practice and a continued growth in daily life. It enhances the executive control center for decision-making, motivation, sense of self and self-awareness, allowing for a more powerful experience of one's self and deep connectedness to the world we are in. Decades of research on TM shows great health benefits to mind and body, including significantly less use of recreational and addictive drugs in those who practice.

Third, Maharishi Ayurveda offers a variety of modalities - means - to help those who have damaged their systems through cannabis abuse, including herbal cleanse programs and traditional in-residence ayurvedic purification programs like panchakarma. For more information on panchakarma, contact The Raj in Fairfield Iowa.

The basic cause of ill health and lack of happiness is the violation of natural law. Developing increased brain orderliness and higher levels of awareness allows a person to think with greater clarity and power, and make choices in accord with Natural Law. From this level of awareness, the choices produce more success and happiness.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi revived in its completeness the ancient system of natural health known as Ayurveda. Maharishi Ayurveda® is the science of naturally maintaining and restoring balance in the mind and physiology. There are many modalities in Maharishi Ayurveda to help restore and maintain balance, including the regular practice of Transcendental Meditation®, advanced techniques of self-balance assessment, specialized diets, spices, daily and seasonal routines, herbal preparations and in-depth purification procedures. Additional approaches include Vedic architecture, agriculture, and the science of the Vedic Astrology and Yagya, which assess and engage the influence of the sun, moon and stars on health (Maharishi Jyotish℠).

This article was written to answer the question “What is the Ayurvedic view of marijuana?” Interestingly, most of the ancient Ayurvedic viewpoints generally parallel what modern research is learning.

Below, are some science citations that may be of interest to readers.

…cannabis, like any drug, may have some health benefits (for example, under proper professional care, the therapeutic treatment of chronic pain and some neurological disorders:

http://www.msrc.co.uk/index.cfm/fuseaction/show/pageid/1815/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1503422/

Cannabis use during adolescence interferes with proper brain development, may cause anxiety disorders, and increases the risk of developing psychotic disorders later in life. Psychosis:

http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana-abuse/there-link-between-marijuana-use-mental-illness

http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/156/4/319.full

The past forty years of research on cannabis and its active compounds clearly indicates that cannabis use is not without risks for brain dysfunction. Psychosis:

http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana-abuse/there-link-between-marijuana-use-mental-illness

Current reviews of the medical research literature suggest that daily consumption of cannabis in teens is associated with depression and anxiety and development of schizophrenia. Studies indicate that its use can have an irreversible, long-term effect on the brain. Imaging studies show significant changes in brain function and, with continued use, the appearance of functional ‘holes’ — vast areas of brain matter that are dysfunctional.

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2005559,00.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2900481/

http://www.zmescience.com/medicine/genetic/researchers-find-marijuana-spreads-and-prolongs-pain/

There is some evidence that regional structural changes are associated with cannabis use patterns as well as measures of psychopathology. The volume of cortical grey matter is progressively reduced in schizophrenia, with larger grey matter volume decreases associated with cannabis use.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21466751

A current neurophysiological model indicates cannabis-induced schizophrenia is a distortion of normal late-postnatal brain maturation. Adolescent exposure to cannabis transiently disturbs physiological control of the endogenous cannabinoid system over brain function. As a result, THC (the primary active ingredient in cannabis) may adversely affect adolescent experience-dependent maturation of neural wiring within prefrontal cortical areas. Depending on the amount, time and duration of use, this may ultimately lead to the development of psychosis or schizophrenia.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20624444

Together, these studies highlight the cannabis-related dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex, the central switchboard of executive control and decision-making.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028390807001980

THC disrupts prefrontal cortical function communication with other brain regions.

http://www.cogsci.ucsd.edu/~pineda/COGS260/marijuana/Cannabinoids%20and%20PFCtx.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16163518

http://www.druglibrary.org/crl/behavior/jentsch-01.pdf

Recent research suggests chronic interference with the endocannabinoid system by marijuana use may facilitate drug dependence and impair the body’s natural homeostatic balancing mechanisms. Addiction:

http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana-abuse/marijuana-addictive

THC alters the activity of central reward pathways in a manner that is consistent with other abused drugs. Most users have no understanding that current marijuana cultivation is yielding THC levels that are consistently 5-20 times more potent than those found in the 1960s and 70s. Thus, each inhalation can lead to considerably more impact subjectively that must be associated with larger, more disruptive levels in the brain.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1575338/

Use of marijuana distorts the intelligent functioning of the brain’s endocannabinoid system. …its use may induce short- as well as long-term disturbance of the normal equilibrium of the ECS system and may contribute to a variety of different unwanted symptoms and diseases.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3052937/

http://www.calgarycmmc.com/cognativeeffects.htm#733759594

(numerous citations/studies)

Research also suggests that marijuana does qualify as a ‘gateway’ drug, increasing the likelihood that the casual user will engage in drugs that are both stronger and more destructive as the disease of addiction progresses — biologically, psychologically, socially and spiritually.

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/record/archives/vol20/vol20_iss10/record2010.24.html

http://www.marijuana-detox.com/news-left.htm?aid=49

Cannabis smoke contains 400 compounds including 60 cannabinoids. However, because of its lower combustibility it contains 50% more carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons including naphthalene, benzanthracene, and benzopyrene, than tobacco smoke. A recent Canadian study found that marijuana smoke caused significantly more damage to cells and DNA than tobacco smoke.

http://www.mrc.ac.uk/Newspublications/News/MRC006135

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090615095940.htm

http://www.ecnis.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1130&Itemid=144

http://www.drugfree.org/drug-guide/marijuana

There is now convincing evidence that due to this toxicity of cannabis that regular usage damages DNA leaving the possibility of the initiation of cancer development.

http://www.decp.org/documents/index.cfm?fa=document&document_type_id=3&document_id=450&subtype_id=

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090805110741.htm

Research indicates that loss of mental stability is one significant side effect from recreational marijuana use.

http://www.beckleyfoundation.org/pdf/hall_HealthAndPsychologicalEffects_2001.pdf

http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/evidence99/marijuana/Health_1.html

Additional unmentioned citations:

Attention. memory and learning:

http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana-abuse/how-does-marijuana-use-affect-school-work-social-life

Driving:

http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana-abuse/does-marijuana-use-affect-driving

Fetal Development:

http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana-abuse/can-marijuana-use-during-pregnancy-harm-baby

NTY on addiction and MJ:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/fashion/19pot.html?pagewanted=all


These articles provide a great resource from The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians on the knowledge, practices, products, and applications of Maharishi Ayurveda.

Disclaimer
The sole purpose of these newsletters is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area.