Cantheism: The Makings of a Cannabis Religion

Cantheism: The Makings of a Cannabis Religion

[Canniseur: Some non-mainstream religious beliefs are truly held. This appears to be one such belief. There have been a lot of ‘cannabis religions’ begun so that people could consume cannabis as part of the religious practice. Who are any of us to say whether the practitioners are sincere or not in their belief.]

Long before Chris Conrad ever became a cannabis activist and an expert witness in defense of those on trial for possession, cultivation, or distribution, he was a religious Catholic. He entered the seminary as a young man in search of a spiritual life but grew disillusioned with the church after learning about its history of persecution in the name of God.

“The first time I smoked cannabis,” he told High Times, “I felt more of a religious and spiritual connection than I had gotten out of all that seminary work. The power was there for me right from the beginning and I thought, ‘wow, this is what I’ve been looking for.’”

Upon leaving the seminary, Conrad worked in the anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movements for a number of years, but by 1988 found himself concentrating on cannabis activism. Based in Northern California, he became involved in the fight for Proposition 215 that, in 1996, legalized medical marijuana in the state. He also testified frequently in court. He and his wife, Mikki Norris, worked side by side for many years on marijuana activism, writing, and publishing.

Conrad coined the term Kantheism, which later became Cantheism (alternately spelled Cannatheism), in 1996, believing then that the fight for legalization was further along—and also wondering if he could establish a sacramental cannabis practice to bolster the defense of those on trial for marijuana offenses. Calling upon the history of sacramental cannabis use in parts of the world ranging from ancient Scythia and Thrace, to Egypt, India, and the Middle East, he wrote the Cantheist Creed and adopted the Egyptian hieroglyph for cannabis as a symbol.

But things were then heated on the legal and political fronts, and Conrad was advised that promulgating a cannabis religion would compromise his credibility in court cases in which he was asked to testify. So, Conrad and Norris set aside cannabis spirituality in their public, if not their private, lives.

Starting with voters’ approval in 2016 of Proposition 64, which included decriminalization and the introduction of adult-use in California, Conrad saw his role in cannabis activism changing. No longer called upon in criminal cases, he and Norris both felt pulled again toward sharing the spiritual perspective.

The Context of Cannabis Religions

Rastafarians are the best-known religious group to consume cannabis as a sacrament—a practice that has, in certain cases, proven defensible in court. Now, other spiritually-minded organizations like the THC Ministry, the International Church of Cannabis, the Church of Holy Smoke, and far-flung branches of Cantheists in other states are pushing up against the legal boundaries as well.

Conrad and Norris are careful to exclude commerce from Cantheist gatherings; that would be viewed by law enforcement as operating an illegal dispensary. While in legal and decriminalized states, the religious defense, or even that of sincere personal belief, is no longer necessary, Conrad would still like to see Cantheism used to defend against criminal charges in states that maintain their prohibition of the plant.

Cantheism: The Makings of a Cannabis Religion

Cantheist gathering; Courtesy of Mikki Norris

A Cantheist Gathering, or Cannamasté

Conrad describes Cantheism alternately as an unorganized religion or a very loosely organized one. Rituals are emerging, but little is codified, and dogma is sparing. Though the root theism implies belief in God, Cantheists like Arya Campbell come from a number of backgrounds.

“Cantheism, like Buddhism, is a religion that is accepting of all other traditions,” Campbell told us.

Cantheists meet semi-regularly on Sunday afternoons. Each person brings flower to share and places contributions on an altar, such as photographs, a live plant, and a twine of hemp in the shape of the Cantheist symbol. Some socialize while others roll joints or cones from the shared stash.

To begin the ceremony, Cantheists sit in a circle and repeat the creed, which includes the officiant’s declaration, “I appreciate Cannabis Hemp as a sacrament I use to connect me with my community and with myself,” to which participants respond, “Therefore, we share it in thanksgiving and deep respect for its resinous powers.”

Members of the circle place their left hand on their heart while accepting the communal joint with the right hand. Holding eye contact with the person passing the sacrament, the acceptor says cannamasté, a greeting derived from the yogic and Hindu namasté that in the Cantheist context references a shared belief in cannabis’ sacred role.

“This is intended,” Conrad said, “as a sacramental, spiritual connection, not as a party, not even as a medicine because you’re sick.”

Instead, it’s a means of accessing parts of consciousness beyond the rational mind.

Norris, who was raised Jewish, told High Times, “Cannabis has given me windows into the mysteries of life, nature, and the universe. It’s filled that spiritual need inside of me. When I lost connection with a monotheistic God that’s gonna direct my life and listen to my prayers, what I got instead is the connectedness that cannabis brings.”

Once the sacrament is passed and consumed, Cantheist Jaene Leonard often leads the group in yoga nidra.

“In this deep relaxation,” she told us, “we realize that we are pure consciousness… here we can heal our sense of separation and find the space to explore our heart’s deepest desires.”

