Cannabis Spirituality

The following is from Dr. Lester Grinspoon’s website, Marijuana Uses. Dr. Grinspoon has been employed at Harvard Medical School for over twenty years, in the Department of Psychiatry; he has also been studying cannabis since 1967, and has published two books on the subject. This particular quote comes from a letter written to Dr. Grinspoon.


“What is kundalini?

According to the teachings of Yoga, there exists a latent spiritual force in the body said to reside at the base of the spine coiled like a serpent three and a half times. The goal of Yoga is to awaken this sleeping serpent and make it rise up the spine to a center in the head. When awakened, it is said to produce genius, psychic powers, spiritual enlightenment , and even Cosmic consciousness. This dormant energy has been known to yogis in India for some five thousand years.

Knowledge of kundalini remained virtually outside the purview of Western science until Gopi Krishna, an ordinary Indian householder, published the story of his own kundalini awakening in his autobiography, Kundalini, the Evolutionary Energy in Man. Despite this book and several others written by Gopi Krishna on the subject of yoga and kundalini, the phenomenon has received little attention from Western scientists. I believe this is a great mistake. To ameliorate this ignorance, therefore, I would like to share with you my own experience of the spontaneous awakening of kundalini.

At the age of twenty-six, I took up yoga. I did not take it up for a spiritual practice because, at the time, I was unaware that it was a spiritual practice. I took it up because I had a kink in my back. I saw yoga as simply a system of stretching exercises that might help me get rid of it. It worked, and I was freed of the kink–but I found the exercises gave me such a feeling of well-being and relaxation that I continued doing them for their own sake.

At this time, after practicing yoga for about six months, I happened upon some excellent cannabis. It was my habit then to smoke a little cannabis and then to write poetry. The effect of cannabis was not to produce revelry in me but a reverie in which the doors of the imagination were opened and inspiration flowed freely.

One day, as I sat to write poetry after smoking this excellent cannabis, my attention was forcibly drawn to an exquisite sensation at the base of my spine. As my attention fixed upon it, it grew stronger yet, and my mind was drawn to it–irresistibly–like iron to a magnet. So intensely pleasurable did the sensation become that, involuntarily, it brought my sex organ to a powerful erection. The sensation grew yet more blissful to the point that I felt I would faint or proceed to have a spontaneous ejaculation. Just when I thought I had reached the point of imminent ejaculation, however, I felt as if a thin thread snapped at the base of my spine from where the sensation originated. Instead of having what I felt would be an inevitable orgasm–suddenly, with the snapping of the “thread” an energy erupted from the base of my spine and began racing around inside my body seemingly on some path already known to it.

Its immediate effect was to paralyze me. Unable to move, or even speak, I watched now in amazement as a luminous ball of light moved rapidly within me racing like a serpent from organ to organ. Adding to my amazement and consternation was the realization that my breathing had stopped, and I seemed to be in a state of suspended animation. All the while there was no diminution of the bliss I experienced, for instead of being localized at the base of my spine, it now suffused my whole body. While held captive now to the energy in a catatonic state from which my will was powerless to release me, I could now see extending out from my head several feet a halo of light similar to the aureoles shown in paintings of saints and religious figures. I say I saw it, but not with my physical eyes, for I could not move my head. I saw it with a faculty that was beyond my ordinary senses, and made self-evident by the luminous energy now circulating within me…”

Here is another:

