Cannabis is a ritual. Like tea, meditation, and yoga.
You grind it, to open up the terpenes and enhance the flavors. You roll or load it into your ceremonial imbibing device (in my case, a joint). The smoke itself, sage for the lungs (my personal take, but hey, it’s possible). The 5,000-year-old philosophy of yoga, which originated in ancient India, is a mixture of breath work, meditation, challenging physical poses, all with the goal of the marrying of the body and the mind.
Enter Christopher S. Kilham, an author, ethnobotanist, Medicine Hunter, spiritual expert, and 15-time novelist. Kilham’s newest book, “The Lotus and The Bud” dissects the conscious crossroads of yoga, health, and cannabis. I spoke to Kilham about how the endocannabinoid system harmonizes the body’s other systems, how yoga can be enhanced by cannabis, and new community platforms that are inspired by ancient practices.
Cannabis and rising above thought: In your experience, are THC, CBD, or both, helpful during mindful meditation? Why?
Christopher S. Kilham: I have very little interest in THC and CBD as molecules. I understand their activity and how they occur, but I’m not really interested in the case of when people think of THC-strains. I’m interested in whole psychoactive cannabis, the whole plant, with all of its glorious 100 plus cannabinoids and its terpenes, flavonoids. I personally believe it’s the whole plant— that celestial array of compounds that all go together, that have evolved over millions of years— that we want to put into our bodies. If you look at the pure hemp strains, hemp that is crushed and the oil is gathered from that, what you have is a multi-hundred component product that is also rich in CBD. From the start, I am very well aware there are companies making CBD isolate and distillate. They’ll satisfy the beverage market and all that. You have companies like Verdant Oasis, they’re combing full-spectrum crushed ancient strain hemp oil. These are totally different things.
As natural beings, with regard to psychoactive cannabis, it is something that can enhance a sense of expansion, personal spaciousness, heightened sense of awareness, elevation. All of that, plus an increased sensitivity to the energy within us. We have a few multiple volts of energy firing within our bodies at all times. It’s really for many people, but it’s not for everybody. Some people get paranoid when they consume cannabis. For many people, it does make it easier to get into that more expanded state. The value of that, when we’re nervous or tense, it tends to be a very restricted state. All of that tightness restricts.
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When you can have a greater sense of ease—letting go, spaciousness—it enhances meditation. If you’re not interested in psychoactive cannabis, if you only want CBD oil, then you’re also playing into the nervous systems reducing stress. It’s helping sleep so when you’re awake, you’re better rested. I believe psychoactive cannabis or CBD, hemp oil, can be valuable to people with mindful meditation. I am also a proponent of doing these things without cannabis.
When it comes to yoga and breathwork, tell me why cannabis or CBD come into play? Do you prefer to ingest via smoking, edibles, tinctures? Why?
These are companion questions. In terms of cannabis and yoga as a fusion, this is something that’s been going on for thousands of years. I’m an ethnobotanist and I’ve traveled the Siberian, all along the Silk Road, the Himalayas, different parts of Africa, the Middle East, and South East Asia. Cannabis is just proliferated. It became part of not all spiritual practices, but many. Carrying this forward, we have options. I happen to prefer whole cannabis, which I grow myself because I live in a place where it’s legal to do so. I love hashish as well. Sometimes it’s smoking it, sometimes consuming it. I make a really good cannabis chai. The idea is to get enough to have an elevating effect, but not so much that you’re completely knackered. There was a long time period a couple of years ago where it was always chai in the morning.
In answer to your question about the why: it is the case for many people who may have pain, who may fight soreness or general stiffness if they consume a little cannabis and practice yoga, it helps them to ease into yoga that much more. That’s a good enough reason to do so, with practice and nothing else. If that can ease practice and give you a greater sense of awareness in practice, loosen up, to feel less stress, then it’s worth it.
Is there space for a new type of cannabis spirituality? What does that look like, in your eyes, how can we marry the yogi or spiritual communities to the cannabis community?
As I point out in “The Lotus and The Bud,” I’ve taught at numerous conferences over the decades, and we wouldn’t speak of cannabis at all during the conference. But then afterwards, all the spiritual teachers would get together and get high and go to dinner. In yogic lore, both yoga and Ganga come from the god Shiva. And both are for the purpose of greater awareness and joy and bliss. In fact, in Sanskrit, one of the words for Ganga is Jayah—victory. A victory over dullness of mind, if you will. There’s always been this very strong intertwining of cannabis and yoga.
Is there a space for a new type of cannabis spiritually? Yes, there are yoga and cannabis classes, we are seeing yoga festivals, large groups of people are doing some cannabis in some form and practicing yoga together. My wife Zoe and I have gone for years to the Spirit Plant Medicine Conference in Vancouver. There is always a cannabis spiritual experience; there is chanting, didgeridoo, Tibetan singing bells, these things are in many respect new approaches to old, traditional uses. Yes, I think we are evolving the movement to be more visible and public.