Swami Chaitanya, the longtime Emerald Triangle grower of Swami Select notoriety, will sometimes give a talk on cannabis spirituality and Ganja Ma, goddess of cannabis. Each person then may share an affirmation or a story about cannabis as it pertains to spirit. Some may choose to play music or dance, while others continue to talk and partake. After a potluck meal, the group gradually disperses, says Conrad, maintaining that cannamasté gatherings needn’t go on all day. One of the tenets of the religion, he laughed, is “don’t be obnoxious.”

Conrad and Norris use the leftover cannabis to start a communal joint at future gatherings and to continue the spiritual momentum from one meeting to the next. Solstices and equinoxes are recognized as part of Cantheist devotion, reflecting earth-centered leanings derived from the plant’s agrarian connection. 4/20 is also an emergent holiday in Cantheist rites, though Conrad remains wary of its party origins.

What began as a small gathering of friends in the home of its founder has grown. At the 2018 Emerald Cup, Conrad and Norris, along with Swami Chaitanya, his partner Nikki Lastreto, and others, took part in the panel Cannabis and Spirituality and then shared the cannamasté ritual with over 100 participants. Their next meeting, at a large venue in Oakland, could welcome even more.

Cantheism: The Makings of a Cannabis Religion

Swami Chaitanya speaking at a gathering; Courtesy of Mikki Norris

Why Cantheism Now?

The cannabis industry has undergone tremendous change in the last several years and will continue to morph and grow in response to the nationwide trends toward legalization. For Conrad and Norris, Cantheism is important precisely at this moment. As the hooks of big business dig into cannabis, and the industry is infused with capital and entrepreneurship, Cantheism can, according to Conrad, “create an opposition to the commercial, so that the spiritual—and then maybe the secular, too—will fit in in a way that’s more holistic.”

Cannabis, in Norris’ view, is more than a fun thing that improves the taste of food or makes sex better. “We love that, too,” she said. But she and Conrad see the cannabis plant as holding the power to counteract climate change and bring medicine, inspiration, and higher consciousness to many—in other words, to make the world better.

Norris believes that cannabis has made her better on a personal level—as an activist, an advocate of victims of the Drug War, and a creative person. This sentiment was echoed by a number of Cantheists who emphasized that personal growth, connection to others, and social and environmental justice are all values knit into the cloth of the Cantheist community.

Mitchell Colbert, a frequent participant, gave his own interpretation of the spiritual worldview and the humor of Cantheism: “I love my fellow animate beings, even down to the bugs and plants… and as strange as it may sound, I love the inanimate parts of the world; the light as it cracks through the trees, fresh snowfall, and even the chair I am currently sitting on, since without it using my computer would kind of suck.”

For his part, Cantheism’s founder would like to see the movement flourish.

“I think this could theoretically be one of the fastest growing religions around,” Conrad said.

He hopes to see communities forming all over the world that focus on the spiritual–not commercial–side of cannabis.

“This is not just another commodity that people buy and sell. People have been sent to prison to keep this plant available to others. That’s a profound thing.”

Cantheism: The Makings of a Cannabis Religion was posted on High Times.

Weed Almost Ruined My Marriage. Now I’m a Cannabis Journalist and Advocate

Weed Almost Ruined My Marriage. Now I’m a Cannabis Journalist and Advocate

[Editor’s Note: This is a real life story about the complexities of cannabis, people, and relationships. We should never think cannabis is a completely safe drug. Not from dangers of an O.D., but those 10% who have a predisposition to cannabis use disorder.]

I met my husband in Berkeley in the early 2000s. I was a quasi-hippy with long blonde hair, and he was a stoner with thick black curls and glasses. I was earnest and idealistic; he was smart and funny and sometimes fantastically dark. We had many differences that made for interesting conversations and great sex.

Soon, I realized that weed occupied more space in his life than an occasional indulgence. No time or activity was off-limits;  not mornings, or work time, or therapy, or hours spent working on his grad school essays. It was a passion, a way of life. And a crutch.

I liked weed also, but in those days alcohol’s familiarity appealed more than the unpredictable experiences that resulted from whatever stuff he bought on the street. No one I knew was talking about strain names, or THC to CBD ratios, or even the now-outdated sativa/indica differences. Lab testing was unheard of for the recreational user and the growing conditions behind the weed you could get your hands on was anybody’s guess.

His weed thing aside, he was a good guy. We got married, moved around a few times, went to grad school, landed adult jobs, had kids. Life went on. One day he told me that he wished he had never started smoking weed, that he blamed the habit for his career dissatisfaction, and for his enormous self-doubt. Bouts of debilitating paranoia and anxiety plagued him. He sometimes even hallucinated while high. I also suspected that weed played a role in his mood swings that sometimes took him from tense and high-strung, like a tiger pacing in a cage, to really, really dark.

If weed was more harm than help, why, I wondered, didn’t he just quit? I became judgy about his pot smoking. Scolding. Controlling. Mom-ish. And in response, he cut back. Then he stopped. Except he didn’t. More on that later.

Heads up: if your life and relationship are both perfect, you should probably stop reading now.

