Cannabis and Religion: Hempology 101 Lecture at VIU

I gave a lecture at Vancouver Island University last weekend that was hosted by Victoria’s Hempology 101 Socety, a group that has been educating people about cannabis since the mid-90s and was founded by the pioneering cannabis activist Ted Smith.

Watch all four parts of the lecture below.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Check out more about Hempology on their website:

Chris Bennett
Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett has been researching the historical role of cannabis in magic and religion for over a quarter century, his books include 'Green Gold the tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion' (1995); 'Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible' (2001); 'Cannabis and the Soma Solution' (2010. He Currently resides in Vancouver, BC, Canada, where he runs his ethnobotanical shop The Urban Shaman.



  1. Samuel on

    How dare you contradict the BBC! They are dedicated to bringing the truth to the world, right? I’m sure the author of that special dedicated an entire 15-20 minutes to researching the history of Soma: how dare you disagree, with all your lifetime of experience and libraries full of knowledge!?!

    Seriously, Chris: thanks for all your hard work and activism. I can’t wait to watch the presentation!

  2. Chris Bennett on

    No, Robin Wood in that BBC doc The Story of India you are refering to got it wrong…. ephedra was an admixture to the original soma which was a cannabis based preperation. See more detailed discussions and images about the Bactria Margiana archeological dig referred to in my lecture at:

    I also have a new book detailing this with much more research than cited in these videos and the short article.

    There are no references to nausea and diahrea being produced by Soma.

    As well, as noted in the presentation later, one of the last Vedic texts written in regards to the identity of Soma specifically identifies cannabis, from Cannabis and the Soma Solution:

    In 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.

    Mukherjee based much of his assertion on references in the SATAPATHA BRAHMANA that refer to a plant “usana” from which Soma is made, claiming this usana was a name of cannabis. As Mukherjee explained, the ‘u’ in ‘usana’ was a prefix carryover from the Kiratas, with whom Soma originated, and when the ‘u’ is dropped you return to one of the original Sanskrit names for cannabis ‘sana’. “The English word hemp, Greek kanna and Latin canna-(bis) are the same as Sana” (Ray, 1948). “The name Sana is derived from Sana, the true hemp. It is the same word as Gk. Kanna from which the Latin name of the plant, Cannabis sativa is derived” (Chatterjee, 1943). As Muller and Oldenberg noted of the term sana in their VEDIC HYMNS:

    “The occurrence of the word sana is of importance as showing how early a time the Aryans of India were acquainted with the uses and name of hemp. Our word hemp, the A.S. haenep, the old Norse hanp-r, are all borrowed from Latin cannabis, which like other borrowed words, has undergone the regular changes required by Grimm’s law in Low-German, and also in High-German, hanaf. The Slavonic nations seem to have borrowed their word for hemp (Lith.kannape) from the Goths, the Celtic nations (Irish cannib) from the Romans… The Latin cannabis is borrowed from the Greek, and the Greeks… most likely adopted the word from the Aryan Thracians and the Scythians. KavvaBis [sic, kannabis] being a foreign word, it would be useless to attempt an explanation of the final element bis, which is added to sana, the Sanskrit word for hemp … Certain it is that the main element in the name of hemp was the same among the settlers in Northern India, and among the Thracians and Scythians through whom the Greeks first became acquainted with hemp.” (Muller & Oldenberg, 1892, 2001)

    The SATAPATHA BRAHMANA, which records the name ‘usana’ as the main component of the Soma beverage, is thought to have been composed during the first half of the 1st millennium B.C., belonging to the Brahamic period of Vedic Sanskrit. The group of texts to which it belongs, the BRAHMANAS are generally described as occupying an intermediate position, in chronology, character, language, and mythology, between the Vedic hymns, and the Indian epic poems and PURANAS. The SATAPATHA BRAHMANA is a very important text, containing accounts of Creation, the Deluge of Manu (Great Flood), as well as, in great detail, the preparation of altars, ceremonial objects, ritual recitations, and the Soma libation, along with the symbolic attributes of every aspect of the rituals. Verses and of the Madyhyandina recension of the SATAPATHA BRAHMANA refer to the plant called ‘usana’, which can clearly be identified as cannabis, and from which Soma is made.


