Cannabis & Religion – A Brief Spiritual History

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History Of Cannabis In Religion

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History Of Cannabis In Religion

Cannabis has been used in religious ceremony and practice for many thousands of years.

At some stage or another, the drug has been referenced by nearly all of the world’s classic ‘great’ religions and is still sometimes used in such contexts today.

In this article, we’ll take a journey through the use of cannabis within religions – and some of the examples that follow may well surprise you!

Why Is Cannabis So Widely Used In Religions?

Let there be no doubt that the key reason for the use of cannabis by so many religions worldwide has been because of its psychoactive effects. After all, people tend to follow a religion not just for a sense of purpose but it can also be therapeutic.

The euphoric qualities that THC provides made this the perfect supplement to enjoy when engaging in rituals, ceremonies and even in reflection, prayer and meditation.

The use of cannabis within religious practices can be traced back to at least the 3rd century BCE. It was likely used even earlier although the evidence becomes even more rare the further back in time we go.

Either way, it seems unlikely that marijuana was not used earlier due to the fact it’s been cultivated one way or another by humanity for approaching 30,000 years (this is a conservative estimate).

Ancient China

Cannabis In Ancient China

If we’re considering purely archaeological proof, then China is home to the oldest evidence of cannabis being used in a religious context.

Given that the Divine Farmer’s Classic of Materia Medica listed cannabis as a medicinal plant in the second century CE, this is hardly a surprise!

When the body of a wealthy Caucasian man was unearthed in the western Xinjiang area twenty years ago, archaeologists were amazed to find he was buried with nearly a kilogram of ganja!

Most likely he was a shaman or doctor of some kind, which implies why someone of his ethnicity may have ended up in Ancient China. The marijuana was probably part of his inventory and used for some kind of religious ceremony, with the man likely of Indo-European heritage and part of the wandering Gushi tribe.

Evidence discovered elsewhere demonstrates that they were synonymous with the ritualistic use of marijuana. Today, the heavy use of incense in the Taoist faith is likely based on the historic use of ceremonial marijuana.

Hinduism

Cannabis In Hinduism

If ever there were a religion that truly appreciated cannabis, then it’s difficult to see past Hinduism.

The Atharva Veda text (written approximately 1000 BCE) lists marijuana as one of the five sacred plants renowned for spiritual and medicinal qualities. Even the god Shiva was commonly portrayed as being enveloped in clouds of cannabis smoke!

Times may have changed but the Hindu appreciation for the marijuana plant remains a core aspect of their ceremonial practices. From Nepal and Afghanistan, to India and Pakistan, the plant is used in various forms.

Sometimes it’s smoked as ganja, rolled as resin or even drank as a milky broth. Charas (resin) is the most special and often reserved for special ceremonies conducted by Sadhus searching for spiritual enlightenment.

The Scythians

The Scythians & Cannabis

These largely nomadic warrior tribes originated from Central Asia and at their peak exerted influence as far as Ancient Greece.

Not a huge amount is known about life in a standard Scythian Warband, but we know from Greek writings that marijuana played a vital role in their religious culture.

We’re not just talking about passing a pipe here – they would erect smoke catching tents and burn bales of cannabis at a time!

Quite how much of this came down to religious observance is a moot point, but they most certainly seem to have enjoyed themselves!

What we do know is that members of the tribe were frequently buried with some hemp seeds to speed them along the way to the afterlife.

The Middle East

Zoroastrianism & Cannabis

Zoroastrianism predated even Islam, and as you may expect they also used marijuana or “the good narcotic” as noted in their Avesta text with aplomb.

Later merging into the Assyrian culture, there are masses of artefacts that point to using marijuana as a kind of ceremonial incense hundreds of years before the time of Christendom.

Marijuana use in religious proceedings continued to be documented well into this millennia, with everyone from the Jews to the Islamic Sufi noting its powerful and euphoric effects.

Even now, marijuana use is popular in these regions which have alcohol prohibition, although more commonly for recreational purposes than any mystical ones.

The Bible

Cannabis In The Bible

Depending on which is your favourite biblical scholar, some argue that cannabis features extensively in the Bible due to mistranslations further down the line.

Maybe so, but what we can say with certainty is that it was widely used and served some sense of religious purposes. No less than the great King Solomon was found to be buried not just with marijuana seeds but next to his very own bushes too!

Rastafarianism

Rastafarianism & Cannabis

Bringing us neatly back to modern times, no mention of the religious use of cannabis would be complete without a quick nod to the Rastas.

Based upon a convenient or open-minded interpretation of some Biblical passages, “eat every herb of the land” is often used to justify the prominent role that cannabis holds in their ceremonial passages.

There’s certainly some truth in the way it’s used to encourage people to philosophise together and get in touch with Jah (their God).

Final Thoughts

So there we have just a few examples of how important a role cannabis has played in religions from across the globe, from ancient times to the modern day.

There’s no doubt that the psychoactive properties of marijuana lend themselves superbly to all kinds of ceremony and reflection. After all, if it’s good enough for King Solomon, then it’s good enough for us too in the form of CBD!

Thomas Jones MSc

I’m Thomas Jones. I graduated from The University of Aberdeen in 2016 with an MSc in Industrial Biotechnology. I’m currently reading for a PhD at The University of Glasgow. I started using CBD in 2017 as a result of finding it in my local vape shop. My experiences in using these products inspired me to undertake my current doctoral research. You can find out more about me and this site here.