India is: 1) the world's largest producer of licit opium for the pharmaceutical trade, but an undetermined quantity of opium is diverted to illicit international drug markets; 2) a transit point for illicit narcotics produced in neighboring countries and throughout Southwest Asia; 3) an illicit producer of methaqualone; 4) vulnerable to narcotics money laundering through the hawala system; and 5) licit ketamine and precursor production. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Hinduism has no rules prohibiting drugs. Early Brahmins that were custodians for the fire-god Agni drank a liquid called Soma that was probably made with marijuana and perhaps opium. Soma was associated with the moon. Alduous Huxley used the word to describe a drug taken by people in the future in his novel “Brave New World.”

“Haoma” is a plant that is believed to be god on earth and drinking its juice is thought to make immorality possible. Priests that handle the sacred twigs wear a mask over their nose and mouth so they won't defile the twigs their breath. Immortality comes at the end of the world to all those who have consumed the sacred juice. ["World Religions" edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]

Drug Use in India

Opium, cannabis and other drugs are widely used by Indians, often openly. Sadhus (holy men) can often seen smoking chillums and joints with hashish and marijuana. Holi is celebrated in Rajasthan with men drinking opium and performing a stick dance. In central India men splatter colored water on one another and boys heave cow dung at houses after drinking “bhang” (a liquid laced with hashish).

In many parts of India, the penalty for possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana is six months. The penalties for possession of more than 25 grams is 10 years. In some places the sentence are mandatory. Judges can give a more lenient punishment. The judges who hears drug have a reputation for being hard asses. Most of the people in Goa's Aguada jail are there on drug-related charges. Even so marijuana and ecstacy tablets can easily be purchased for a small amount of money on Goa's beaches.

Amphetamine use increased to alarming rates when cheap methamphetamines began flowing in from Myanmar and the Golden Triangle in the 1990s. They are cheaper than opiates and even cannabis, often costing as little as 10 to 20 cents a pill. Much of its smuggled across the Myanmar border into the Indian state of Manpur. In the early 2000s, there were an estimated 200,000 intravenous drug users in India’s seven northeast states, with many of them injecting amphetamines and proxyvon. Addicts often dissolve five pills in water and inject it into their lower limbs and arms for a high that last as long as eight hours.

Today India is believed to have one of the world’s fast growing markets for heroin. The trend began when and Golden Crescent heroin from Pakistan was often smuggled through India in the 1980s and 90s. Now Afghanistan heroin is smuggled through India.

India’s Youth – On Drugs

Drug abuse is on the rise in India especially among young people. According to the De Addictions Centre, “We have an addiction problem in India. In Punjab the numbers are ridiculous—nearly 75 percent of its youth are severely addicted to drugs, that’s 3 out of every 4 children. Mumbai, Hyderabad and other cities around the country are quickly gaining a reputation for their drug usage; and the population in each of these cities continues to grow. Delhi is filled with rehab centres trying to keep up with the flow of addicts. Over 500 centres across our country work together to nurse addicts back into healthy productive lifestyles—but addiction is becoming too much for India. [Source: De Addictions Centre, August 27, 2013]

The menace of drugs and alcohol has woven itself deep into the fabric of our society. As its effects reach towards our youth, India’s future generation will have to compete with drugs like cannabis, alcohol and tobacco. More Indian youngsters struggle with addiction than ever before. Peer pressure, adolescent immaturity and irresponsible parenting is the three-headed monster luring our children towards addiction and a life of suffering and regret.

Nearly 75 percent of Indian homes house at least one drug user—usually a parent, and often the father. Experts tell us that children as young as 13 and 14 regularly experiment with intoxicants.

Drug Use Among Foreigners in India

Goa, Manali and other places in India have been attracted dope-smoking hippies since the 1960s. For the most part they have been left alone as long as they didn't bother anyone. One young man from Yorkshire told the Independent, "They really like like chillums here—they stick a big fat chillum in your face, and it seems a bit rude to turn it down." As rave culture began entering the scene, the drug scene in Goa became characterized by large parties with techno music and large amounts of ecstacy and other hallucinogens. The main hippie season is from November to the end of March.

