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Gwynne Ann Unruh is a former award winning reporter at the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

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“When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself.”—Bob Marley

Marijuana and spirituality go together. Like the use of wine in Christianity, cannabis has also been used as part of spiritual rituals and ceremonies around the globe for a very long time. The cannabis plant has been utilized throughout history as a spiritual and religious sacrament in many different cultures and religions. From Hinduism to Rastafarianism and Christianity, many cultures and religions have adopted this plant. The first recorded use of marijuana being consumed for its psychoactive effects was 2,500 years ago in western China

Humans have often used mind-altering substances to guide them in their search for enlightenment, meaning and purpose. Sacred cacti, magic mushrooms, hallucinogenic brews and cannabis are utilized ceremonially by cultures across the world. The presence of THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis creating the mind-altering “high,” has been historically used as a way to connect to the “divine,” search for purpose and meaning, or to simply relax and “cleanse.” Its forms of use vary, and most religions only use cannabis for their religious practices and ceremonies with no recreational use outside of formal ritual.

From Asia to small islands in the Caribbean, cannabis has played an integral role in spiritual awakenings. Religion and has been described as a natural medicine for the mind and body. Cannabis is used in ritual, meditation or other religious ceremony to bring one closer to a higher power. Whether that be through smoking with a pipe or burning it as incense, or even ingesting it in a mixture or drink, cannabis has been here to help reach our peak and communicate with our divine beings to find peace and tranquility through meditation practices and religious ceremonies.

The earliest written evidence of using hemp comes from China and dates back to 2737 BCE. In the first editions of the seminal herbal medicine text Pen Ts’ao Ching, Emperor Shen-Nung made oils and teas from hemp to aid in hair loss, blood clots, pain relief and tapeworms. The text described that consuming Ma Fen (poisonous hemp seeds) would make one see devils or dark spirits if they consumed too much. When consumed in small doses over time, Ma Fen was said to allow one to communicate better with spirits and lighten your body. In the 4th century, cannabis was used by Taoists for spiritual purposes. They burned cannabis in censers (containers used to burn perfumes or incense) to help believers achieve a sense of well being and immortality.

In Ancient Greece the Greeks inhabited Scythia from the 11th century BCE to the 2nd century CE. Similar to the Taoists, the Greeks used incense for spiritual ceremonies, believing the vapors would ward off evil spirits. Theophrastus, the first Greek botanist, mentioned a psychoactive plant called dendromalache in his work. This is believed to be one of the earliest scientific mentions of cannabis. Dendromalache was used in shrines and by oracles to cleanse themselves.

To many Hindus in India, The Vedas (sacred Hindu texts) represent a source of knowledge on nature and spirituality. These sacred texts were composed and handed down orally over a period of about 10 centuries, from about the 15th to the 5th century BCE. The Vedic corpus is composed in an archaic Sanskrit. The most important texts are also the oldest ones.

The texts describe how Shiva, one of three major Hindu gods, created cannabis from his own body. It was deemed a source of happiness and liberation. The Vedic scriptures say it is one of the sacred plants, and it is believed to have a guardian angel living in the leaves. Hindus can refer to Shiva as the Lord of Bhang (an edible cannabis drink consumed during Hindu festivals), because he used the drink to harness and focus his power.

In Ancient Egypt the Egyptian goddess of wisdom, Seshat, and the feline goddess of war, Bastet, were often depicted in paintings with a cannabis leaf on their heads. In the Ebers Papyrus—an Ancient Egyptian medical text from 1550 BCE—there is a multitude of hemp-based elixirs and formulas used to decrease depression, pain and inflammation, and to help with other physical problems. Historians believe that worshippers of these goddesses may have consumed cannabis during religious rituals and ceremonies to be closer to them.

Native American tribes recognize and honor cannabis for its medicinal healing powers and believe it can help with inflammation in various parts of the body. There are some Native American tribes who believe that smoking cannabis with others will spread peace among humanity. Cannabis is used as a spiritual conduit in sacred ceremonies to lighten the soul for enhancement of their vision quest

Popular culture portrays Rastas in Jamaica as using cannabis just to get high. Rastafarian traditions have roots in Ethiopian culture and Christianity. The Rastas use cannabis to be closer to Jah (God) in various ceremonies. In the Rastafarian belief, material possessions or anything that is not of Jah will bring you negative energy. To ward this off, Rastas burn and smoke cannabis to heighten their consciousness, rid themselves of the negative energy and increase their life desires.

Rastas believe cannabis can heal people spiritually, mentally and physically. Rastafarians also eat a strict vegan diet, referred to as ital, and often use cannabis to make tea or breads. And despite what popular culture portrays, Rastas actually do not use cannabis just to get high. Jamaicans refer to the marijuana plant as ganja, and it is used to enhance a sense of peace and community. The Rastafari see cannabis as a sacramental and deeply beneficial plant and believe it’s the Tree of Life mentioned in the Bible and quote Revelation 22:2, saying, “The herb is the healing of the nations.”

New Mexico has finally acknowledged that its population can legally have the cannabis that has been used by numerous cultures within its own state throughout history.

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