How can you have a relationship with cannabis that is more spiritual, novel, and valuable? As cannabis continues to gain more acceptance as a creative and medicinal tool, how many people are merely scratching the surface when it comes to cannabis’ potential as a spiritual ally? What are some good tips and important insights for those who want to take their relationship with this plant to a higher level?
To discuss these topics, we spoke with Stephen Gray, author of a new book called Cannabis and Spirituality that brings together 18 experts to explore the benefits and challenges of utilizing cannabis in this deeper way. Stephen is also one of the co-organizers behind the upcoming Spirit Plant Medicine Conference (SPMC) happening in Canada this November, which will explore Western and indigenous perspectives on entheogenic plant use with presenters such as Joe Tafur, Chris Kilham, Dawn Davis, and many others.
Thanks so much for speaking with us, Stephen. Before we get into our cannabis discussion, can you tell us a little bit about SPMC 2017?
It’s in its 7th year and will be held on November 4th and 5th at the University of British Columbia. We have a great collection of leading spokespeople on entheogenic medicines, and the mission is very clear: we know from our own personal experiences in working with these medicines that when set and setting are right, and they are being used wisely and carefully in proper containers and so on, they have this unbelievable potential of spiritual awakening and ego dissolution… and lord knows, there is a serious need for as much spiritual awakening as possible on this planet. Our mission is to educate as much as possible on the wise, responsible, respectful, sustainable, and reciprocal use of these medicines- primarily plant based medicines, but we’ll also talk about LSD and MDMA occasionally, and cannabis is part of the discussion too.
Sounds like an incredible event! With your background and your recent book, I’m excited to speak to you about cannabis. When it comes to recreational cannabis use, I think a lot of people have a relationship with the plant that is slightly spiritual, but can tend to be escapist. What would you say to someone who has a spiritual-ish relationship with cannabis, but wants to go deeper?
There’s a number of areas to talk about here, but maybe the first one to bring up is the groundwork or foundation of intention – you know, what is your intention with it? How do you relate to both the plant and the spirit of the plant in a way that makes it medicine in the largest sense of the word?
In the Native American tradition, people will say they have “bear medicine” or other types of medicines, and that has to do with having a deep and respectful connection with the intelligence of that plant or animal. For us humans, this takes slowing down the speed of the mind as it were, calming the busyness of the thoughts, and learning to listen. The most simple way of putting it is learning to cultivate a deep respect. This is a radical shift for the Western mind, to think of plants as conscious.
So it’s all about intention, connection, respect, and even reverence. Creating some kind of ritual can be really helpful. A phrase that is familiar in the psychedelic world is “set and setting.” Set meaning everything you bring to the encounter: preparation, state of mind, and intention- and setting being the container and environment in which it happens. So treating the plant with respect, having an intention behind the use of it, having gratitude, and so forth makes it more likely the plant will respond in kind, as it were.
One way I like to think of cannabis is as a non-specific amplifier: it will intensify things, such as set, setting, and intention. In that sense, I think of it as offering this incredible gift to us, which we have to learn how to use.
Absolutely. Powerful tools can either work for us or against us. So how does cannabis work as a spiritual tool or ally?
I consider cannabis an advanced spiritual medicine because it does raise the stakes and amplify things, but if you can then channel this energy, there can be this remarkable opening- not just in the short term, but as a learned behavior and reconfiguration of how we meet each moment. It’s learning to trust the energy of the moment, which is why it is so important to be working to create gaps between thoughts to see what this plant can do for you.
There is also dosage, strain, and frequency of use which are all important factors. If you’ are looking to use cannabis as a spiritual ally, a lot of people think that less frequent use is better, because of the tolerance and familiarity effect that happens when you’re using it all the time. Some people think you should leave 5 or 6 days between, and others think you should only use it as rarely as you would do ayahuasca. Frequency of use can be really important for going deeper, if that is your intention.
Dosage is really important as well, and some people say less is more, especially if you are a highly sensitive person. You don’t need much, and you can always start small and work your way up. I think the optimal dosage is one where you can handle it in calm presence. If you find your mind getting out of control, or physical symptoms like dizziness or nausea, then you’ve exceeded your optimal dose. With the high THC stuff around these days, shatters and dabs and all that, one moderate toke for someone who does not do it all the time can be very powerful. Oftentimes when someone has trouble with cannabis, it’s because they’ve done more than they can actually channel, in a sense.
Strains can also make a difference, and there is no hard and fast protocol here. It’s important to find a strain that feels right. Some feel really clear and light and numinous-inducing; they just feel more spiritual somehow. In my experience, those tend towards the sativa side of things. Others prefer the indica strains and find them more calming, but most of the experts I personally know prefer sativas because they are more sharp and clear.
So, to summarize: intention, set and setting, respect and reverence, not just doing it casually all the time unless you need it for medicinal reasons, paying attention to dosage, and finding strains that work well for you- and most of all, establishing a relationship with the plant.
Beautiful. Let’s talk briefly about the difference between smoking, vaping, and eating cannabis.
The jury is still out on these topics, but I can share my own experience. I know two iboga shamans who work with cannabis as a spiritual tool, and they both agree that smoking gives access to higher frequencies of the medicine than vaporizing. I myself find that in smoking and vaporizing the same amount, the smoking is slightly stronger. Many people are into vaping for the perceived health benefits over smoking, so that’s also a factor when deciding your relationship with the plant.
Oral ingestion of edible cannabis is a qualitatively different experience from inhalation. For one, it takes up to 2 hours to come into full effect, and as many experienced cannabis users know, that can lead to some issues for people because you don’t know until that time how high you’re gonna get. People often make the mistake of saying “I’m not feeling anything, I’ll take another one” 45 minutes in or so. Five hours later it’s 3 in the morning and you’re staring at the ceiling with gargoyles moving around and you’re wondering “When will this be over!?” With inhaled cannabis, it’s much easier to regulate the dosage because the effects are immediate. Also with oral ingestion, there’s more of a body quality to it, and in my experience it does not promote the same kind of thinking and is more of an energy medicine.
There’s a funny story from Maureen Dowd who is an op-ed writer for The New York Times. She went to a dispensary and got a cookie and they warned her to go easy, but she ignored that and ate the whole thing. She wrote about the experience: ”As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me” [laughs] This goes back to ego dissolution. In high doses cannabis can indeed be an ego-dissolver in much the same way as the major psychedelics can. That’s why dosage is really important, and finding the optimal level that you can be present with. So less is more when you’re starting out with it, but beyond that there is some interesting territory to explore when you can handle it.
We are very grateful to Stephen for taking the time to speak with us about conscious cannabis use and the Spirit Plant Medicine Conference. If you’d like to buy tickets to SPMC 2017, use the code PSYCHEDELICTIMES (all caps) to receive a $22 discount.