In my early twenties, I worked Saturday nights at a live music lounge. During breaks, I’d wander outside for a burst of fresh air, where the sidewalk would be invariably colonized by patrons sweaty from dancing, leaned up against the wall sharing joints. At least one individual would pass along a joint, praising its ability to transform the music into a spiritual experience. I’d inwardly roll my eyes at what looked to me like a bunch of stoners justifying their smoking habit.
Cannabis has long been identified as an entheogen: A plant that can expand one’s consciousness and assist in spiritual growth. Hindu sadhus, Zoroastrians, and Rastafarians honor cannabis as a sacred tool. In Ayurveda, one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems, cannabis is understood as a divine healing plant connected with Lord Shiva. However, the Vedas caution that when used inappropriately or recreationally, cannabis is tantamount to a toxin.
The line between spiritual development and pleasure may be thin, especially when it comes to weed. But recent years have seen the flowering of an elevated approach to cannabis consumption, which re-emphasizes its spiritual character.
A new wave of spiritual consumers
All over the globe, cannabis is being combined with practices such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. Alongside these looser affiliations is the blossoming of semi-organized cannabis-based religions and churches, including Cannamaste, The First Church of Cannabis in Indiana, the International Church of Cannabis in Colorado, The First Cannabis Church of Florida, the Healing Church of Rhode Island, the Coachella Valley Church of California, and the Hawai’i Cannabis Ministry. Most have also adopted creeds that emphasize love, unity, tolerance, equality, and kindness.
These cannabis-based spiritual practices and communities honor the plant for providing a gateway to the divine through connection with the self, others, and the Earth. Elevationists at the aesthetically stunning International Church of Cannabis in Colorado, for example, venerate cannabis as “the sacred flower to reveal the best version of self, discover a creative voice and enrich our community with the fruits of that creativity.”
But what distinguishes this new wave of spiritual cannabis consumers from those who smoke recreationally, claiming spiritual enlightenment as a by-product? For starters, the new wave treats the plant as a sacrament or refers to it as a teacher with numinous messages to impart. Setting a clear intention before smoking or consuming is vital. Ingesting cannabis is also often accompanied by a ceremony or ritual, enwreathing the plant with the divine.
Such a philosophy has been interpreted as an effort to curtail the recent commercialization of cannabis and reclaim its roots, so to speak. Since the Green Rush, cannabis is frequently mentioned in the same breath as market shares and industry. Cannabis spirituality champions a more holistic understanding of the plant, in addition to its feel-good, curative, and palliative qualities. Swami Chaitanya, a long-time cultivator of Swami Select in the Emerald Triangle, is one such advocate of a more spiritual approach.
“To fully employ cannabis as a sacrament, the precursor to lighting the joint would be to acknowledge the source of the divinity enshrined in the plant with a mantra, a prayer, or a simple statement,” said Chaitanya. “Another use would be to enlist its aid in a healing or creative endeavor with a specific statement to that effect.”
Cannabis rituals: Why they’re more powerful than you may think
Ritual and ceremony may seem like archaic constructs or irrational throwbacks to old school religion. The truth is, however, that contemporary society is still saturated with ritual: it’s universal to the human experience. Ritual can be profoundly rational because it is often extremely effective in charging an intention, helping an individual to feel in control, reducing uncertainty, or diminishing anxiety. Ritual also promotes social bonding with others. Chaitanya and his partner, Nikki Lastreto, for example, both align themselves with Cannamaste.
“We gather from time to time to specifically use cannabis as a sacrament with creed and a defined ceremonial sequence,” said Chaitanya. “Everyone brings flower to contribute to the communal joint. We always pass to the right with the right hand, with the left hand covering the heart, look the recipient in the eye, and say: ‘Cannamaste!’” According to Chaitanya, ritual can be infused into every interaction with the plant, rendering it more meaningful.
Chaitanya reflects that the conscious preparation of cannabis engages the senses: the feel of the flower as it crumbles in the fingers, the aromas of terpenes, the oily, waxy texture of the bud on the fingers, the sound of the grind, and the meditative process of producing a well-rolled cylinder.
“Finally, smoking the joint is itself a journey, an exploration, an act of consciously
paying attention to how it smokes, speculating on the flavors and cultivar, acknowledging the bodily sensations, the changes in one’s attitude and the heightened acuity of the senses,” said Chaitanya.
Spiritual intent is also woven into the cannabis Chaitanya and Lastreto cultivate. “When we first crack the seeds in water during the proper moon cycle in the Spring, a drop of sacred water from the Holy Ganges River in India is added to each container,” said Chaitanya. The pair then chant the ganja mantra over the seeds, so that the power of the plant serves as a source of inspiration and insight to facilitate physical and spiritual healing.
Cannabis as teacher
The concept of sacred plants as teachers isn’t novel. However, contemporary spiritual proponents of cannabis are reviving this notion, or at least making it more manifest. “Cannabis is always teaching, challenging one to think outside the box,” said Chaitanya. “She has taught me about organic living soil cultivation, regenerative agriculture, political action, and community organizing. She has opened the door to higher awareness by altering my consciousness as an everyday psychedelic, teaching that joy and laughter lead to compassion and understanding.”
Rachel Carlevale, founder of Ganjasana Yoga, also views cannabis as a teacher. Carlevale weaves cannabis into her yoga, mindfulness, and meditation practices to help participants access the wisdom of the plant. The ceremonies she draws upon encourage practitioners to set intentions before using the plant, to consume mindfully, and to quiet the mind to allow teachings to be transmitted.
Though it’s improbable that most cannabis consumers will begin viewing their relationship with cannabis as a student/teacher dynamic, it’s incontestable that what we put into our bodies influences our state of mind and consciousness. Smoking or consuming with intention may heighten the benefits we derive from the plant, particularly if our use is therapeutically motivated.
A spiritual approach to cannabis could also mean that we lean toward supporting sustainable cannabis growers, or become aware of deeper meanings when we pass a joint around in a social setting. At the very least, it’ll elevate our experience.