Girish Mahajan

Cannabis and religion

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Cannabis and religion

Different religions have varying stances on the use of cannabis, historically and presently. In ancient history some religions used cannabis as an entheogenic, particularly in South Asia where the tradition continues on a more limited basis.


In the modern era, religions with prohibitions against intoxicants, such as Islam, Buddhism, Bahai, Latter-day Saints, and others have opposed the use of cannabis by members, or in some cases opposed the liberalization of cannabis laws. Other groups, such as some Protestant and Jewish factions, have supported the use of cannabis for medical purposes.


In the Bahá'í Faith, use of alcohol and other drugs is prohibited, see Bahá'í laws, though use of tobacco is an individual decision.

Bahá'í authorities have spoken against intoxicant drugs since the earliest stages of the religion, with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writing:

Regarding hashish you have pointed out that some Persians have become habituated to its use. Gracious God! This is the worst of all intoxicants, and its prohibition is explicitly revealed. Its use causeth the disintegration of thought and the complete torpor of the soul. How could anyone seek the fruit of the infernal tree, and by partaking of it, be led to exemplify the qualities of a monster? How could one use this forbidden drug, and thus deprive himself of the blessings of the All-Merciful? Alcohol consumeth the mind and causeth man to commit acts of absurdity, but this opium, this foul fruit of the infernal tree, and this wicked hashish extinguish the mind, freeze the spirit, petrify the soul, waste the body and leave man frustrated and lost.


In Buddhism, the Fifth Precept is frequently interpreted to mean "refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to heedlessness", although in some direct translations, the Fifth Precept refers specifically to alcohol. Cannabis and some other psychoactive plants are specifically prescribed in the Mahākāla Tantra for medicinal purposes. However, Tantra is an esoteric teaching of Hinduism and Buddhism not generally accepted by most other forms of these religions.


Most bodies within Christianity have not taken any explict stance on the use of cannabis, but many Christian denominations disapprove of the use of most illicit drugs.

Prior to assuming his position as leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis had spoken against recreational cannabis. He stated in 2013 in Buenos Aires: "A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug use." The Georgian Orthodox Church has resisted legalization of cannabis in that country.

The Arkansas Baptist State Convention voted to discourage medical marijuana in 2016. In 2016, the executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention, Tommy Green, also said that congregations should be encouraged to vote against expanded legalization of medical marijuana in Florida.

Other Protestant churches have endorsed the legality of medical marijuana, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, and the Episcopal Church.


During the Indian and Nepalese festival of Holi, people consume bhang which contains cannabis flowers. According to one description, when the amrita (elixir of life) was produced from the churning of the ocean by the devas and the asuras, Shiva created cannabis from his own body to purify the elixir (whence, for cannabis, the epithet angaja or "body-born"). Another account suggests that the cannabis plant sprang up when a drop of the elixir dropped on the ground. Thus, cannabis is used by sages due to association with elixir and Shiva. Wise drinking of bhang, according to religious rites, is believed to cleanse sins, unite one with Shiva and avoid the miseries of hell in the future life. It is also believed to have medicinal benefits. In contrast, foolish drinking of bhang without rites is considered a sin.

Although cannabis is regarded as an illegal drug, many Nepalese people consume it during festivals (like Shivaratri) which the government tolerates to some extent and also for their personal uses and recreation purposes. Further in Nepal its seeds are also used in making pickles "bhang ko achar". The dried seeds are ground and then mixed with aalo (potato). This is common in hilly area like Kathmandu, Pokhara of Nepal.


The Quran does not directly forbid cannabis; however, cannabis is deemed to be khamr (an intoxicant) by many Wahhabi religious scholars and therefore generally believed to be haraam (forbidden).

Generally in orthodox Islam, conservative and Salafi scholars deem cannabis an intoxicant and therefore, according to the Hadith, it is classified as haraam. The Hadith is the book of sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, which states: "If much intoxicates, then even a little is haraam." Despite these religious scholar's opinions, cannabis is still consumed in the Muslim world. Moroccan farmers in the Rif region have produced hashish before the arrival of Islam in Morocco. There is also a widespread use of cannabis in West African Sufi communities, especially in Senegal where it is used for medical care.

Some religious leaders state that medical cannabis, but not recreational, is permissible in Islam. Imam Mohammad Elahi in Dearborn Heights, United States, declared: "Obviously, smoking marijuana for fun is wrong... It should be permissible only if that is the only option in a medical condition prescribed by medical experts.

