We’ve already talked about how and where cannabis originated. But did you know that the green stuff has also been used for centuries in various religions as a holy herb? We don’t call it mind-blowing for no reason! Many religions believed that cannabis was a gateway to connect with the divine. You can read everything in this article about how the most famous religions of the world used cannabis in their belief and even in which religions it was forbidden.
The medical and religious use of cannabis in India probably started as early as 1000 BC. According to Hinduism, cannabis is the favourite food of the God Shiva. Partly because of this, Bhang is drunk at certain Indian religious ceremonies. The story goes that the Gods, after they were cursed, stirred in a milk ocean in search of an elixir (Amrita) that would make them immortal. When they finally found it and walked away with it they occasionally spilled some of this drink. Everywhere on earth where a drop of this elixir ended up, a miracle arose. Unfortunately with this elixir also came poison which could destroy all creation. The God Shiva didn’t hesitate and drank the poison, but it got stuck in his throat, making it blue. The goddess Parvati brewed some Bhang for Shiva and healed him. He was so impressed of Bhang that he proclaimed it as his favourite food and became known as the lord of Bhang.
Bhang is a drink made of nuts, such as almonds and pistachio nuts, poppy seeds, pepper, ginger and sugar that is mixed with cannabis and boiled in milk. Sometimes yogurt is used instead of milk. In addition to the typical Bhang, cannabis is also used in India in a more familiar way for us. Ganja is the Hindi term for what we would call weed. And Charas is the Hindi variant of hashish. Both are traditionally smoked in a straight ceramic pipe called a chillum.
You will also come across cannabis in the Atharvaveda, one of the four Vedas (sacred scriptures) of Hinduism. According to this sacred script, cannabis is one of the five sacred plants of India. These writings where probably already composed between 2000 and 1400 B.C. So the connection between Hinduism and cannabis go way back!
Tantric Buddhism, a movement within Buddhism in Tibet and Nepal, has a long tradition of using the cannabis plant for religious purposes. It’s said that Buddha lived on only one hemp seed a day on his path to enlightenment. Your consciousness was thought to increase after you consumed the plant (after all, cannabis is a mind-expanding drug). Therefore, cannabis was used during ceremonies, prayers and meditations.
Buddhism lives up to Five Regulations. The fifth regulation states that “one should refrain from using narcotics such as alcohol and drugs, which leads to negligence.” However, cannabis is often seen as a medicine rather than a narcotic. These regulations are seen as rules of life and not as commands because the Buddha doesn’t impose or force them upon you.
One of the earliest religions that used cannabis is Taoism. This Chinese religious movement strives for the harmony and balance of all things in the universe, which is symbolized by the yin and yang symbol. Taoist shamans used cannabis to communicate with spirits and to predict the future. But cannabis was also praised within this early Taoism for its medicinal properties. 5000 years ago, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung recommended cannabis to cure malaria, beriberi, constipation, rheumatic pains and female ailments. Apparently Shen Nung was also an experienced farmer with a broad knowledge of plants. He was determined that the female plant had the greatest potential in the field of medicine.
In general, people are convinced that Christianity has little to do with cannabis. However there are also scientists who think that Christianity also has a very old connection with this plant. In the Old Testament of Christianity, the plant “kaneh bosm” is frequently mentioned. This plant was actually always translated as calamus until in 1926 the Polish etymologist Sula Benet claimed that there is a mistranslation in the original version of the text. According to the etymologist, cannabis was confused with calamus. If she is right, cannabis is a much discussed plant in the Bible. Following her theory, there are many speculations as to whether this was intentionally misplaced or not. Many Christian churches discourage the consumption of cannabis. And the fact that cannabis would be praised in the Bible would be very bad for these churches!
The opinions about cannabis are also divided in Judaism. First of all, of course, you have the above discussion about Kaneh Bosm, because the Old Testament is also the sacred scripture (Tanakh) of Judaism. There are some references about hemp in the Talmud, the sacred scriptures of ancient discussions and commentaries on the Tanakh, but this mainly covers its industrial or medicinal use. Recently, however, archaeologists in Israel discovered that the Jewish people used cannabis in religious ceremonies about 3000 years ago. They found the remains of a substance containing three cannabis components on an altar in a 2700-year-old temple in Tel Arad. According to these researchers, the cannabis was used at that time to create a “high” among their people.
Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, is a major player in medicinal cannabis today. Several organizations in the country are international leaders in the research on medicinal cannabis, and have even been officially declared “Kosher” by an Orthodox Rabbi in Israel.
There is a lot of discussion about whether cannabis consumption is prohibited or allowed within the Islam. It’s not explicitly mentioned as forbidden in the Koran but there are many influential people who say that, like alcohol, cannabis would be Haram (religiously forbidden). However, it’s remarkable that almost all hashish sold in Dutch coffeeshops is produced in Islamic countries. So there is indeed an ancient link between different Islamic cultures and the use of cannabis!
Hashish was first consumed by religious Persians and Iraqis. In the eleventh century, hashish became more and more popular in the Islamic society. Some Sufis (Muslim monks) claimed, like many Indian believers 20 centuries earlier, that the cannabis plant increased your consciousness, brought insights, peace and tranquillity and the presence of God. Therefore, they only consumed hashish at religious ceremonies.
In the 13th century, a Spanish botanist described the cultivation of “Konnab Indi” (cannabis Indica), which was also known as hashish among the locals in Egypt. He noted that eating hashish caused intoxication, cheerfulness and a dreamlike state. He was the first researcher to notice that cannabis also caused memory loss.
As long as it was used by the Sufis in small quantities, hashish was not considered a problem by the political leaders in the Arab countries. However, because of the fast growing popularity of hashish, the use of it was seen as a threat to society. The world’s first official ban on cannabis use was found in the 14th century by Arab Sheik Soudoun Sheikouni. Even though they were able to temporarily reduce the use of hashish, they never managed to completely suppress it. In this early times, the use of hashish was associated with the poor and people of low classes. This was because cannabis was cheap and easily available. A gram of hash was simply more effective than a glass of wine.
Islamic lawyers, historians, theologians, poets and storytellers have debated about the pros and cons of cannabis use for centuries. In today’s society, Islamic leaders try to limit the use of hashish among their people. But the countries with the largest hashish production in the world are still Islamic, with Morocco as the world market leader.
Perhaps the religion who is most associated with the use of cannabis is the Rastafarian faith. This ideology is only half a century old but already has about a million followers worldwide. The rastas use cannabis to cleanse the body and mind. According to the Rastafari, you can raise your consciousness and get rid of negative energies. It’s mainly used during the two main rituals: reasonings and nyabingi. Reasonings involve smoking cannabis and debating, while with nyabingi they are dancing during holidays and special occasions. The Rastafari have of course gained worldwide fame through the reggae music, with Bob Marley as the best known exponent. And blowers worldwide still borrow symbols and elements from Rasta culture out of love for the plant.
The plant has been used for centuries and many people have benefited from it religiously and spiritually. Almost in all religions, cannabis is not considered harmful when used for religious, esothermic or medicinal purposes. But if you just want to be stoned “because you can,” it may be a mystical experience, but perhaps a little less religious.