Goa is a popular destination among hippies because it is cheap and has reputation of tolerance for alternative living and drug use. Goa as had this reputation ever since the early 1960s when proto-hippies like Allen Ginsberg discovered that marijuana was openly smoked here. In the 1960s, hippies from all over the world descended on Goa's sandy beaches, attracted by the mellow atmosphere and the cheap hashish, and they have never left. Even though most of the hippies live unobtrusively in villages behind the beaches their lifestyle has been criticized by the area's Catholic bishops as "threat to Catholic tradition." The hippies have been joined by rastas, ravers and backpackers who all share a similar interest in drugs, with ecstacy and LSD brought in from Europe.

Goa is famous for its colorful hippie characters. One guy know as Jungle Barry was believed by some to Lord Lucan, an aristocrat and member of the House of Lords who disappeared in 1974 after the body of his family’s nanny was found dead at his home. Barry was an alcoholic who people said was fun to have around. He taught people to play the penny whistle in exchange or food and drink.

Big raves are sometimes held on the beaches of Goa. The full-moon parties there are famous. As Goa tries to lure more and more upscale travelers and package tourists, it has begun trying to rid itself of its "drug paradise" reputation. In recent years, many budget travelers have ended up in jail.

Crackdown on Drug Use in Goa

In the past drug laws were widely viewed as a means for police in Goa to extract bribes. Police often threatened drug users with arrest while holding out a hand for baksheesh. Sometimes drug dealers informed on users to fatten the wallets of the dealers and the police. Some police accepted large amounts of money to look the other way at big raves.

In 2001, authorities and politicians had enough and police began cracking down on drugs in Goa. Around that time police broke up 11 drug supply syndicates, raided marijuana "smoking shacks" on the beaches of Baga and Anjuna. In one raid an Israeli national was caught with 691 tablets of ecstacy. In another raid a Nepali national was arrested with 1,600 tablets of ecstacy and a large amount of hashish.

There have also been reports of European travelers ending up in jail with long sentences after having drugs planted on them by police. One British couple, on a break from teaching English in Japan, were arrested after marijuana was allegedly found in their garden. The couple refused to pay a bride on the grounds that the drugs were clearly planted on them.

Betel Nut and Paan

Betel nut is widely consumed in India. Even in Rajasthan, far from the tropical areas, where the betel palm grows, people chew betel. Many Indians chew paan, a mixture of betel nut, lime paste, spices and often tobacco, wrapped in a betel leaf. It is often consumed after a meal and is meant to be chewed slowly to release the flavors and aid digestion. There are many varieties of paan. Some are quite potent . Paan is placed between the cheek and gum and consumed in way similar to chewing tobacco. The red juice stains the lips and teeth and is meant to be spit out (although some kinds of sweet paan can be swallowed). Betel nut sellers earned about $40 a month in the late 1990s. Paan has traditionally been sold by paanwalllahs and is mess to transport.

Betel is a mildly narcotic nut (seed) that comes from the betel palm ( Areca catechu ). Used for at least 2,500 years, it is popular in India, South Asia, China, the Pacific and Southeast Asia. Theophratus discussed it. There are references to it in ancient Sanskrit texts. An estimated one tenth of humanity regularly chews it. In many places, everybody chews betel nut, even children. It can be bought at almost any store. Many people grow it in their backyards. Some people even believe that ghosts chew it. Others regard it as magical and offer it gods and use it to ward off the evil eye.

Betel nuts are usually sucked on or chewed like chewing tobacco. They are often prepared by boiling, drying and slicing. In India, Taiwan, the The active ingredient in betel nut is a volatile oil called arecoline. Released from the nut by saliva and lime, it is a mild central nervous system stimulant which increases respiration. Studies of the drug have shown that it improves learning and memory and counteracts intestinal parasites. Betel nut is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat headaches, stomach pains, venereal diseases, fever, rheumatism and other ailments.

Betel nut makes the saliva red. Regular usage stains the mouth, teeth and gums red. Long terms users have damaged and blackened teeth and damaged soft tissues in the mouth. Betel is considered a health hazard. It has been linked with throat, mouth and esophageal cancers

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.