Marijuana is my secular sacrament

Sacred marijuanaThe Spiritual Naturalist Society takes no official position on the use of psychotropics in ritual or spiritual practices. However, the Society does recognize that entheogens have been a part of religious, shamanic, and other spiritual practices throughout human history. We therefore respect and welcome Spiritual Naturalists who advocate their responsible use in spiritual practices, while also welcoming those who reject their use. In today’s article, Brian Hines explains his stance on marijuana…


I don’t embrace God. I do embrace marijuana. Big time.

In my experience, cannabis is way more spiritual than a supernatural being who almost certainly exists only in people’s imagination.

Pleasingly, on July 1 marijuana became legal to possess and use here in Oregon, though recreational sales are on hold for a few more months.

When I use my fingers to carefully pluck small bits of buds (flowers) to place in a vaporizer receptacle — no metal grinder for me; I enjoy touching the herbal essence of a marijuana plant — this has a sacramental feel.

I’m grateful to Mother Nature for bringing forth a substance that elevates the spirit.

There’s a reason we speak of getting high.

Cannabis has a way of making my usual worries and anxieties appear much smaller, as if I were standing on top of a mountain, looking at them from a distance rather than close-up.

At the same time, I don’t feel like I’ve lost touch with reality. Rather, marijuana stimulates a sensation of This is how life really is.

Meaning, my supposedly “normal” perception of having to make my way through a world filled with obstacles, problems, barriers, irritations, and what-not is supplanted by a flowing feeling where stuff happens, but not really to me.

Both modern neuroscience and ancient forms of spirituality such as Buddhism agree that this cannabis-caused diminishing of self is closer to how things truly are than everyday waking consciousness.

Inside the mind/brain, there is no sign of any independent, unchanging, non-physical entity corresponding to our sense of “I” or “Me.”

Yet we feel like there is.

To escape from this fantasy I don’t need to laboriously meditate under the critical gaze of a Zen master. I just fire up my vaporizer, take a few puffs of THC-infused warm air, and, voila!, enlightenment. Thank you, caring compassionate cannabis.

Now, spiritual traditionalists look upon marijuana as an illicit short-cut. They argue that changing one’s consciousness to be more in tune with the reality of no-self must be done naturally, not artificially.

I agree. We just differ as to what is natural, and what is artificial.

Cannabis is a flowering plant indigenous to Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Humans have used it for thousands of years, as have other animal species, impelled by what psychopharmacologist Ronald Siegel calls the fourth drive in his book “Intoxication: the Universal Drive for Mind-Altering Substances.”

We need intoxicants — not in the sense that an addict needs a fix, but because the need is as much a part of the human condition as sex, hunger, and thirst. The need — the fourth drive — is natural, yes, even healthy.


…Over the centuries, people have sought — and drugs have offered — a wide variety of effects, including pleasure, relief from pain, mystical revelations, stimulation, relaxation, joy, ecstasy, self-understanding, escape, altered states of consciousness, or just a different feeling.

As noted above, I don’t see this as a drive to escape reality.

Rather, marijuana and other psychedelic drugs propel human consciousness into a less ego-centered state that more accurately reflects neuroscientific understanding of the brain’s inherent selflessness.

For a marvelous hip-hop dance mirroring of this truth, I heartily recommend watching Alex Wong’s and Twitch’s “Get Out of Your Mind” routine.

Jump off your self-absorbed psychoanalytic couch and go freaking crazy! This might well be the sanest thing you’ll ever do.

Oh, but what about the dangers of marijuana? It’s well known that there is no lethal dose of cannabis. Don’t people get psychologically addicted, though?

Sure, in much the same way Gallup tells us that almost half of American smartphone users agree with the statement “I can’t imagine my life without my smartphone.”

Are they addicted? Yes. Do they care? No. Because 70% of smartphone users say their device has made their life better.

Which is how I feel about cannabis.

After using marijuana heavily in college back in the 1960’s, I took a long break during thirty-five years of searching for my True Self through being a vegetarian, hours of daily meditation, and abstention from alcohol/drugs.

Back then I thought my essence was immaterial: a soul-consciousness detachable from the crude physical body.

Now I look upon myself as an integral part of nature. Like everything else, I’m made of energy and matter which eventually will return to its basic constituents when I die, leaving me nowhere to be found.

So I live for today here on Earth, not for an imagined tomorrow in some heavenly realm. Ingesting an herb which alters my brain chemistry is not only morally acceptable, it is “spiritual” in the way I now view that word, as realizing that I don’t have a soul, or self. (The Onion humorously reports on another guy’s similar discovery in “Search for Self Called Off After 38 Years.”)

Sam Harris speaks of this realization in his book, “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.”