“I was twenty years old when I first smoked marijuana. I figured that I had already beaten the statistical odds, that I had jumped over the top of the bell curve, so there would be little harm if I took the plunge. The seed for my long-standing interest in drugs and non-ordinary states was planted early in my life, when I became a fan of Pink Floyd. I read volumes and volumes of literature about this band, particular information related to their enigmatic and tragic founder, Syd Barrett. He was, in the parlance of the day, an “acid casualty.” Reading about Pink Floyd I was exposed to a great deal of writing concerning LSD and other psychedelic substances. As a youngster I was especially intrigued that one could ingest a minuscule amount of some simple chemical and have perception and cognition change so dramatically. Years went by and my interests became deeper and broader. When I encountered the writings of Terence McKenna, I simply knew this was the “path” (well, at least part of it) for me. Although to be frank, the thought of “altering my consciousness” was pretty frightening, there was still something drawing me towards psychedelics.
A very understanding friend of mine promised to help me out, but only with a slight qualification. He would procure some LSD for me, but only if I smoked marijuana first. He was NOT trying to push the drug on me. As he explained it, psychedelic states were almost unimaginable for those lacking the experience, but doubly so if one had never before chemically altered their consciousness via any means. The more I thought about it, the more sense his conditions made. I must qualify this by stating that throughout my youth, ingesting marijuana was not something I ever desired to do. Once, when I was in Tangier, Morocco, a young boy walked up to me and said “hashish?” I shot the boy a dirty look and he quickly scuttled away. For much of my life I probably equated it with snorting coke or shooting heroin. It seemed tacky, dangerous, and I just wasn’t interested. After openly discussing marijuana with my friend, as well as others who actively smoked it, and after reading some non-political literature on the matter (such as that of Dr. Grinspoon) I realized my perception of marijuana was slightly askew, that this was not just another “demon drug,” but a relatively safe plant, if used properly. So, one night I drove over to my friend’s house with a pillow and a change of clothes, and we smoked marijuana.

Nothing happened that night. I was told to expect this, so I grudgingly accepted my friend’s offer to try it again. Well, there was no mistaking it this time around. Needless to say, my second experience with marijuana got me high for the first time in my life, and I experienced it as a beautiful sensation, touching on the magical. I felt as though I was melting into not only whatever object I happened to be touching, but the environment as well. We were listening to the Harmonic Chant of David Hykes & The Harmonic Choir, and as I melted into the seemingly eternal flights of melody, I felt as though I had transcended time. It was amazing. The next morning I felt great, and we spent the day walking around the Mall in Washington, DC (sober), visiting many of the museums of the Smithsonian.

For the next year or so, I used marijuana approximately once a month, perhaps less. I still abstained from alcohol and tobacco, and I had yet to take the plunge with psychedelics. “Turning on” with marijuana made me hyper-aware of the different brain states I could potentially experience with different chemicals, and I realized I was still not ready for psychedelics. Eventually a time came when I felt ready to immerse myself in the ocean of mind, and when my first psychedelic experience was over with I graciously thanked my friend for his wisdom.

Over the years I’ve used marijuana, different patterns have come and gone. At times I would smoke it two or three times a month. At other times maybe once every two or three months. There were periods of three to four months during which I simply didn’t smoke it. Period. I’ve had such a rich variety of experiences with marijuana that I could never fully describe them all.

Marijuana opened me up to the realm of the mind, of deeply experiencing and exploring the dimensions of consciousness available to me. In that regard, it has, with differing degrees of directness, led me into explorations of transpersonal psychology, mysticism, Sufism, shamanism, bodywork, and a host of other experiential/philosophical pursuits. When I got over the novelty of being stoned, I soon explored its effects more fully. I was amazed at what I found. Initially I would explore internal imagery, sharpening my visualization skills. Sometimes I would concentrate on feeling music more deeply. Other times I would simply think about the emotional and intellectual reactions of certain people to certain phenomena, particularly those reactions I found difficult to understand. Whilst stoned, I found it easier to put myself in the place of others. I could understand how people might believe any number of seemingly “irrational” or dense, impenetrable ideas. Marijuana opened me up to the existence of so many different views of the world, views I need not share to fathom and empathize with. I worked with my own feelings of sensuality/sexuality. I explored techniques of focusing my mind. I would meditate (in the Western, pre-Buddhist use of the word) upon religious/spiritual matters, clarifying things that seemed to make little to no sense in “sober” states of mind. How might this work? I don’t know, but I have one idea that I often espouse. Our normal state of awareness is good for certain tasks, not for others. For example, one typically does not produce works of art in the same state of awareness that we use when driving about in our cars; an artist is instead focused inward, and on the outward projection of his/her internal state. In much the same way, such an internally-oriented state would be of little value in a sexual experience, in which humans exchange energy, moving and flowing together in a state of emotional and physical sympathy. What I find marijuana does is to shift the loci of my attention away from the mundane experiences and concerns that I, as an often automaton-like human, find myself dwelling on a moment-to-moment or daily basis. Instead, my mind is centered on matters that touch more on the extraordinary, those topics and experiences that are perhaps better left unexplored while driving along I-95 or working out my finances for the year. Those that view all of this as simply drug-induced illusions are sadly blind.

