Like other psychoactive plants, cannabis is often consumed for spiritual purposes. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as an “entheogen,” which translates to “that which causes man to become possessed by God.” In recent years though, a great deal of attention has been given to the physical health effects of cannabis, with few researchers bothering to investigate the spiritual impact of the plant. Yet, a new study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs has done just that[i].
The Spiritual Use Of Cannabis
The study authors recruited over a thousand people to take part in a survey regarding their use of cannabis and other substances, as well as their spiritual and psychological traits. Two-thirds of those who took part indicated that they obtained some sort of spiritual benefit from cannabis, with this effect being greatest in those who displayed certain personal characteristics.
For example, individuals who scored higher for a trait called expansion – which refers to a desire to increase one’s openness to new experiences and to deepen one’s knowledge of oneself – were more likely to report a spiritual benefit from using cannabis. Similarly, those who claimed to meditate regularly or practice other mindfulness-based techniques tended to find the use of cannabis to be more of a spiritual experience.
These findings mirror those of another study conducted in the early 1990s. More than 90 percent of a sample of US-based Tibetan Buddhism practitioners claimed to have used cannabis, with 40 percent describing the plant as being important to their spiritual lives[ii].
According to the authors of the recent study, cannabis may enhance spirituality by weakening connectivity patterns within a brain network called the default mode network, which regulates our everyday consciousness and keeps us rooted in everyday patterns of cognition. Several psychoactive and psychedelic substances have been found to disrupt this network, and this effect has been linked to the experience of ego-dissolution.
Spiritual Uses Of Cannabis Through History
While both studies mentioned above involved participants from modern Western societies, the spiritual use of cannabis dates back several thousand years and spans much of the globe. Within Hinduism, for example, the plant has long been associated with the deity Shiva. For this reason, it is traditionally consumed by sadhus and wandering ascetics to enhance meditation, yoga, and worship.
Similarly, cannabis maintains a long-standing association with Sufism, a form of Islamic mysticism based on tolerance, love, and a quest for a divine experience in the everyday world. Though the plant isn’t officially recognised as having a place within institutionalised Sufism, the consumption of bhang has for many centuries been seen as integral to certain practices that are intended to facilitate the transcendence of the lower egoic mind. See our blog on radical Sufism and cannabis use for more information.
More recently, cannabis has become a key component of Rastafarianism, which began as a religious black consciousness movement in the Caribbean in the 1920s and quickly became a global religion. In Rastafarian custom, cannabis provides a way out of the false consciousness of Babylon, which is dominated by greed and racism. It enables a deeper understanding of the true self (see earlier blog, Jamaica: Cannabis and Rastafari to learn more).
New research indicates that cannabis may have been used for spiritual purposes during Biblical times, with cannabinoid residues discovered on an ancient shrine in Israel. With such a long history of use, it’s hardly surprising that modern cannabis users continue to experience spiritual effects when consuming the plant.
[i] Frederick J. Heide, Tai Chang, Natalie Porter, Eric Edelson & Joseph C. Walloch (2021): Spiritual Benefit from Cannabis, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, DOI: 10.1080/02791072.2021.1941443 – https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02791072.2021.1941443?src=
[ii] Tart, C. T. 1991. Influence of previous psychedelic drug experiences on students of Tibetan Buddhism: A preliminary exploration. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 23 (2):139–73 – http://cttart.s3.amazonaws.com/articles/april2013articles/Influences+of+Previous+Psychedelic+Drug+Experiences+on+Students+of+Tibetan+Buddhsim.pdf