Religion And Drugs

This article covers the relationship between religion and drugs.

Many religions have expressed positions on what is acceptable to consume as a means of intoxication for spiritual, pleasure, or medicinal purposes. Psychoactive substances may also play a significant part in the development of religion and religious views as well as in rituals.


In the book Inside the Neolithic Mind, the authors, archaeologists David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce argue that hallucinogenic drugs formed the basis of neolithic religion and rock art. Similar practices and images are found in some contemporary “stone-age” Indigenous peoples in South America using yaje.

Ancient Greece

Some scholars have suggested that Ancient Greek mystery religions employed entheogen, such as the Kykeon central to the Eleusinian Mysteries, to induce a trance or dream state. Research conducted by John R. Hale, Jelle Zeilinga de Boer, Jeffrey P. Chanton and Henry A. Spiller suggests that the prophecies of the Delphic Oracle were uttered by Priestesses under the influence of gaseous vapors exuded from the ground. Their findings are published in Questioning the Delphic Oracle: Overview / An Intoxicating Tale.

Pharmacy Pharmacist Chemical Alchemy Portion



In Buddhism the Right View (samyag-dṛṣṭi / sammā-diṭṭhi) can also be translated as “right perspective”, “right outlook” or “right understanding”, is the right way of looking at life, nature, and the world as they really are for us. It is to understand how our reality works. It acts as the reasoning with which someone starts practicing the path. It explains the reasons for our human existence, suffering, sickness, aging, death, the existence of greed, hatred, and delusion. Right view gives direction and efficacy to the other seven path factors. It begins with concepts and propositional knowledge, but through the practice of right concentration, it gradually becomes transmuted into wisdom, which can eradicate the fetters of the mind. An understanding of right view will inspire the person to lead a virtuous life in line with right view. In the Pāli and Chinese canons, it is explained thus:

Right livelihood

Right livelihood (samyag-ājīva / sammā-ājīva). This means that practitioners ought not to engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm for other living beings. In the Chinese and Pali Canon, it is explained thus:

And what is right livelihood? There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones, having abandoned dishonest livelihood, keeps his life going with right livelihood: This is called right livelihood.

More concretely today interpretations include “work and career need to be integrated into life as a Buddhist,” it is also an ethical livelihood, “wealth obtained through rightful means” (Bhikku Basnagoda Rahula) – that means being honest and ethical in business dealings, not to cheat, lie or steal. As people are spending most of their time at work, it’s important to assess how our work affects our mind and heart. So important questions include “How can work become meaningful? How can it be a support, not a hindrance, to spiritual practice — a place to deepen our awareness and kindness?”

The five types of businesses that should not be undertaken:

  1. Business in weapons: trading in all kinds of weapons and instruments for killing.
  2. Business in human beings: slave trading, prostitution, or the buying and selling of children or adults.
  3. Business in meat: “meat” refers to the bodies of beings after they are killed. This includes breeding animals for slaughter.
  4. Business in intoxicants: manufacturing or selling intoxicating drinks or addictive drugs.
  5. Business in poison: producing or trading in any kind of poison or a toxic product designed to kill.

The fifth precept

According to the fifth precept of the Pancasila, Buddhists are meant to refrain from any quantity of “fermented or distilled beverages” which would prevent mindfulness or cause heedlessness. In the Pali Tipitaka the precept is explicitly concerned with alcoholic beverages:

“I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.”
Surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.

However, caffeine and tea are permitted, even encouraged for monks of most traditions, as it is believed to promote wakefulness.

Generally speaking, the vast majority of Buddhists and Buddhist sects denounce and have historically frowned upon the use of any intoxicants by an individual who has taken the five precepts. Most Buddhists view the use and abuse of intoxicants to be a hindrance in the development of an enlightened mind. However, there are a few historical and doctrinal exceptions.


Many modern Buddhist schools have strongly discouraged the use of psychoactive drugs of any kind; however, they may not be prohibited in all circumstances in all traditions. Some denominations of tantric or esoteric Buddhism especially exemplify the latter, often with the principle skillful means:


For example, as part of the ganachakra tsok ritual (as well as Homa, abhisheka and sometimes drubchen) some Tibetan Buddhists and Bönpos have been known to ingest small amounts of grain alcohol (called amrit or amrita) as an offering. If a member is an alcoholic, or for some other reason does not wish to partake in the drinking of the alcoholic offering, then he or she may dip a finger in the alcohol and then flick it three times as part of the ceremony.

Amrita is also possibly the same as, or at least in some sense a conceptual derivative of the ancient Hindu soma. (The latter which historians often equate with Amanita muscaria or other Amanita psychoactive fungi.) Crowley (1996) states:

“Undoubtedly, the striking parallels between “The legend about Chakdor” and the Hindu legend of the origin of soma show that the Buddhist amrita and the Hindu soma were at one time understood to be identical. Moreover, the principal property of amrita is, to this day, perceived by Buddhists as being a species of inebriation, however symbolically this inebriation may be interpreted. Why else would beer (Tibetan chhang, “barley beer”) be used by yogins as a symbolic substitute for amrita [Ardussi]? Conversely, why else would the term bDud.rTsi be used as a poetic synonym for beer?

