In modern America, the cannabis plant is primarily viewed as a medicinal or recreational substance, but there’s also a spiritual element associated with cannabis intoxication. This isn’t a new phenomenon, either. People have used cannabis to induce spiritual experiences since humans first began cultivating the herb, and cannabis use has helped shape several world religions that still exist today.
Keep reading to learn more about the modern connection between cannabis and spirituality, as well as its rich history.
When Did The Connection Between Cannabis Use And Spirituality Begin?
Humans have used cannabis for thousands of years for a variety of different purposes. In fact, according to archaeologists and anthropologists, cannabis was one of the first plants ever cultivated by early humans.
Ancient cultures wove hemp fibers into some of the earliest clothing ever worn, and those same fibers made the ropes and sails that fueled global intercontinental exploration. Hemp paper allowed these primordial cultures to record their history, and hulled hemp seeds were a major staple in ancient Chinese diets. But the cannabis plant wasn’t strictly a practical herb.
The cannabis plant likely first originated in Central Asia, specifically in the area that we now call China and Mongolia. Research suggests that in addition to the plant’s more tangible uses like textile production, early humans also utilized cannabis for its psychotropic properties as far back as almost 3,000 years ago—both for medicinal reasons and in shamanic rituals.
Cannabis And World Religions
It didn’t take long for the cannabis plant to spread to other regions and cultures. Likely due to its geographical proximity to Central Asia, the Indian Subcontinent became one of the earliest places to incorporate cannabis into its agricultural paradigm.
Like in China, early Indians used cannabis for a wide variety of reasons, including for spiritual purposes. The plant even got name-dropped in the Vedas—an ancient collection of Hindu texts originally compiled in Sanskrit. To this day, cannabis continues to have strong associations with Hinduism, particularly with the god Shiva. Bhang, a cannabis-based drink, is often consumed during the festival of Maha Shivaratri, which celebrates the Hindu god Shiva.
In early Islam, Sufi mystics were known to consume cannabis regularly in order to enhance their spiritual closeness with God. Sufis introduced cannabis in the form of hashish to the Islamic world, and while most modern interpretations of the Quran don’t allow for cannabis consumption, hash smoking is still quite popular in Egypt and other parts of the Islamic world.
Perhaps the most obvious example of cannabis’ influence on religion is Rastafarianism. While not all Rastas consider the movement a formal religion, there is certainly a spiritual component to the movement.
Why Is Cannabis Culture Connected To Spirituality Today?
Cannabis can have the power to alter one’s experience so wholly; it can shift one’s perspective even after the intoxication has worn off. It’s not uncommon for users to have full-blown spiritual experiences while using cannabis or other psychedelic drugs.
Since human beings first developed consciousness, we’ve been looking for ways to alter it. Spiritual practices like chanting, meditating, drumming, or sensory deprivation are all ultimately tools used to shift our perceptions and expand our consciousness. Consuming entheogens like cannabis or psilocybin can enhance these sorts of practices and can even induce trance-like changes in perception all on their own.
Regardless of formal religious backgrounds, human beings are curious creatures. One of the biggest benefits/burdens (depending on how you see it) of consciousness is the unyielding desire to know why we possess it in the first place? Why are we here, and what does it mean to be a conscious being? So long as these unanswerable questions persist, we as a species will find ways to explore our own minds through psychonautics.
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