The Spiritual and Ritual Uses of Cannabis


Introduction by Linda Hendry
Jesus and the Holy Anointing Oil
A personal story by Linda Hendry
The Universal Church of the Holy and Sacred Herb (UCHASH)

Carlos Santana in an Interview with Forbes said:

“Cannabis is a window or a door to different awareness of consciousness, it gives you the choice to perceive through a different filter of awakening and healing, the misperception of distance as an illusion, which keeps you from being centered in your essence-core. It helps you arrive at knowing, accepting and owning a quality of life that is being with joy.”

With thanks to Linda Hendry MA
December 2020

“Chaplains are honoured to provide spiritual support, pastoral care, and moral guidance to all, irrespective of religion or belief.” 

The spiritual angle to cannabis is not just that there are benefits that work but that there are accepted religions – Hindu Saivites & some Brahmins, Rastafarians, Sufis, Pagans etc – which use cannabis as a sacrament. Members of those religions resident in the UK or visiting here cannot practice those religions fully because they would break the law by doing so.


Whether or not you believe that cannabis is mentioned in the Bible, Old Testament christians in Genesis Chapter 1 verse 29 were given every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food.” So eat it don’t smoke it? 

For years Christian Aid has been the a charity committed to ending drug prohibition. They wrote that ‘commerce in illicit drugs was conceived like a malignant tumour that could be isolated and removed. But the drugs trade cannot be reduced to a clear greed-or-need dichotomy; complicity is a perfectly rational choice; the illicit is often inseparable from the licit. If the ‘drugs problem’ is a tumour its infection has spread. It has become an almost necessary part of whole body, making conventional treatment ineffective. New cures need to be discovered.’ 

Drugs and Illicit Practices: Assessing their impact on development and governance
Christian Aid Occasional Paper

Christian journalist Jonathan Merritt who started taking medical cannabis had excruciating pain recede and the cloud encircling his head lift for the first time in months. He wrote inJune 2019 that ‘many prominent US Christian pastors and leaders are quietly changing their minds on cannabis. The skeptics admit that much has changed since the 1980s and they’re no longer are sure of what they believe. The faithful need to have an up-to-date discussion on the morality of marijuana.’ 

Most Christians have not used cannabis because it was illegal. As recreational and medical cannabis become legal in more countries Christians are finding there can be acceptable cannabis use.


The 2001 census found 5,000 Rastafarians living in England and Wales, there may be some in Scotland too.

Followers of Rastafari are known by a variety of names: Rastafarians, Rastas, Sufferers, Locksmen, Dreads or Dreadlocks. It developed in Jamaica in the 1930s after the coronation of Haile Selassie 1 as King of Ethiopia. Rastafarian religious practice includes the ritual inhalation of marijuana, to increase their spiritual awareness. Find yourself near a Rastafarian meeting place and you will probably smell the weed. Usually they do not share joints but each smokes their own, they are also mostly vegetarian. The Rastafarian colours are red, green and gold – sometimes black is added.


Hinduism is followed by 1.5% of the population of England, 0.31% in Scotland and 0.34% in Wales. 

Hindus who prefer to worship Shiva are called Shaivites. In 2015 London had around 23 Tamil Saivite temples alone. Hashish, or charas, is widely smoked by Shaivite devotees. Cannabis being a gift of Shiva aids detachment from worldly things (sadhana). Wandering ascetic sadhus are often seen smoking charas with a chillum or running naked into the Ganges at Kumbh Mela. 

British psychiatrist G. Morris Carstairs reported on Brahmins traditional intoxicant of choice – cannabis. The Brahmin religious leaders were vegetarian and drank a cannabis infusion (bhang).  A Brahmin told Carstairs, bhang “gives good bhakti.” Defined as “emptying the mind of worldly distractions and thinking only of God.”


Sikhs founded in 1469 by Guru Nanak in the Punjab, India, derive from a mix of Hinduism and Islam, and are prohibited by their religion from smoking cannabis but they may use it as a bhang drink.


