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Cannabis has played an important role in many religions for over thousands of years. It has long time been considered a sacred plant that helps bridge man and god. It’s therefore been used in many rituals and ceremonies to communicate with deities. Cannabis as a sacred or religious plant was seen not only in Asia but in the Middle East and Central America as well. In fact, some modern religions like the Rastafari still make use of cannabis as a part of their religion.
Religions and Cultures in History That Used Cannabis
One of the earliest recorded histories of cannabis regarded as a sacred plant dates back to China during 4th century BC. Ancient Taoist texts described burning cannabis in incense burners. The hallucinogenic smoke created by burning cannabis is said to have rid the Taoists of selfish desires. They also used cannabis to improve their wellbeing, as well as communicate with spirits, both evil and good. They also believed using cannabis could help them to see into the future.
In India, people would consume a drink called bhang as part of their religious ceremonies. The drink was made with cannabis flowers and the young leaves of the plant. Bhang, according to ancient Hindu texts, is said to cleanse sins. The psychoactive effects of bhang also helped facilitate better communication with the deity Shiva, as well as rid oneself of miseries and doubts.
The use of cannabis in ancient Islam is a bit controversial. While the Quran doesn’t explicitly forbid the use of cannabis, some Shia Islam scholars believe that cannabis is halal and is, therefore, permissible. However, some Muslim scholars believe that cannabis is very much similar to an alcoholic drink called khamr, which is strictly forbidden. Some practicers of Sufism, a type of Islamic mysticism, use cannabis when worshipping.
There is also a theory that early Judaism made use of cannabis in their religious rituals. According to Sula Benet, a Polish anthropologist who studied ancient Judaic traditions as well as customs, the plant called kaneh bosm mentioned in the Hebrew Bible is actually cannabis and that its oil was used as a holy anointing oil. However, the claim was later disproved though when the plant was identified as either Cymbopogon citratus (West Indian lemongrass) or Acorus calamus (calamus or sweet flag).
Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian, wrote about the Scythian’s use of cannabis in their ceremonies and rituals. Scythians are an ancient group of nomadic tribes and warriors who roamed Central Asia, Russia, Siberia, Europe, and the Mediterranean. After the death and burial of their leader, they would sit around inside a closed tent or teepee and throw cannabis seeds into a pit filled with red-hot stones. The seeds would smolder, and the Scythians would inhale its vapors to cleanse themselves.
Various Indigenous Communities
Some indigenous communities in North America also have a history of using cannabis in their rituals and ceremonies. They used cannabis to aid in their prayers, meditations, and communications with their gods.
Cannabis has a deep root in many ancient religious practices, rituals, and ceremonies. But its use as a sacred plant was diminished when society began seeing it as a dangerous drug.
Modern Religions That Still Use Cannabis
Are there modern religions that still use cannabis in their practices and ceremonies? Absolutely.
The most popular modern religion to use cannabis, and one that many people associate with ritual use of the plant is Rastafarianism. The Rastafarian movement was established by Leonard Howell, a Jamaican preacher, in the 1930s. They believe that Haile Selassie I, the emperor of Ethiopia from 1916 to 1928, was the African messiah and Jah’s divine manifestation. According to their beliefs, he would bring African descendants back together and take them home.
Rastafarians don’t use cannabis to get high however. In fact, they condemn the use of cannabis as a psychoactive drug. Instead, they use cannabis to gain a higher understanding during their reasoning sessions. This is a sort of group meditation where they consume cannabis to induce a trance-like state. This trance-like state opens their inner spiritual selves and brings them closer to Jah.
There are other religions that make use of cannabis as a sacred religious plant as well. ICEFLU, commonly CEFLURIS, used to be part of the Santo Daime Church. When their leader, Mestre Irineu, died in 1971, a small group headed by Padrinho Sebastião Mota de Melo left to form CEFLURIS. The new group, compared to the original church, believes that cannabis is a healing plant. Referring to cannabis as Santa Maria, they use cannabis in healing ceremonies.
First Church of Cannabis
In 2015, a cannabis-based religion was established in Indianapolis by Bill Levin. Called First Church of Cannabis, this inclusive group was created after the passage of the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They believe that cannabis is a healing plant and that we can gain both spiritual as well as physical nourishment from cannabis.
Church of Cognizance
Established in 1991 in Arizona, the Church of Cognizance was founded by Danuel Quaintance and his wife, Mary. Their followers also believe that cannabis is a divine plant. The feel that when used appropriately, cannabis can not only heal the body, but the mind and soul as well. They believe it also helps them gain more compassion, as well as wisdom. To them, using cannabis the right way can help them let go of their ego and attain heaven.
Obstacles Religions That Use Cannabis Have Faced
Establishing a religion with cannabis as one of its main focuses is not easy. Take the First Church of Cannabis, for example. They went to court to fight for their right in using cannabis as their sacrament and gain protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Unfortunately, they lost their final appeal in 2018. Cannabis remains illegal in the state, and the court argued that the members just wanted a venue to legally consume cannabis. However, this loss won’t stop the members of the First Church of Cannabis from “preaching” and educating people about the benefits of cannabis.
As for the Church of Cognizance, the couple was arrested for possessing 172 pounds of cannabis. Although they argued that cannabis was their sacred sacrament, the court ruled that they were just using their religion and beliefs to justify their choice of using cannabis and to fight for cannabis legalization.
History tells of cannabis’s deep relationship with various ancient religions and its uses in many of their rituals and ceremonies. Science also tells us of the various benefits of cannabis to our body and mind. Be that as it may, prohibition has done lasting damage to cannabis’ reputation. Even today, we’re still fighting hard to correct these damages.
However, there is hope. Society is becoming more accepting of cannabis as people learn more about the plant’s therapeutic and medicinal benefits. We just need to continue the fight of freeing cannabis from the stigma placed upon it by the prohibition.