Spiritual leaders throughout history have turned to the cannabis plant to help them transcend, meditate, and find answers to life’s Big Questions for centuries. Cannabis is considered an entheogen, which, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a psychoactive, hallucinogenic substance or preparation especially when derived from plants or fungi and used in religious, spiritual, or ritualistic contexts.” Other entheogens include peyote, mushrooms, and LSD.
Due to the euphoric, pain-relieving, and hallucinogenic nature of cannabis, holy men, shamans, and other spiritual leaders have used it for thousands of years to help people heal, solve deep and complex problems, and in some cases, prophesy of things to come.
Throughout history, most medical procedures were done by local or nomadic medicine men, and that title was often synonymous with magician. If you think about it, it is pretty magical that smoking a seemingly innocuous plant could relieve pain, induce sleep, quell vomiting, and even alleviate joint or muscle pain. Medicine men couldn’t recommend taking a puff from a cigarette one hitter back then, but they still recommended inhaling the smoke, using the leaves in a poultice, or smoking the bud in a pipe.
Long before the scientists understood the influence of THC and CBD on the endocannabinoid system, medicine men were using it to treat patients (and often do a little spiritual ascension of their own on the side). These skills for healing often elevated medicine men to people of high spiritual authority.
Communicate with the Spirit World
Communicating with the Spirit World was not for the faint of heart, and how much cannabis you used was a major factor in the outcome you sought. For instance, using a lot of cannabis at once was for people who desired to view demons (which, in all honesty, was probably just a bad trip). On the flip side of that, people who used smaller amounts of cannabis over longer time periods could reach a state where they could communicate with spirits in a non-threatening way.
Cannabis was sometimes used as incense during temple rituals in ancient times because people thought it would please the gods. There are also examples of cannabis being included in burial rituals and other common religious ceremonies.
Many Hindu holy men use cannabis in different forms as they meditate, and they use cannabis while praising Shiva, one of the Hindu gods. A milky, cannabis drink called bhang is often used during purification rituals. Chinese Taoists sometimes burned cannabis during rituals to help promote selflessness and a state of oneness with nature.
In some pagan communities, cannabis was used in fertility rituals because believers thought it contained elements of the goddess Freyja. She was known in Norse mythology to be the goddess of love, fertility, and beauty, and pagans thought that using cannabis during their rituals would enhance these aspects in their own lives.
Ancient Buddhists believed that cannabis was crucial to many of their religious ceremonies because it was supposed to increase awareness and enlightenment. It has long been considered sacred because Buddha allegedly lived on a single hemp seed per day as he sought enlightenment. Since then, however, most Buddhists believe that medical cannabis is ok to use, but otherwise, most devout Buddhists are against cannabis usage.
Cannabis is still illegal in the United States at a federal level, but registered Rastafarians can legally use cannabis because it is such an integral part of their religion. The Supreme Court ruled that cannabis usage was deeply rooted in Rastafarianism (even considered a sacrament), and so prosecuting cannabis use of a registered Rastafarian infringed on the user’s Freedom of Religion, a right guaranteed under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Not all religions that use cannabis are allowed the same privileges under the law, however.
Cannabis was a crucial part of many spiritual leaders’ tool bags because it allowed for visions that could give insight into both the future and the past. Some Taoists thought that using cannabis altered time, which seems reasonable to assume for anyone who has experienced a high.
The Role of Cannabis in Burial
Cannabis was such a vital tool for many spiritual leaders that archaeologists have found many tombs with whole or partial cannabis plant remains. In some instances, the plants were broken down into distinct parts (seeds, fibers, flowers), whereas in other circumstances, the entire plant – root and all – was draped across the deceased’s body. Other tombs had partially charred cannabis plants standing upright in pots, making archaeologists believe that the plants were left to smolder so that the smoke could help the deceased in their goals for the afterlife.
Cannabis plants have been used by spiritual people on almost every continent for thousands of years. In some societies, the cannabis plant was so revered that gifts of hemp clothing, seeds, and full plants were given to the deceased during burial rituals. Depending on the amount and type of cannabis that was used, the experience could yield very different results. From calm states of meditation to agitated moments of vision, soothing medicinal remedies to methods of honoring gods, cannabis use by spiritualists throughout the centuries has shaped civilization in countless ways.