You get 400, 600, 8o0 people who go outside and have a smoke together and come in and have this group experience, but the sheer group energy, which is a real phenomenon, is like a booster rocket. We do see cannabis churches popping up around the place and that’s not new, either. I’ve spent time at a number of Tibetan temples that are ancient, and you’re offered hashish to worship the god Shiva. In our modern times, we emulate these practices.
When it comes to health and exercise, do the nervous system and the endocannabinoid system intertwine?
It is just the case, the brain and the central nervous system are especially rich with receptor sites for the endocannabinoid system. We see receptors to cannabinoids throughout the entire body. We see it in the central nervous system, gastrointestinal system, reproductive system, in the bones, our hormones, all over the place. One of the propositions that I make in “The Lotus and The Bud,” the unique interaction between the endocannabinoid system and every other system, which is fundamentally a harmonizing system that supports the balance of all the other systems in our bodies. I maintain after 51 years of daily yoga, that the nervous system needs stretching.
The nerves are like a piano wire, they are stiff and tight, but you can stretch them to get the perfect note. With Kundalini, Asana and methods like that, you work that tiny, itty, bitty bit of elasticity of the nerves, to loosen them up and allow energy to flow more freely. When you combine cannabis with yoga practice, you can go deeper into the actual sensory experience of that happening. I think they intertwine mightily. But again, it’s not for everyone. I have a friend in the psychedelic medicine community, but he can’t smoke cannabis, something happens to him that isn’t good. It’s not that everybody can do this, but a great many people can. The deeper you go, the lighter you get. It takes you deep and allows you to open up and have a greater sense of expansion of mind, body and spirit.
What place does the endocannabinoid system have in overall health?
If you have a medical doctor that you go to who went to med school in the 90s or 2000s, they missed all the education on the endocannabinoid system because it didn’t exist. Unless they were reading the very cutting edge papers, they weren’t clued-in on this. Remarkably, the exploration of the endocannabinoid system is new. It’s understandable that a lot of doctors don’t know about it, they often get frozen in time in terms of their education. We know the endocannabinoid system directly affects the brain, lungs, cardiovascular system, colon, reproductive health, bone health, muscle control. The idea that it is a harmonizing system, it tries to keep the activity of the other systems within a healthy range. On the one hand, it’s completely understandable that a lot of medical doctors are not clued into the endocannabinoid system. But it for sure is the case that moving forward, they should be.
As a refresher, I think of cannabinoids very much like vitamins. Vitamins are something we either don’t make in our bodies or make too little of, and if we don’t have, we die. It’s essential, in the case of the endocannabinoid system, our bodies take oils and make them into our own internal cannabinoid system. We may for reasons, like poor diet, not make enough of those. It’s possible to have an endocannabinoid deficiency. That may mean poor cardiovascular function, diminished immune function. Supplementing the endocannabinoid system is a smart idea. A lot of people are turning to CBD supplements. If you look at something like full-spectrum hemp oil, real strains of hemp, crushed and left whole, then you have 115 different cannabinoids in that. Granted, they may occur in small amounts, but we know from human clinical studies that there are still significant effects of them working together. I’m not convinced we are going to require greater concentrations of any particular cannabinoid, I think it really is a matter of all these hundreds of compounds. Cannabis emerged from hops 100 million years ago. It had a lot of time to develop.
Where do you see cannabis and spirituality’s role in helping people heal, especially coming out of this pandemic year, out of the chaos of 2020 and our current state?
There was a Hawaiian elder I saw years ago who said something I have never forgotten: “True healing puts into order the body, mind, spirit, with the past, preset, and future.” That’s really a broad and remarkable way to think about healing, anything that can contribute to your sense of inner balance and peace, not talking about being passive or lethargic, but having an inner sense of peace being a guiding factor in our lives. Rather than reactivity, anger. Spiritual people think of it in many different ways. I think of it as the essential wellspring from which all existence rises, which is the nature of all spiritual practice.
To have a good foundation cultivated by medication, yoga, right living. That helps people live happier lives. Whatever you do, whether you’re an auto mechanic, school teacher, nurse, doctor, yogi, whatever, having a sense of spirituality as the core that guides you is nothing but beneficial. People find that to some extent, with cannabis, it’s not that cannabis is intrinsically for people a spiritual experience, but it can be that.
Whether it’s in these troubled times, a global pandemic that is extreme, strife. Whatever can do to be more poised, more thoughtful, more aware, much less sense of a separateness from one and the other. That’s a positive thing, a real spiritual experience is where you get the sense of oneness of all things. That enhances empathy, compassion, and understanding. All of these things can contribute to a better personal life experience. Is there a new type of spirituality in antiquity? Whatever practices work best for us and with us given our nature. It’s my hope for the spiritual community to use our energy to engage in the world and contribute what is positive, not to hang in the cave and play with our beads.