Cannabis Use by Yogis in India

Key information

6:30 PM to 7:45 PM

About this event

Dr Matthew Clark

You can watch the recording of this event on YouTube . For other event recordings see our Media page.


In this online talk, based on research for his book The Tawny One: Soma, Haoma and Ayahuasca (London/New York: Muswell Hill Press, 2017), Matthew Clark will survey the history of cannabis use by yogis in India. 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.

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Speaker Biography

Dr Matthew Clark (MA, PhD) has since 2004 been a Research Associate at SOAS, where he taught Hinduism between 1999 and 2003. Since 2002 he has been lecturing on yoga philosophy and history at yoga centres in the UK, Europe, Israel, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the USA. To date, he has presented lectures at yoga retreats, workshops and teacher-training courses for twenty-five different yoga teachers and organizations. He has published articles and books on yoga, soma, and sādhus (yogis). His PhD, on a sect of sādhus (saṃnyāsīs), was published in 2006. His recent book, entitled The Tawny One: Soma. Haoma and Ayahuasca was published in June 2017. Matthew has been visiting India since 1977; he has visited several hundred pilgrimage sites and trekked about 2,000 miles in the Himalayas. He first engaged with yoga in the mid-1970s, and since 1990 has been regularly practising a form of Ashtanga Yoga. Matthew also plays guitar and writes songs (as Mahabongo).