Religion, Culture and Cannabis

people hands with tattoes
Written By: J. Laura Arman


Religiosity is an important predictor of cannabis use, according to the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy and the Department of Sociology at Florida State University.

Jonathan Merritt | Retrieved from: BioLogos

Jonathan Merritt, a well known Christian author on religion, culture and politics, wrote an article for the New York Times on Christianity and cannabis. Merritt, who grew up in an evangelical Christian minister’s household, described how he spent most of his life believing that cannabis, “was just one more sinful tool that the devil used to shred America’s moral fabric.”

It was before he developed a deliberating chronic pain disorder that he had this mindset. The unbearable pain was followed by panic attacks, depression and suicidal thoughts. As Merritt looked for answers from professionals — from neurologists to a Jewish healer — he found no answers and was only given a handful of pills to relieve his pain, accompanied by side effects. 

Despaired, Merritt visited a green doctor in Venice Beach, California and considered a medical cannabis prescription. A small dose of miracle indeed, as Merritt felt the pain recede. 

It forced him to reconsider the legalization of cannabis. “Perhaps marijuana should be legalized and regulated like alcohol and tobacco rather than banned like heroin and meth,” Merritt said.

people sitting on chair in churchMerrit admitted that conservative Christians have been on a war with drugs and are the opponents of the legalization of cannabis.

Generally, religious youth were less likely to ever use cannabis than those less religious, regardless of their religious denomination, according to Pennsylvania State University’s Department of Sociology.

Pennsylvania State University further mentioned that adolescents who decrease their religious involvement overtime are more likely to initiate cannabis use and to persistently use — than to never use — compared to adolescents who are stable in their religious involvement. 

However, they concluded their research by stating that, “it appears that only a decline in religious involvement predicts patterns of marijuana use.”


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Though religious implication is still part of the debate, The Hash Marihuana and Hemp Museum in Amsterdam found that cannabis was and is a sacred plant for many and has been historically used in religious ceremonies in many cultures. 

Retrieved from: Sup China

The Hash Marihuana and Hemp Museum described how in Western China, cannabis was used for sacramental purposes. For example, the grave of a shaman dated to 2700 BCE had the flowers of a psychoactive strain of cannabis along with seeds, stems and leaves that was placed in a basket and a bowl which were laid beside the shaman.

In April 2020, Data Bridge Market Research described how the cannabis oil extract market is rapidly expanding, and is expected to continue to grow until 2027. The market analysis forecasts a $25.57 billion growth by 2027, which could heavily impact the economy of the producers. One of the countries to cover the cannabis oil extract market is China. 

However, in China, the use of cannabis remains illegal. Foreign Policy reported that deputy director of narcotics control, Liu Yuejin, publicly denounced marijuana legalization as a “new threat to China.”

woman in red and blue hijab standing on beach shore during daytimeFor Hindus, cannabis has its own historical usage dating back to 1000 BCE, according to the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Collection

Cannabis has mainly been consumed for ritual purposes to worship the goddess Shiva — a god believed to be one of the most important gods in Hinduism and is considered a member of the holy trinity (trimurti) of Hinduism, as reported by Ancient History Encyclopedia. In addition, the plant has been used during Holi Festival as a religious drink called Bhang.

Aceh, the most consevrative Muslim province in Indonesia — a country in Southeast Asia —  has a long history with cannabis. The Transnational Institute (TNI), described in a policy briefing that cannabis was used as herbal remedies for diabetes and cooking to enhance flavor. men kneeling and bowing inside building

The Jakarta Post described how local historian, Tarmizi Abdul Hamid, indicated that cannabis use from medicine and cooking to repelling pests from crops and preserving food can be found in manuscripts that pre-date the Dutch Colonial arrival in the 1800s.

Though limited research had been done, TNI reported that local Acehnese use cannabis for spiritual practices. When asked, locals referred to several holy books such as Mujarabat and Tajul Muluk, which provide religious grounds for medicinal use of cannabis. The holy books were translated from ancient Malay back in the 16th century. The book suggests that cannabis is a crucial herbal remedy to cure sickness. 

There has been a historical usage of cannabis in Aceh. Reports from The Star described the cannabis coffee in Aceh and how risky it is, as Indonesian police hunt down cannabis farmers and imprison users.

Retrieved from: Plant Before Pills

For coffee at least, the ratio of cannabis that is put in the coffee is 30%. If anything more than 30% is added, the consumer loses the taste of the coffee.

Unfortunately for Acehnese, cannabis usage was outlawed in the 70s and Indonesia has since adopted some of the world’s strictest drug laws from life imprisonment to death penalty — TNI and The Star both confirmed. 

In February 2020, Acehnese have since then urged Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo to legalize cannabis in a meeting with the lawmaking body, the People’s Representative Council (DPR), and the Indonesian Minister of Trade, Agus Suparmanto,  VICE Media reported. 

It is evident that cannabis has been historically used. Cultures, practices and rituals worth centuries in the making should be preserved. But how so are governments going to take action to ensure the legalization of cannabis to preserve these cultures? 


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Emerald contributor since July 2020
Journalist and contributor for Emerald; covering the social, cultural, political and medical side of cannabis and other (mostly sensitive) issues. For any collaborations or tips, email me at [].


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