The Spiritual Effects of Marijuana:
Using Cannabis to Expand Consciousness and Enhance Meditation
BY STEPHEN GRAY
the spiritual effects of cannabis are often overshadowed by the powerful high it can induce, but with a little mindfulness and intention, you can open up a whole new world of possibility by getting meditative with marijuana. photo: bhumika bhatia
Practical Guidance for Working with Cannabis as a Spiritual Ally
Cannabis can be tricky to work with spiritually. For many, even most of us, there’s a learning curve in finding out how to most skillfully benefit from the cannabis plant as a spiritual ally. A number of factors can influence the short- and long-term spiritual effects of cannabis—dosage, strain, frequency of use, attitude toward the plant, one’s state of mind and body at the time of the encounter, the specific setting, and, maybe most important, the ability to quiet the discursive mind and allow periods of inner stillness, as in marijuana meditation.
A teaching from wisdom traditions may help establish the ground rules for how to work with cannabis for spiritual awakening; how to best work with our thoughts and intentions in formal practices and throughout the daily walk. The simple way of expressing this teaching is to say that we create our own reality. But that principle is slippery.
Some of it may even have been carried over from previous incarnations.
The result is that we tend to be driven by narratives operating below the horizon of our awareness. The great teachings say that bringing those drives, the unconscious material of what Buddhists term samsara—the confused mind of the unresolved, unhealed ego—into the light of day ultimately allows us to learn how to function skillfully and gracefully as authentic, spiritually awakened beings.
Intention and the Clarifying/Amplifying Effect
You may be wondering what that has to do with the spiritual effects of marijuana, the sacred herb, as an ally for awakening. When we use cannabis meditatively, with intention and focus, its ability to clarify and amplify can both shine a light on the illusions we carry and invite us to release into a deeper, more relaxed, open-hearted presence that feels right and real. As with other entheogenic medicines, cannabis is a condensed and heightened mindfulness and awareness meditation.
Intention is a key starting point for that realization and working with cannabis spiritually. In effective ceremonial environments, like those of the Native American Church, for example, entheogenic medicines can dramatically potentiate the manifestation of an intention. In its own particular way, the effects of cannabis can do that too when used skillfully. Along with its “truth serum” clarifying capability, when you can maintain a degree of non-thought presence, cannabis meditation can assist in bringing about a softening of the armor and a freeing of the heart in compassion. Intentions fueled by love have much greater potential for spiritual awakening and manifestation.
Physical energy must be mastered and grounded for spiritual energy to move, because physical energy transforms the spirit.
–Teilhard de Chardin
As well as its clarifying and amplifying effects, cannabis also works directly on the physical organism; although as Joan Bello so clearly describes, it’s all part of the same activity of the cannabis plant. The fresh, oxygen-rich blood that flows into the extremities does its work on the mind and on the body.
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Again, in some essential sense, it’s all interwoven. More and more of us are recognizing that physical and spiritual healing, with or without the use of cannabis, are inseparable.
The “charged equilibrium”—as Joan Bello calls it—and the loosening of muscular structure activated by the effects of cannabis when we’re present with it is a spiritual awakening process. When the body feels good, as it does when energized and relaxed at the same time, well-being increases, even joy. No doubt that’s why cannabis is sometimes described as a euphoriant.
When mind and body are synchronized, you feel good. Feeling good and connected to your heart is spiritual.
Gradually Lessening the “Me” Hold
It’s possible that the cannabis plant’s most significant spiritual benefit, just as it is with other entheogens, is not as much the immediate experience of the high as it is what’s learned and incorporated—in other words, embodied—for the daily walk. By becoming familiar with a state of well-being in the broadest sense, we’re training ourselves to recognize it so that we can tune in and be present in the “post-marijuana meditation” experience.
As I’ve hinted at here and there and will discuss in more detail in the upcoming section on the spiritual effects of marijuana practices and approaches, in general, the more you can let the busy mind dissolve for a while, the more you can directly experience cannabis’s body-mind releasing and healing benefits. The less emphasis on “me,” the more meditative cannabis use can do its work effectively.
This is an ongoing practice, an acquired “taste.” Except in rare, extreme life circumstances, the realignment and rebalancing process that happens with spiritual cannabis use takes a long time as we gradually release old patterns and wounds and shift our trust and confidence from the self-protective narratives of the struggling ego to the harmonious flow of awakened heart wisdom.
Now let’s get into some specifics about the various elements that go toward optimal spiritual use of cannabis for the kinds of spiritual awakening and growth under discussion.
Though it might be beyond obvious for some or many, I’ll clarify that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of cannabis dosage for meditation spiritual awakening. I suspect most people can figure it out on their own by experimenting with intention. But there are some simple and flexible DIY (do-it-yourself) tips that may help you find the most effective dosages for the kinds of spiritual effects of cannabis described in this article.
shamanic doses,” where you work with energies powerful enough to dissolve the ego. And yes, in case that statement takes you aback, in some conditions the spiritual effects of cannabis are capable of dissolving ego into deep spiritual presence.
The spiritual effects of gentle cannabis doses probably take care of themselves without further elaboration. If you want to go deeper into a cannabis meditation, one effective way is to work with that edge, similar in some ways to working with that place between comfort and pain that hatha yoga practitioners meet at the edge of an extension in an asana.
If you experience dizziness, nausea, more or less sudden and unexpected exhaustion, or anything else distressingly or distractingly physical; if your thoughts compulsively take up all the space and you can’t seem to rest in non-thought even for a moment; if you fall into negative or paranoid ideation—those are all indications that you may be beyond the optimal dose for manageable spiritual effects of cannabis, or at least that you’re not at that moment working effectively with the energy of the medicine.
