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Are there any sound historical proofs that soma contained cannabis?
Michael Wood says in his documentary The Story of India first episode:
Soma is still used as a medicine in Central Asia. The active element in the plant is ephedrine, and the effect that it has, according to the Rig Veda is, well, if you take too much of it, it can cause nausea, it can be frightening, it can give you vertigo, sickness, vomiting. If you take it in the right measure, it enlivens the senses, sharpens you up, keeps you awake. The poets in the Rig Veda compose their songs often at night having drunk Soma, and, of course, Indra, King of the Gods, drinks vast quantities of this perhaps because it’s thought to be an aphrodisiac as well. [. ] But Soma’s not an Indian plant.It doesn’t grow in the humid plains. And today, it’s no longer part of Hindu religion. It came from outside.
And then afterward in the documentary someone suggested that it can contain also cannabis. Someone on the PBS site asks a similar question:
Is there any historical proof either primary or secondary other than the above mentioned that the Vedic Soma might have contained cannabis or even ephedrine?
4 Answers 4
Cannabis is just one of the candidates for soma, other candidates including fungi, namely Amanita Muscaria which seems to be the best candidate according to Wikipedia wisdom, and Papaver. A synonym for soma is Amrita, which is a also a synonym for the Hellenic Ambrosia. There is an entire book dedicated to the topic.
There is also a free accessible online article about the complicated question.
There have been a number of archeological finds that indicate this. As I have shown in my book, Cannabis and the Soma Solution, there is new archeological evidence that indicates the ancient Soma and Haoma was likely a preparation that included cannabis. A wide variety of Indian scholars have also suggested the Vedic Soma, was a cannabis based beverage, (Bennett, 2010). The connections with cannabis have been further strengthened by the archeological finds of cannabis present at a 4000 year old Temple site in the ancient Bactria and Margiana region, known now as BMAC (The Bactria Margiana Archeological Complex) that was devoted to the preparation of the Haoma, by the Russian archeologist Victor Sarianidi, where evidence of cannabis, ephedra, and in some later cases opium being ground and strained for the preparation of Haoma have been found.
Noted cannabis historian, Dr. Mike Aldrich notes that ephedra, which contains ephedrine was likely added to the sacred beverage for its stimulating effects, enabling the partakers to stay wide awake through the night in singing and dancing festivals. “… this was handed out in the public room of these sanctuaries, and drunk by the people in the form of a libation. and then they would have all night singing and dancing festivals, just as they still do at the Kumbha mela for soma in India” (Aldrich, 2012). The cannabis beverage bhang is consumed freely throughout the Kumbha Mela, , but in modern times, more commonly the chillum filled with ganja (marijuana) or charas (hashish) are used in its place. On the topic of BMAC, it is interesting to note that Prof. Victor Sarianidi states that it has been a longstanding theory with some historians that the “nomadic Scythians/Saka from ancient times had made attempts to settle on the fertile lands of Margiana. This assumption is now fully supported by… archeological facts…” (Sarianidi, 1998).
The Scythian relationship with Haoma, was indeed close, so much so, that they were widely known as the “Haoma-Gatherers”. Referring to the Scythians under their Persian name of the ‘Sakas’, Guive Mirfendereski notes that the Scythians of eastern Central Asia are called ‘Homa Saka’ and ‘haumavarka’ (Haoma-gatherers) (Mirfendereski, 2005). Like Mirfendereski, who believes the title Haomavarga came to the Scythians through their use of hemp, archaeologist Bruno Jacobs has likewise suggested that the name was derived from the Scythian practice of laying cannabis on hot stones to release its intoxicating vapours, (Jacobs, 1982).
More recently, the subject of Scythian gold cups, and cannabis beverages has re-emerged again, after an exciting archeological find, and the analysis of ancient residues. A collection of gold cups and bowls found at a Scythian burial site in Southern Russia, were tested for the residues which had solidified in them, and revealed they had been used for drinking a preparation of cannabis and opium, (Curry, 2015). These contents fits with the findings of cannabis and opium residues of Sarianidi at BMAC, although it is unclear if they tested for other plants, such as ephedra that was found at BMAC, in regards to the gold cups. This find was widely reported as the discovery of “golden bongs” used for “smoking” cannabis in the mainstream press, a bong being a cannabis smoking device, that was not invented till centuries if not millennia after the time of the Scythians. But as archeologist Professor Anton Gass, who was involved with the analysis of the gold cups and bowls has noted “the difficulty was due to the translation. It is not a bong, but ritual vessels for Haoma.” (Gass, 2015).
Interestingly, the identification of cannabis with soma and Haoma, was popular in the 19th century. This may have been due in part to George W. Brown`s Researches in Oriental History: “. Haoma . an intoxicating beverage, prepared from the green stalks of the moon-plant. Cannabis Indica, or Indian hemp. was tasted by the priests on sacrificial occasions, whilst hymns were sung in its praise. Its action was that of hashish. It produced intoxication and stimulation of the senses, which were taken for inspiration” (Brown, 1890)
Cannabis has been similarly tied with Haoma Indian counterpart Soma for more than a century as well. 1894 Edition of North Indian Notes and Queries, Vol. 4 contains an essay by John Cockburn, Hemp and the Soma, similarly concluded “…There can be no reasonable doubt that soma was bhang” (Cockburn, 1894). Edward Albert Gait refers to “hemp (Soma) in Vedic times” (Gait, 1902), and in a 1921 an article by Braja Lal Mukherjee, The Soma Plant, appeared in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (which was a response to an earlier paper on the identity of Soma) also put forth a theory presenting cannabis, ‘bhang’, as a serious candidate for the Soma.
Are there any sound historical proofs that soma contained cannabis? Michael Wood says in his documentary The Story of India first episode: Soma is still used as a medicine in Central