KYE: Cannabis- Soma of the Gods

Read about why you should KYE (know your entheogen) here.

Cannabis is getting a lot of air time lately, what with more states in the US legalizing its use and its appearance in pop culture on a scale that we have never seen till now. The fact is that the use of cannabis is extremely widespread, across countries and economic/social classes. However, cannabis is largely associated with the image of the “stoner,” especially in pop culture. Hark back to Brad Pitt stoned throughout his appearance in True Romance, or Cheech and Chong in any of their movies. Fast forward to the misfits in Workaholics. It’s almost the same thing, the perception of the “stoner” as an unmotivated, lazy, unreliable, and completely useless slob. A harmless slob, but a slob nonetheless. Not to mention, a druggie (which is for some reason seen to be so much worse than a drunk, but we promise that we are not doing a cannabis versus alcohol post. Not now, at least).

This perception is greatly exaggerated, because some of the most productive (and rich and famous) people in pop culture are stoners, meaning they regularly partake of cannabis. Furthermore, the plant has several medicinal properties that have been used for centuries. The oldest stash of weed ever discovered is 2,700 years old. (Check out this awesome history of cannabis, replete with short videos).

Researchers found 789 grams of cannabis buried beside what they believe to be a shaman of the Gushi culture, in Turpan, northwest China.


What you may not know is that cannabis has a history of use as a consciousness expanding substance. It’s main psychoactive ingredient is Tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC for short. Several cultures across continents and historical eras have taken the plant in a shamanic context or for the purpose of consciousness expansion.

This may sound unbelievable, especially for the uninitiated and those who have only seen cannabis-using people on TV and in the movies; to them it may very well seem like the plant doesn’t do much except impart a feeling of hilarity and a raging sense of hunger. It has the reputation of a “recreational drug,” something to be done with friends while chilling out. The truth is that in sufficient quantities, the plant can induce an intense psychedelic trip. In modern times, cannabis is most widely smoked. However, as Terence McKenna reminds us that in the 19th century throughout Europe, cannabis was eaten (in this lecture, just listen to two minutes of this, from 16-18.5 minutes).  This is attested by the accounts of 19th century writers such as Fitz Hugh Ludlow, Théophile Gautier and Charles Baudelaire (read Baudelaire’s “Poem of Hashish,” which is his account of the drug, as translated by Aleister Crowley here). In fact the latter two along with other friends had their own club, the Club des Hachichins (Hashish Club). Dr. Jacques-Joseph Moreau also noted its hallucinatory effects. From their writings, it is clear that when eaten, the effects are on the levels of LSD. Even today, cannabis edibles/eating are hugely popular (read this trip report of ingestion of 3g of cannabis).

Marijuana brownies

To quote Baudelaire, “The third phase… is something beyond description. It is what the Orientals call ‘kef’ it is complete happiness. There is nothing whirling and tumultuous about it. It is a calm and placid beatitude. Every philosophical problem is resolved. Every difficult question that presents a point of contention for theologians, and brings despair to thoughtful men, becomes clear and transparent. Every contradiction is reconciled. Man has surpassed the gods”. If this isn’t a psychedelic trip, we don’t know what is.

Hashish gained popularity in Victorian Europe from Egypt by way of Napoleon’s soldiers, after their failed attempt to conquer Egypt. But cannabis has a long history in Europe and the rest of the world. Ancient Greek historian Herodotus records its ritual use among the Scythians who used them in a kind of cannabis steam bath. The account of Herodotus reads like this: “…The Scythians, as I said, take some of this hemp-seed, and, creeping under the felt coverings, throw it upon the red-hot stones; immediately it smokes, and gives out such a vapour as no Grecian vapour-bath can exceed; the Scyths, delighted, shout for joy …” Check out these gold artifacts of the Scythians that were recently uncovered; they have traces of opium and cannabis residue in them, further strengthening the validity of Herodotus’ account.

A gold Scythian artifact with cannabis residue inside. Perhaps an ancient bong of some sort?

There is a possibility that cannabis has been used in more European cultures than one. It is thought by some scholars that cannabis may have induced the mystical states of mind that allowed the famous Greek Oracles, like the ones at Delphi, to do their work of divination. Check out this independent documentary by cannabis historian Chris Bennet on the subject here.

The relation of cannabis to the Hindu religion is very well documented. Ganja is very closely associated with the worship of Shiva. In fact, an edible ganja paste called bhaang is legally available for consumption in government run shops, and is still consumed by the lay public today as part of some religious festivals. Ganja is used by aghoris, not for any frivolous recreational pursuit, but in order to enable them to achieve altered states of consciousness in their spiritual practices. It is a candidate for the identity of the mythical substance soma which is said to impart divine knowledge (no one is sure of the identity of soma, but we really wanted to use it in the title of the post). And why not, ganja has been associated with Hinduism for more than three millennia. The people smoke it openly at temples during festivals.

Maha Shivaratri festival in Nepal
A Sadhu absolutely blazes a chillum in the Pashupati area in Kathmandu.

Cannabis has been used throughout the Middle East, and there is something to be said of its influence on Islam. Terence McKenna mentions this is the talk on cannabis as well (linked earlier in this post, just listen a couple of minutes from where the video starts playing). The legendary band of cutthroats, the hassassins (or hash-eaters), are well known. Cannabis also finds use in Mexican shamanism.

Al-Khadir, “The Green One,” the patron saint of cannabis.

The point we are trying to make is that cannabis has indeed been used by several cultures to achieve mystical states of mind. It is indeed an entheogen with a morphogenetic field all of its own, that is, its own personality. Cannabis has a rich and varied history. Like the mushroom, it too is found all over the world. And more than one culture has discovered its consciousness expanding potential.

We don’t believe that the use of cannabis will change very much for most people. But seeing as how this is one of the more “gettable” psychoactive substances (both in the sense that it’s easier to score, and easier for lay people to wrap their head around and tolerate as opposed to heavy psychedelics like LSD), perhaps you can take this knowledge to your next session. The next time you do cannabis, try and do it with the intention of expanding awareness, and perhaps connecting with the Gaian matrix as allowed by the plant. When done with a focused intentionality, rather than doing it just to get blazed yet again, who knows what new insights may come to you. After all, humans have been doing it for thousands of years. At the very least, perhaps you will have a new found respect for the plant.


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