    “Soma is a God, since Soma (the moon) is in the sky. ‘Soma, forsooth, was Vrita; his body is the same as the mountains and rocks: thereon grows the plant Usana,’—so said Svetateketu Auddalaki ‘they fetch it hither and press it; and by means of the consecration and the Upasads, by the Tanunaptra and the strengthening they make it into Soma.’ And in like manner does he now make it into Soma by means of consecration and the Upasads, by the Tanunaptra and the strengthening.”


    “Thereupon he proceeds with (the offering of) the cakes of the Soma feast. Now Soma is a god, for Soma was in the heaven;–Soma forsooth, was Vritra; the mountain and stones are his body: thereon grows that plant called Usana, said Svetateketu Auddalaki; that they bring hither and press.’…. when he proceeds with (the offering of) Soma feast cakes, he puts sap into it: thus it becomes Soma for him.”

    “They all belong to Indra; for Indra is the deity of the sacrifice: that is why they all belong to Indra.”

    These references in the SATAPATHA BRAHMANA to usana, are the clearest textual identification of the plant from which Soma was originally made in the whole of Sanskrit literature. That more notice has not been paid to this clear identification of Soma with cannabis, other than a few passing references, is evidence of the over enthusiasm of researchers, such as Wasson, for their different candidates, rather than for the facts at hand.

    As the SATAPATHA BRAHMANA refers to Indra as the deity of the Soma sacrifice, in relation to the word ‘usana’ and ‘sana’ for cannabis, it is important to note THE CALCUTTA JOURNAL OF MEDICINE recorded “The Sanskrit name of Cannabis Sativa is Indrasana” (Sircar, 1906). Likely the name Indrasana came about through these references in the SATAPATHA BRAHMANA and this name as a designation for cannabis has been widely acknowledged. “The hemp plant in Sanskrit is referred to as bhang and Indrasana. In the east, it had been known as a fibre plant from pre-historic times” (Roy & Rizvi, 1986). “Ganja or Indian hemp (Cannabis sativa)… is generally taken in the form of bhanga (also called Indrasana or Vijaya), a drink made from its flowers” (Shukla, 1994). “Indrasana a favourite drink of Indra (the king of gods)” (Fernandez, 1894). In PHARMACOGRAPHIA INDICA we read:

    “Indrasana, ‘Indra’s hemp’… is described in the Atharvaveda as a protector, and it is supplicated to protect all animals and properties. The gods are said to have three times created this herb (oshadhi). Indra has given it a thousand eyes, and conferred on it the property of driving away all disease and killing all monsters; it is praised as the best of remedies, and is worn as a precious talisman…” (Dymock, et al., 1893)

    Thus Indrasana has medicinal, spiritual and fibrous properties. Interestingly, as we shall discuss later, all these same attributes are applied to Soma. Likely due to such connections regarding hemp, Indra and “soma, the favorite drink of the God Indra, which was offered to the mortal so that they might find happiness,” C. Stefanis, C.Ballas and D. Madianou concurred that the sacred elixir “contained cannabis” (Stefanis, et al., 1975; 1977).

  3. Anonymous on

    There are several small inaccuracies in the first video. Soma was never cannabis: it is actually a coniferous plant native to Northern India, whose branches contain high levels of ephedrine. You can still find it at bazaars in Pakistan, where it is sold as an herbal medicine called “som.” It looks like small, thin brown twigs, about four inches in length, which you chop up and brew in hot water to create an infusion. The effects are a increased energy levels and mental clarity and a mild euphoria, and the side effects sometimes include nausea and diahrea.