I want to be very clear that if you experience any of those symptoms, it isn’t necessarily an overdose in relation to your current state of spiritual readiness. In other words, such symptoms are often, even usually, workable with the kinds of marijuana meditation techniques and tips discussed in this article.
Different intentions also suggest different dosages—and strains—but we’ll leave the issue of strains until later. For example, a lighter dose of weed may be more effective for certain kinds of creative work. Legendary musician Neil Young, who said he wrote many of those wonderful songs under the influence of cannabis meditatively, said in reference to a particularly strong strain he was using at the time, “If you smoked a little, you wrote a song. If you smoked too much, then you were toast.”
On the other hand, if your intention is to explore deeper spaces in a more meditative way with cannabis and you don’t need to call on the thinking parts of the brain much, the limitations of some kinds of brain function may be less of an issue and the dosage can be stronger. In those regions it’s more about feel, and opening into spiritual presence in non-thought awareness.
Again, on this issue of handling degrees of potency, one way to explore cannabis spiritual effects more deeply is to find your sweet spot with a dosage strong enough to do some releasing and clarifying work but not so strong that you can’t stay relaxed and mostly free from the control of the compulsive, busy mind. A succinct way to corral that concept is this: At what dosage—read “strength of effect”—are you still able to ride your mind, to hold your seat? At what dosage can you still meditate on marijuana?
Here’s the short and simple version for those unfamiliar with this subject as it relates to marijuana’s spiritual effects: The cannabis strain can make a significant difference for the kinds of meditative use under discussion. One’s own part in the bargain aside, different strains of cannabis have distinctly different spiritual energy styles, ranging along continua from intense to mellow, harsh to smooth, foggy to sharp, and from heavy and dizzy to light and clear. Some come on hard and depart almost suddenly after a short time. Some have what Steve Dyer likes to call “legs,” lasting for hours. Some promote creative ideation and clear, insightful thinking. Some lean toward inviting the seeker into non-thought presence and deep relaxation. Some invoke combinations of the above effects of cannabis. Some invite meditation more deeply.
There’s also that intangible energetic imprint, maybe you could call it the spirit of the cannabis plant, that, according to folks like medicine shamans Sean Hamman and Steve Dyer, has much to do with the state of mind and intentions of the grower. Whatever the reason, you will like and resonate with some weed strains far more than others. (Sean and Steve, for example, won’t have anything to do with plants whose spiritual energy they don’t resonate with.)
In general, the conventional understanding among users and deliverers is that the effects of an indica-dominant strains lean toward a body stone and can be soporific (tending to induce drowsiness or sleep). Sativa strains are said to be more “up” and perhaps more airy and clear (though not necessarily weaker in psychoactive effect), more energizing, more stimulating of creative thinking and inspiration. It’s not as simple and clear-cut as that, though, which is something I’ll get to in a moment. Point in case, pick the cannabis strain most pertinent to your spiritual and meditative needs.
A common colloquial distinction or belief is that sativa strains produce a high and indica a stone. Indica-dominant strains are often considered more appropriate for the evening since they can contribute to drowsiness and sleep, while sativa-dominant strains are often thought of as more of a daytime high. Some believe, and experience, that indica strains are more suited to cannabis meditation because of sativa’s tendency to stimulate ideation and indica’s tendency to be more of a relaxant.
Cannabis Spirituality in Practice
Met nakedly, so to speak, cannabis can be a surprisingly powerful medicine plant. Though marijuana’s spiritual effects are often described as gentle, that power can feel intense, and it appears that most people find it easier to handle the amplified spiritual energy of cannabis by directing it toward an external focus. You might even want to jump out of your skin if you try to sit still for a while in the amplifying embrace of the herb.
Meditative Breath Practices
A simple cannabis meditation practice my fellow hands-on researchers and I have found helpful is to spend some time consciously breathing more deeply.
With eyes closed, both feel and imagine the breath coming in and moving through your whole body. You feel or imagine it flowing up into the head, down into the arms, the torso, the legs, and right down to the feet and toes. The inhalation can be felt as a loosening and expansion, like a balloon or tire inflating. The exhalation can be experienced as a slow deflation, keeping your attention on it right to the end before inviting the next inhalation. There’s both a symbolic and a tangible aspect to going out completely with the breath and dissolving into space. This kind of spiritual breath meditation with cannabis can unlock healing, deep insights, creativity and more.
This kind of meditation and concentration practice has at least a dual benefit. It can help cut through the tendency to get caught in the busy mind that happens when trying to use cannabis spiritually. Giving some extra attention to the breath also helps increase the flow of freshly oxygenated blood and potentiates the accompanying relaxation of the musculature that can be generated by the physical and spiritual effects of cannabis.
This article on the spiritual effects of cannabis is excerpted from the illuminating book, Cannabis and Spirituality: An Explorer’s Guide to an Ancient Plant Spirit Allyedited by Stephen Gray.
About The Author
Stephen Gray is a teacher and writer on spiritual subjects and sacramental medicines. He has worked extensively with Tibetan Buddhism, the Native American Church, and with entheogenic medicines. The author of Returning to Sacred World: A Spiritual Toolkit for the Emerging Reality, he is also a conference and workshop organizer, leader, and speaker as well as a part-time photographer and music composer under the artist name Keary. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. Visit his website: cannabisandspirituality.com