In Islam cannabis is deemed haram (forbidden). As with most orthodoxies, early practices differed in this. Some say that, as hashish was introduced in post-Koranic times, the prohibition of khamr (“fermented grape”) did not apply to it. Despite official disapproval by Islamic governments the use of cannabis is so historic in the culture that billions of Muslims use potent hashish recreationally.


Jainism does not say whether cannabis can be taken or not. Going by the principles of Jainism anything intoxicating should not be taken. Since cannabis is obtained from plants, its use in the form of medication should be no problem for Jains.


In 2020 it was announced that cannabis residue had been found on the Israelite sanctuary altar at Tel Arad, suggesting that cannabis was a part of some Israelite rituals at the time. Cannabis has often been described as Kosher for Passover because of it being a plant not a grain.


Sufis may use cannabis in a religious way similar to that of Saivites/ Brahmins.


“The short answer is that nothing is absolute in Buddhism so be wary of claims, that such and such is always true or always prohibited. The extent of this flexibility, at least philosophically, can be striking.

The Five Precepts of Buddhism do say not to use mind-altering substances. Aside from prescribed medication, nothing along those lines is allowed. 

In general psychoactive substances are a step off the path to liberation. Ideally, a Buddhist wants to spend as much time as possible in spiritually cultivated state. You’re not necessarily less a Buddhist for not doing so. 

Buddhists can use cannabis because Buddhism does not require all-or-nothing 24/7 devotion to realizing the 5 Precepts adopted when  becoming a Buddhist. Cannabis becomes impermissible when it gets entangled in unethical behavior, addictions or engagements with others.

There are people outside religions who find spiritual benefits from cannabis. 

Sweat lodge is part of the Native American tradition and takes place in various parts of the UK, sometimes at festivals. Take a load of wood and heat up some stones that will not shatter when heated. Meanwhile make a canvas bender (lodge) to fit the participants into. Usually a peace pipe, mostly with cannabis in it, is passed around once the hot stones and participants are inside. Sit in the sauna style heat and perspire.

Thinking that an altered state fulfills or mirrors a Buddhist ideal is like saying that football players on steroids fulfil their commitment to athleticism. Superficial fleeting ‘advance’ in any abilities cannabis may bring is nullified by it’s unsustainability.

A personal experience – Linda Hendry

We’d arrived on site, put up tents and now was time to wander. Someone shouted “Hari Krisna”. My old pal Sarva Bhauma. “I’ve got someone you’d like to meet over in the next field.” he said.

That was how I was introduced to Baba Omar a buddhist duni baba or sadhu/ chillum baba. Sarva was with his Hari friends so Omar was offloaded into my care. He sat beside a tiny fire of three sticks to symbolise Siva’s trident, slightly in shock and cold with his iron trident and brass Siva beside him. He’d been smuggled in on a child’s ticket so was afraid to be seen around site. He lit a joint with 3 matches in a trident shape ” Bom Shankar” 

We were off in a rambling conversation about India where I’d sat with sadhus years before. He’d been initiated into one of the sadhu lineages at a Khumb Mela and showed the finger ring that can never come off, put on by his master. Later he said he wore his loincloth tight to reduce sexual impulses. Like most sadhus he was living a solitary life but unlike most he was in Christiana, Denmark at that time, not under a holy tree in India or up a Himalayan mountain. He took up his goddess the vina and played a raga to a small audience of mostly young men. 

Next morning as I passed the woodpile I picked him up some fuel, this time it was the chillum we used. When not in India he made a small living creating essential oils and giving transcendental massages. 

Day three, as I was passing, he was surrounded by his small audience and called me over for the first ‘go’ of a newly rolled joint – some of the audience were a bit miffed. ” She has helped me.” he explained. 

Omar Baba was keen for me to use the ash from his sacred fire on my hair – which I did a little. I guess it controls bugs if applied every day as he did. Omar wore purple, not the normal Sadhu orange.  On the Monday after he’d done his buddhist chanting, I helped him strike camp by carrying Siva to his lift. I was a bit shocked to be told to carry Siva by the neck. Omar gave me some sacred ash from his fire (dhuna) I gave him hemp sox and a bit of grass. Then it was goodbye. I sometimes wonder where he is now