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The hemp plant has been widespread in many areas of the world for millennia. Since then, in the course of history, cannabis has been used with various purposes – being them ritual or not – in a great number of religious cults.

The hemp plant originates from Central Asia and the first testimonies indicate the presence of hemp cultivations in China and in the Indian sub-continent since 5000 B.C. already.In Japan, in the archaeological site of the island of Oki, traces of hemp have been found, which witness a common use of the plant.

According to some academics hemp is one of the first plants to be “cultivated” systematically by the Human Being. Century after century the hemp plant spread worldwide, acclimatising in Europe, in the Americas and in Africa. Cannabis, during its millenary history, has come across peoples and cultures, becoming often also part of religious rituals and symbology.  

Cannabis and Rastafarianism

Rastafarianism is a  monotheist religion, traditionally associated with the use of cannabis.

Rastafarianism evolved in the thirties of the Twentieth century and got its name from Ras Tafari, baptismal name of Hailé Selassié, negus and last emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1936, and from 1941 to 1974, recognized as the Messiah in his second coming. Selassié, in fact, was considered descendent of  King Salomon and the Queen of Sheba.

The use of cannabis in Rastafarianism is documented from the forties onwards, with both medical and meditative purposes. The followers of Rastafarianism consider hemp as a sacred and beneficial plant; the Tree of Life mentioned in the Bible. 

Hinduism and cannabis

Cannabis in India has been used since 2000 B.C. and from that point onwards it is a very often used plant and is consumed in the form of charas (resin), bhang (seeds or leaves) o ganja (flowers). The ritual use of cannabis is described in numerous texts in Sanskrit.

In the Atharvaveda – one of the canonical subdivisions of the Vedas, texts written in Sanskrit dating back to the second half of the second millennium before Christ – the effectiveness of the plant in reducing anxiety is described: a property confirmed by science many centuries later. Still today, during religious festivities, it is common use to consume beverages containing cannabis.

Tibet, Buddhism and cannabis

Buddhism – one of the most ancient religions in the world – follows the teachings of  the ascetic Siddhartha Gautama and lays its foundations on the doctrines based on the Four Noble Truths. These are a set of spiritual practices generated by the different interpretations of the four doctrines.

The use of cannabis in practices associated to Buddhism goes back to the very first years of diffusion of the plant. Often hemp is quoted in Buddhism. A traditional Buddhist story tells that, along his path towards illuminations,  Buddha survived, nourishing himself with one single hemp seed a day.

Cannabis and Taoism

Taoist texts mention cannabis since 570 B.C., when the plant is described in the Wushang Biyao, as an ingredient to be added to incense burners. In the text there is clear reference to the experiences with “hallucinogenic fumes”.

According to Taoist traditions shortly afterwards, in the of Third century B.C.,  the writings of the Taoist school Shangging were dictated during a “contact” with the kingdom of the dead, occurring almost certainly through the use of cannabis.

Some centuries later, between 400 and 600, much evidence can be found of the use of cannabis with religious purposes,  but accompanied by the knowledge of its health benefits. According to the Shangging Canon it is also recommended to consume hemp in ginseng decoctions.

Hebraism and cannabis

In the Hebrew religion the relationship with cannabis has been controversial up to a few years ago.

Sula Benet, Polish anthropologist of Jewish descent, who lived in the Twentieth century, has focused her studies on a plant named Kaneh-bosm, mentioned in the Old Testament.

The researcher came to the conclusion that the plant referred to in the text, is that of cannabis, utilized in religious rituals as an element of the oil used during the sacred anointing.

In 1980 the confirmation arrives from the Hebrew University of Israel that the term Kaneh bosm (and its many historical deformations) refers to hemp flowers. In 2013 Rabbi Efraim Zalmanovich expressed himself in favour of cannabis for medical use and today the plant is defined kosher: suitable and appropriate for the believers.

Cannabis in Christianity and Islam

These cults always expressed themselves negatively towards whichever use of cannabis: medical, recreational or meditative.  

However, in the past few years, a slight opening occurred by some Christian and Protestant communities towards cannabis for medical purposes.
At the current state, little historical evidence about this is available, even though it is certain that the hemp plant was present in countries with the Christian Faith for many centuries.

In Islam cannabis is not taken into consideration for religious purposes. The Coran does not prohibit it expressively, but cannabis is nevertheless labelled as haram (prohibited).