My goal in this chapter and the next is to convince you that the conventional sense of self is an illusion — and that spirituality largely consists in realizing this, moment to moment.


…Most of us feel that our experience of the world refers back to a self — not to our bodies precisely but to a center of consciousness that exists somehow interior to the body behind the eyes, inside the head.


The feeling that we call “I” seems to define our point of view in every moment, and it also provides an anchor for popular beliefs about souls and freedom of will.


And yet this feeling, however imperturbable it may appear at present, can be altered, interrupted, or entirely abolished.


…Subjectively speaking, the only thing that actually exists is consciousness and its contents.

Far out, man.

Inspired by Harris’ arguments, I used his ideas in a pre-election Strange Up Salem column I wrote for my city’s alternative paper, Salem Weekly: “A strange reason to legalize marijuana.”

Here’s a news flash from the front page of modern neuroscience: “You don’t exist.” At least, not in the way most people believe they do.


We feel as if we look out upon the world as a detached ethereal consciousness floating behind our eyes, inside our head. We feel as if we’re a weightless self or soul inhabiting a body.


These feelings are wrong. The sense of self is an illusion. You, me, and everyone else are billions of neurons woven together via trillions of electrochemical connections.


Marvelously, the brain tells itself stories about how it is other than it is.


As biologist Edward O. Wilson puts it in his new book, “The self, despite the illusion of its independence created in the scenarios, is part of the anatomy and physiology of the body.”


Mind-blowing, right?



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About the Author

brian-hinesBrian Hines is a writer and blogger who summed up his philosophical state in a 2004 post called “I’ve become the person I warned myself about.” That was the year he started a Church of the Churchless blog after being deeply involved with an Indian guru and a mystical meditation practice for thirty-five years. Brian continues to explore the always-fascinating contours of what remains when faith in religious supernaturalism fades away. He is the author of “Return to the One,” a non-scholarly examination of Plotinus, a Greek neoplatonist philosopher. An avid Tai Chi student, Brian lives on ten acres near Salem, Oregon with his wife and dog. He is a Ph.D. dropout in Systems Science and has a master’s degree in social work.

4 thoughts on “Marijuana is my secular sacrament”

  1. As the author of this piece, I’m curious to learn several things from readers of it.

    (1) If you use marijuana, do you have the same sense of less-self or selflessness as I do? To me, this is pretty much the opposite of how alcohol affects me. With beer or wine I feel more like myself, though this is hard to put into words. Meaning, I feel relaxed and less inhibited, but the relaxed “me” still feels like the regular me. With marijuana, I feel a lessening of me’ness.

    (2) If you don’t use marijuana, and are opposed to its use, why? I can’t think of any good reasons, other than “I don’t like to change my brain chemistry.” To which I’d reply, as I said in this piece, “Your brain already is being changed by many chemicals, some internal to the brain and some external. So why not add some chemicals (THC and such) that have pleasurable positive effects for most people?”

    • An addendum to my questioning comment: it dawned on me that while I live in a state, Oregon, where recreational marijuana is legal, in most states it isn’t. Thus likely most people who use marijuana in those states wouldn’t want to admit that they do in a forum like this.

      So I’ll rephrase my first question to: “Whether or not you use marijuana, from what you know about it do you believe that it produces the same sense of less-self or selflessness as I have experienced?”

  2. Enjoyed reading the article. To answer your question- I don’t really feel the selflessness thing that I know of- but maybe a little more time thinking about it could possibly alter my opinion on this. Same with some other sections- a little time to digest might help.
    But other parts I could really identify with – & that is more what I wanted to share. I also look at THC as a sacrament of sorts- In high school in ’72 or so I invited a friend to join me by saying “The high priest summons” – Still use the term to this day and do feel like it is a plant that gives us a kind of brightened view of life- kind of elevates the spirit. I am a musician and I enjoy this euphoric feeling. Sometimes it helps me look at things a little differently – makes me think of things in a different way. I feel very inspired and creative. Music is very spiritual to me- both seem like a sort of sacrament. Helps me to sleep too- nice tool to help me kind of parachute into sleep lost in my thoughts (freq. listening to music too & getting ‘lost’ in the music. Helps me forget I am TRYING to go to sleep- and facilitates my drifting effortlessly into dream state. I partook a little as I was reading too- so I have a smile on my brain as I write this (<, Hope to bump into you on Facebook or something- or at the society. My initials really are G S- (names may have been changed to protect this innocent on this comment.) I think you can dig where I am coming from THanks for the article.

  3. Enjoyed the article- but forgot to click(SEND NOTIFICATIONS OF COMMENTS – U can delete this one as long as I still get the notifications. (or leave it – whatever works. ) Please send notifications.


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