Cannabis (bhaṅga) is a tall herb with board spear-shaped, serrated-edged leaves and which gives off a strong odour. The plant is known to botanists as Cannabis sativa. In ancient India cannabis fibre was used to make ropes, mats and cloth (D.II,350; Vin.III,256). The Buddha commented that cloth made from this fibre was unattractive, rough, cheap and when worn out was used to scour pots (A.I,246), although he allowed monks and nuns to wear robes made out of it. Smoking dried cannabis leaves or ingesting the resin from its flowering tops, has a dramatic effect on the cardio-vascular and the central nervous systems. In small amounts it imparts a sense of well-being and relaxation and in higher amounts causes sensory distortion, an altered sense of time, short-term memory loss, hallucinations and sometimes toxic psychosis. For centuries, certain sects of Hindu ascetics have smoked cannabis believing that they are able to commune with Siva while under its influence, although taking cannabis for its hallucinogenic effect is mentioned nowhere in the Tipiṭaka. From the Buddhist perspective, taking cannabis for recreational purposes would be breaking the fifth Precept. However, the Buddha allowed medicine for treating various illnesses and current research has shown beneficial uses of cannabis for many illnesses, including pain and addictions and relieving the effects of other medicines, for example from chemotherapy.
Like many people before and since, the Buddha recognized the medicinal value of cannabis and he recommended it as a cure for rheumatism (aṅgavāta). The patient should be placed, he said, in a small room filled with steam from a tub of boiling water and cannabis leaves (bhaṅgodaka), and inhale the steam and rub it on the limbs (Vin.I,205).
Based on the Buddha's allowance of using medicine and current research showing its usefulness in certain ailments and diseases, we can infer that cannabis is allowed in Buddhism, if used as a medicine, but not for recreational use.
- Buddhism A to Z. Ven. Dhammika, 2007.