7 Psychedelics That Are Part Of The Indian Culinary-scape
Image Credit: Gouache by an Amritsar artist depicting the preparation and consumption of Indian hemp (bhang). Archaeological Survey of India Collections via Wikimedia Commons.

Psychedelic substances have a deep-rooted history within the Indian culture, spanning thousands of years. These substances, known for their ability to alter perception, induce hallucinations and catalyse profound spiritual experiences, have played a significant role in various religious, spiritual, and medicinal practices. The historical use of psychedelic substances in India can be traced back to ancient civilisations, where they were regarded as sacred tools for exploring the realms of consciousness and connecting with the divine.

One of the most prominent references to psychedelics in Indian history can be found in the Rigveda, an ancient collection of hymns and sacred texts. The Rigveda mentions a plant called Soma, revered for its mystical properties and central to religious ceremonies. Although the exact identity of Soma remains uncertain, scholars believe it to be a psychoactive plant that was prepared into a sacred drink, consumed by priests and ritual participants during elaborate ceremonies. The ingestion of Soma was believed to enable direct communion with the gods, induce altered states of consciousness, and bring about profound spiritual insights.

Bhang (Cannabis)

Bhang is a traditional preparation made from cannabis leaves and flowers. It has been an integral part of Holi festivities for centuries. During Holi, people consume bhang-infused drinks and sweets to celebrate and enhance the festive spirit. Bhang is believed to induce feelings of joy, relaxation, and euphoria. It is considered culturally accepted and normalised in the context of Holi celebrations.

Sarpagandha (Rauvolfia serpentina)

Sarpagandha, also known as Indian snakeroot, is a herb used in Ayurvedic medicine and is associated with the festival of Naag Panchami, which is dedicated to worshipping snakes. Sarpagandha has been traditionally used for its sedative and calming effects. It is believed to have psychoactive properties and is used in rituals and ceremonies associated with snake worship.

Dhatura (Datura species)

Dhatura, also known as "thorn apple" or "jimsonweed," is a group of flowering plants with psychoactive properties. Despite its toxicity, certain communities in India use dhatura in religious rituals and festivals like Shivratri. The ingestion or inhalation of dhatura is believed to induce hallucinations and altered states of consciousness.

Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric Mushroom)

Amanita muscaria is a distinctive and psychoactive mushroom species that grows in various parts of the world, including certain regions of India. In some indigenous cultures and festivals, such as the Chhota Char Dham Yatra in Uttarakhand, Amanita muscaria is consumed for its hallucinogenic effects. It is associated with spiritual experiences and considered sacred in certain traditions.

Psilocybin Mushrooms (Magic Mushrooms)

Psilocybin mushrooms, which contain the psychedelic compound psilocybin, are found in various parts of the world, including India. In some tribal communities and alternative spiritual practices, the ceremonial use of psilocybin mushrooms for their hallucinogenic effects has been reported.

Acorus calamus (Sweet Flag)

Acorus calamus, commonly known as sweet flag or "bach," is a herbaceous plant native to India. It has a long history of cultural and medicinal use in Indian traditions, including Ayurveda. Acorus calamus contains several active compounds, including beta-asarone, which is known to have psychoactive effects. In certain spiritual practices, it is believed to induce altered states of consciousness, enhance meditation, and promote spiritual insights.

Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans): 

Nutmeg is a spice derived from the seeds of the Myristica fragrans tree, primarily cultivated in the Spice Islands, including Indonesia and India. In Indian cuisine, nutmeg is a common ingredient used to flavour a variety of dishes. In larger doses, nutmeg contains the compound myristicin, which can have hallucinogenic effects. However, it's important to note that consuming excessive amounts of nutmeg can be toxic and may lead to adverse health effects. Therefore, the recreational use of nutmeg for its psychoactive properties is not recommended.

The historical and cultural significance of psychedelic substances in Indian traditions is undeniable. These substances have been intertwined with religious, spiritual, and medicinal practices for thousands of years. From the sacred Soma mentioned in the Rigveda to the culturally accepted bhang-infused celebrations of Holi, psychedelic substances have played a vital role in connecting individuals with the divine, inducing altered states of consciousness, and fostering profound spiritual experiences.

It is essential to recognise that the modern understanding and acceptance of psychedelic substances in Indian culture are influenced by a variety of factors, including globalisation, evolving societal attitudes, and scientific research. As society continues to evolve, discussions surrounding psychedelics have expanded beyond traditional rituals and ceremonies, with a growing interest in their therapeutic potential and exploration of consciousness.

It is crucial to promote informed conversations, research, and education regarding psychedelic substances to foster a balanced understanding and respect for their historical, cultural, and therapeutic significance. By doing so, we can appreciate the profound impact they have had on Indian culture and continue to navigate their use in a responsible and meaningful way.