The greatest thing to come out of all of this is that I found these “stoned” experiences aren’t as state-dependent as I initially believed. In the wake of my introduction and exploration of “stoned-mind awareness” I find that my appreciation for sensuality, aesthetics, and philosophy in “normal waking consciousness” (to quote James) has deepened greatly, almost to the point that I feel that the pre-drugs “me” was noticeably worse-off…”

and another:

“..This was my first curiosity – why would extraordinarily intelligent and creative people smoke cannabis when we were taught in health class that it was so dangerous, deleterious, and immoral? I couldn’t resist knowing the answer. Just before graduation I tried marijuana for the first time, cooked into brownies – I ate four.

In retrospect I consumed a quantity of marijuana that potentiated its mild psychedelic qualities. What I discovered was astonishing. All the colors and sounds of that warm May day seemed more saturated. The present moment took on an extra dimension as my mind cascaded with thoughts that poured out in phrases and filled every moment with humor and insight. What was happening? I was basking in some kind of previously unknown but instantly likable euphoric glow, and I felt as though I was getting acquainted with myself and maybe my very existence for the first time. Or was it the second time? Had I ever considered my ‘existence’ before? It was hilarious and profound, exotic yet familiar, with a paradoxical but somehow obviously logical quality to it. The most shocking conclusion I drew from the experience was that despite general societal disapproval (and its harsh illegality)…I really liked it.

Being the disciplined, overly deliberate person that I am, I didn’t try it again for another 4 months. I needed to consider what I’d learned from the first time. But upon trying it again, and enjoying it again, I found myself completing the transition from hanging out with an athletic drinking crowd to a more intellectual smoking crowd.

My circle of friends enjoyed marijuana as a creativity enhancer. We would get together and smoke, and go for hikes, as well as draw, paint, play music (I learned how to play a musical instrument during this time), discover philosophy, or just collapse in fits of hysterical laughter. It felt like an incredibly safe, fertile, adventurous, expansive time. It was as though I’d hit a switch that made life seem more tangible, real, precious. My association with marijuana was solidified then as being a catalyst for aesthetic and spiritual reflection. For example, though I’d always been fascinated by the night sky, looking at the stars while high filled me with a kind of awe I’d never experienced before – the wonder of a human being facing the present, eternal, dynamic cosmos. I wasn’t seeing anything that wasn’t there before, or seen before. On the contrary, it was this feeling of connection to the race of humanity that preceded me, looking up at the stars with similar awe, that brought such an indescribable warmth to this reverie. I was seeing and feeling reality through a greater bandwidth. Marijuana didn’t filter the world; it unfiltered the world.

Artistic pursuits went from being perceived as an entertaining adjunct to culture, to being indivisible from the definition of culture. Suddenly art and music represented humanity’s highest aspirations and deepest traumas. Everything became more profound, and everything became lighter at the same time.

I believed that if more people smoked marijuana and drank less alcohol (or no alcohol), the world would experience a kind of renaissance of peaceful artistic and philosophical pursuits.

In other words, typical idealistic tendencies that the media and politicians love to hate about the 1960s. The only difference was that this was the 1980s. My friends and I used to laugh about the self-righteous Baby Boomers who smoked marijuana like peaceful spirits in the Sixties, probably enjoying similar revelations, then grew up to become the most vicious drug warriors of all time, destroying the lives of millions of people the world over. I guess one thing that’s changed is that no one laughs about that anymore. Well, that’s the past, what about the present? How would I describe my current relationship to cannabis? After all, following the Boomers’ example, shouldn’t I confess my past use, profess an infinite contempt for the plant, and beg forgiveness? In a word, no.

These days, when I smoke a small amount of marijuana, my body feels both relaxed and enlivened, active and content. My mind and my body feel quenched inside a visionary moment with a warm glow of serenity. It feels like a kind of cerebral sexuality, like a sixth or seventh sense, suddenly come animate. I feel like a spiritual animal…”


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