Ancient Israel

It is generally held by academics specializing in the archaeology and paleobotany of Ancient Israel, and those specializing in the lexicography of the Hebrew Bible that cannabis is not documented or mentioned in early Judaism. Against this some popular writers have argued that there is evidence for religious use of cannabis in the Hebrew Bible, although this hypothesis and some of the specific case studies (e.g., John Allegro in relation to Qumran, 1970) have been "widely dismissed as erroneous" (Merlin, 2003). The primary advocate of a religious use of cannabis plant in early Judaism was Sula Benet (1967), who claimed that the plant kaneh bosm קְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם mentioned five times in the Hebrew Bible, and used in the holy anointing oil of the Book of Exodus, was in fact cannabis, although lexicons of Hebrew and dictionaries of plants of the Bible such as by Michael Zohary (1985), Hans Arne Jensen (2004) and James A. Duke (2010) and others identify the plant in question as either Acorus calamus or Cymbopogon citratus.

Modern era

In a 1973 opinion, Orthodox rabbi Moshe Feinstein stated that cannabis was not permitted under Jewish law, due to its harmful effects.

In 2013, Orthodox rabbi Efraim Zalmanovich stated that medical, but not recreational, cannabis is kosher. In 2016, Belrussian-Israeli rabbi Chaim Kanievsky declared that medicinal cannabis was kosher for Passover. In January 2016, the Orthodox Union certified some medical cannabis products made by Vireo as kosher, their first medical cannabis certification.

Latter-day Saints

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is general prohibition against intoxicating substances. In August 1915, the LDS church banned the use of cannabis by its members. In 2016, the First Presidency of the Church urged members to oppose legalization of recreational cannabis use. The LDS church says it has "raised no objection to SB 89" (non-psychoactive medical marijuana).


It is not known when Rastafari first claimed cannabis to be sacred, but it is clear that by the late 1940s Rastafari was associated with cannabis smoking at the Pinnacle community of Leonard Howell. Rastafari see cannabis as a sacramental and deeply beneficial plant that is the Tree of Life mentioned in the Bible. Peter Tosh, among many others, has quoted Revelation 22:2, "... the herb is the healing of the nations." The use of cannabis, and particularly of long-stemmed water-pipes called chalices, is an integral part of what Rastafari call "reasoning sessions" where members join together to discuss life according to the Rasta perspective. They see the use of cannabis as bringing them closer to God (Jah), allowing the user to penetrate the truth of things more clearly, as if the wool had been pulled from one's eyes.

While it is not necessary to use cannabis to be a Rastafari, many use it regularly as a part of their faith, and pipes of cannabis are dedicated to His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I before being smoked. According to the anti-cult group the Watchman Fellowship "The herb is the key to new understanding of the self, the universe, and God. It is the vehicle to cosmic consciousness" and is believed to burn the corruption out of the human heart. Rubbing the ashes into the skin from smoked cannabis is also considered a healthy practice.

Part of the Rastafari movement, elders of the 20th-century religious movement known as the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, consider cannabis to be the "eucharist", claiming it as an oral tradition from Ethiopia dating back to the time of Christ. The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church


Scientology opposes the use of cannabis, and made "Truth About Marijuana" the focus of their 2016 World Health Day presentation.


In Sikhism, First Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak, stated that using any mind altering substance (without medical purposes) is a distraction to keeping the mind clean of the name of God. Guru Nanak was offered Bhang (Marijuana) from the Mughal Emperor Babur. Guru Ji replied, "Meer Ji, I have eaten the Bhang, whose stimulation never ends". Babur asked, "Which is the Bhang, whose stimulation never ends?" Guru Ji recited this shabad:

Therefore, Guru Nanak explains that remembering the true God has replaced the pleasures of Bhang.

According to the Sikh Rehat Maryada, "A Sikh must not take hemp (cannabis), opium, liquor, tobacco, in short any intoxicant. His only routine intake should be food and water".

However, throughout Sikh history, bhang (marijuana) was used in ways that have greatly affected Sikh history in a positive fashion.

When the Sikh battle against the Mughal empire was in full effect, the Sikhs were at times forced to be nomadic warriors, always on the move so as not to be caught by Mughal forces. Without proper medicine or food during these times, many Sikh warriors drank bhang to minimize healing pains from battle wounds and to aid digestion. At times, their food supply was cut off, and they had to resort to eating tree bark, and bhang helped relieve digestivel problems. These were tough times for Sikhs, but during this stage of their culture bhang had become necessary for their survival.