After 13 years of marriage, I couldn’t understand why I hardly ever felt close to my husband anymore. We weren’t fighting. We still had sex. But something felt horribly off. I tried to talk about it, but he wouldn’t open up. These frustrations crystallized at a moment when a man I knew started flirting with me over text. I told myself, and him, that I wouldn’t cheat. I even believed it. But I kept texting with him anyway, and soon things had progressed. I’m not proud of it , but it’s real.

In the midst of all this, Prop 64 passed, legalizing adult-use in California.

A few weeks later, I tearfully told my husband about the affair and our marriage unraveled rapidly. Plenty was said and done that both of us now regret. I ended the affair, but a Pandora’s box of hurt had been opened. My husband and I loved each other and we hated each other. We got back together and we split again so many times I lost count.

Then, finally, another piece of the puzzle emerged. My husband had been hiding his obsessive use of weed from me for years. He kept stashes in his car, at local parks, and at unsuspecting friends’ houses. He’d devised a multitude of rituals to conceal the smell on his clothes and breath. What’s more, he hadn’t been sleeping, like really sleeping, in years. He’d get high at night and fall into bed at 3 or 4 in the morning before the rest of the  household was up at 6. I truly had no idea he had been living this shadowy half-life. And the guilt was killing him.

Soon, he was booked at a residential treatment center. What he had—and has—is called cannabis use disorder. The cannabis use disorder identification test includes eight questions such as: How often during the past six months did you find that you were not able to stop using cannabis once you had started? And how often during the past six months did you fail to do what was normally expected from you because of using cannabis? His answers to all eight questions? Daily. Substance abuse specialists say that while cannabis isn’t nearly as problematic as many drugs, a certain subset of the population will develop dependency. My husband, unfortunately, is one of them.

In the midst of all this, Prop 64 passed, legalizing adult-use in California. Soon, recreational dispensaries were everywhere—the temptations for my husband suddenly front and center.

Meanwhile, after more than a decade in one field, I was changing careers. Freelance writing had long appealed and as I scoured the web for opportunities I saw many a call for cannabis writers.  I pitched a couple of stories on a whim and to my surprise, they landed. Over time, I learned more and cannabis became my beat; a fascinating subject that touches on culture, policy, science, health, and wellness. All the things a new freelancer could ask for.

My husband and I hobbled along as a couple for at least a year after he was discharged from treatment. Things slowly got better.

Weed is a godsend for so many people living with pain and can provide a healthy way to alter the mind, access creativity, and facilitate the flow of social gatherings.

Reading and writing daily about the benefits of cannabis, along with new legal access, sparked my own interest. But the risks worried me. I pondered it for a time, and then, even after all we’d been through, I decided to give weed another try. When my husband wasn’t home, I ordered delivery. And you know what? It was awesome. I felt chilled out and simultaneously engrossed in my tasks. Insights flowed easily. And best of all, there were no hangovers or ill-effects. I was a convert.

The author’s secret stash; Courtesy of Danielle Brand

I discovered the truth of what I had been writing about: weed has come a long way since the early 2000s. Now, I can choose cannabinoids and terpenes in precisely the right ratios for the desired experience: Focus. Energy. Building forts with my kids. Watching Netflix. Relaxing. Pain relief. Sleep.

At first, I stuck to discreet vapes. Then I became interested in flower. And then edibles. Tinctures. Sprays, strips, topicals. My husband said he was okay with my new hobby as long as he didn’t see it, and slowly, our new normal emerged. My husband, a recovering weed addict, attended NA meetings. And I, who formerly looked down on weed, made my living with cannabis journalism and used it enthusiastically.

That’s not quite the end of this story. The proximity to so much weed reawakened his hunger for it; maybe I got sloppy with my storage. He said he believed he could smoke again: in moderation, only on weekends, only with me. Truthfully, I had been hoping the same thing. How could cannabis, I wondered,so good for so many people, truly a healing plant,harm him? Maybe, I thought, a low-THC strain could do the trick. If I was cool with him smoking, no hiding or subterfuge would be necessary. All above-board. All good.

So we tried. I admit that it was wonderfully enjoyable at first.

But soon he had broken promises about when, where, how much, and with whom he would smoke. The mood swings returned quickly. He came home from work high. He acted evasive, paranoid, weird, and was the first to acknowledge that it wasn’t working. Abstinence is the only way for him.

These days, I no longer keep flower in the house; the smell is too appealing. I’m careful storing the products I do have, and I keep quiet about getting high and about the content of my writing.

Over the last many years, my views on cannabis have ranged from ambivalent, to condemnatory, to embracing, and everything in between. Today, it’s more nuanced. I love weed for myself, and for many of my friends who can also use moderately and meet all of their responsibilities. I believe that safe, legal access is a good thing. Weed is a godsend for so many people living with pain and can provide a healthy way to alter the mind, access creativity, and facilitate the flow of social gatherings. You’ll find a dozen different products in my (well-hidden) stash at any time.

But that doesn’t mean it’s good for everyone. Just ask my husband.

Weed Almost Ruined My Marriage. Now I’m a Cannabis Journalist and Advocate was posted on High Times.

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