In modern times, these soldiers are called Nihang ("without ego") and they still live a lifestyle similar to that of a nomadic warrior. Nihangs call bhang sukhnidhaan, meaning the "giver of peace". They use bhang for relaxation and pain relief from their martial arts training as well as using it for meditation. In Punjab, it is said that many Nihangs abuse bhang. However at this same time Nihangs contribute to society by feeding the hungry and poor people according to Sikh tradition (See langar) as well as performing martial arts duties (gatka) of Sikhism and keeping that tradition alive. Nihangs are generally respected into the villages they travel to, with people giving them food or money donations, and in turn the Nihangs use that food to feed entire communities. Bhang is mostly used in India on the Sikh holidays of Holla Mohalla and Vaisakhi. At many Sikh temples, including Takht Sachkhand Sri Hazur Sahib Ji, the sukhnidhaan is offered as a holy food. Some Sikh authoritarian figures want bhang banned from Sikhism while some believe that bhang use by Nihangs is a part of Sikh tradition.


Beginning around the 4th century, Taoist texts mentioned using cannabis in censers. Needham cited the (ca. 570 AD) Taoist encyclopedia Wushang Biyao 無上秘要 ("Supreme Secret Essentials") that cannabis was added into ritual incense-burners, and suggested the ancient Taoists experimented systematically with "hallucinogenic smokes". The Yuanshi shangzhen zhongxian ji 元始上真眾仙記 ("Records of the Assemblies of the Perfected Immortals"), which is attributed to Ge Hong (283-343), says:

For those who begin practicing the Tao it is not necessary to go into the mountains. … Some with purifying incense and sprinkling and sweeping are also able to call down the Perfected Immortals. The followers of the Lady Wei and of Hsu are of this kind.

Lady Wei Huacun 魏華存 (252-334) and Xu Mi 許謐 (303-376) founded the Taoist Shangqing School. The Shangqing scriptures were supposedly dictated to Yang Xi 楊羲 (330-386 AD) in nightly revelations from immortals, and Needham proposed Yang was "aided almost certainly by cannabis". The Mingyi bielu 名醫別錄 ("Supplementary Records of Famous Physicians"), written by the Taoist pharmacologist Tao Hongjing (456-536), who also wrote the first commentaries to the Shangqing canon, says, "Hemp-seeds (麻勃) are very little used in medicine, but the magician-technicians (shujia 術家) say that if one consumes them with ginseng it will give one preternatural knowledge of events in the future." A 6th-century AD Taoist medical work, the Wuzangjing 五臟經 ("Five Viscera Classic") says, "If you wish to command demonic apparitions to present themselves you should constantly eat the inflorescences of the hemp plant."

Joseph Needham connected myths about Magu, "the Hemp Damsel", with early Daoist religious usages of cannabis, pointing out that Magu was goddess of Shandong's sacred Mount Tai, where cannabis "was supposed to be gathered on the seventh day of the seventh month, a day of seance banquets in the Taoist communities."

Other cannabis-using religious movements

Besides Rastafarism, other religions have been founded in the past century that treat cannabis as a sacrament. They include the Santo Daime church, the THC Ministry, Cantheism, the Cannabis Assembly, the Church of Cognitive Therapy (COCT Ministry), Temple 420, Green Faith Ministries, the Church of Cognizance, the Church of the Universe, The Free Marijuana Church of Honolulu, The Free Life Ministry Church of Canthe,The Church of Higher Consciousness and the federally tax-exempt inFormer Ministry Collective of Palms Springs, CA. The Temple of the True Inner Light believes that cannabis is one of the parts of God's body, along with the classical psychedelics: mescaline, psilocybin, LSD, and DMT. The First Church of Cannabis Inc. officially gained legal recognition in Indiana in 2015 following the passage of that state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Modern spiritual figures like Ram Dass openly acknowledge that the use of cannabis has allowed them to gain a more spiritual perspective and use the herb frequently for both its medicinal and mind-altering properties.

In Mexico, followers of the growing cult of Santa Muerte regularly use marijuana smoke in purification ceremonies, with marijuana often taking the place of incense used in mainstream Catholic rituals.


Cannabis and religion Wikipedia

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