Conversely, in Tibetan and Sherpa lore there is a story about a monk who came across a woman who told him that he must either:

  • a. kill her goat,
  • b. sleep with her, or
  • c. drink a mug of beer.
  • d. All of the above.

The monk thought to himself,

well, surely if I kill the goat then I will be causing great suffering since a living being will die. If I sleep with the woman then I will have broken another great vow of a monk and will surely be lost to the ways of the world. Lastly, if I drink the beer then perhaps no great harm will come and I will only be intoxicated for a while, and most importantly I will only be hurting myself.

(In the context of the story this instance is of particular importance to him because monks in the Mahayana and Vajrayana try to bring all sentient beings to enlightenment as part of their goal.)

So the monk drank the mug of beer and then he became very drunk. In his drunkenness he proceeded to kill the woman and sleep with the goat, breaking all three vows and, at least in his eyes, doing much harm in the world. The lesson of this story is meant to be that, at least according to the cultures from which it delineates, alcohol causes one to break all of one’s vows, in a sense that one could say it is the cause of all other harmful deeds.

The Vajrayana teacher Drupon Thinley Ningpo Rinpoche has said that as part of the five precepts which a layperson takes upon taking refuge, that although they must refrain from taking intoxicants, they may drink enough so as they do not become drunk. Bhikkus and Bhikkunis (monks and nuns, respectively), on the other hand, who have taken the ten vows as part of taking refuge and becoming ordained, cannot imbibe any amount of alcohol or other drugs, other than pharmaceuticals taken as medicine.

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, is known as teetotaler and non-smoker.


There is some evidence regarding the use of deliriant Datura seeds (known as candabija) in Dharmic rituals associated with many tantras – namely the VajramahabhairavaSamputaMahakalaGuhyasamajaTara and Krsnayamari tantras – as well as cannabis and other entheogens in minority Vajrayana sanghas. Ronald M Davidson says that in Indian Vajrayana, Datura was:

“employed as a narcotic paste or as wood in a fire ceremony and could be easily absorbed through the skin or the lungs. The seeds of this powerful narcotic, termed “passion seeds” (candabija), are the strongest elements and contain the alkaloids hyoscine, hyoscyamine, and atropine in forms that survive burning or boiling. In even moderate doses, datura can render a person virtually immobile with severe belladonna-like hallucinations.”

In the Profound Summarizing Notes on the Path Presented as the Three Continua a Sakya Lamdre text, by Jamyang Khyentse Wangchuk (1524-1568), the use of Datura in combination with other substances, is prescribed as part of a meditation practice meant to establish that “All the phenomena included in apparent existence, samsara and nirvana, are not established outside of one’s mind.”

Ian Baker writes that Tibetan terma literature such as the Vima Nyingtik describes “various concoctions of mind altering substances, including datura and oleander, which can be formed into pills or placed directly in the eyes to induce visions and illuminate hidden contents of the psyche.”

A book titled Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics (2002), details the history of Buddhism and the use of psychedelic drugs, and includes essays by modern Buddhist teachers on the topic.




Main article: Zen and Zen Proverbs

Zen Buddhism is known for stressing the precepts. In Japan, however, where Zen flourished historically, there are a number of examples of misconduct on the part of monks and laypeople alike. This often involved the use of alcohol, as sake drinking has and continues to be a well known aspect of Japanese culture.

The Japanese Zen monk and abbot, shakuhachi player and poet Ikkyu was known for his unconventional take on Zen Buddhism: His style of expressing dharma is sometimes deemed “Red Thread Zen” or “Crazy Cloud Zen” for its unorthodox characteristics. Ikkyu is considered both a heretic and saint in the Rinzai Zen tradition, and was known for his derogatory poetry, open alcoholism and for frequenting the services of prostitutes in brothels. He personally found no conflict between his lifestyle and Buddhism.

There are several koans (Zen riddles) referencing the drinking of sake (rice wine); for instance Mumonkan’s tenth koan titled Seizei Is Utterly Destitute:

‘Seizei said to Sozan, “Seizei is utterly destitute. Will you give him support?” Sozan called out: “Seizei!” Seizei responded, “Yes sir?!” Sozan said, “You have finished three cups of the finest wine in China, and still you say you have not yet moistened your lips!”‘

Another monk, Gudo, is mentioned in a koan called Finding a Diamond on a Muddy Road buying a gallon of sake.


Judaism maintains that people do not own their bodies – they belong to God. As a result, Jews are not permitted to harm, mutilate, destroy or take risks with their bodies, life or health with activities such as taking life-threatening drugs. However, there is no general prohibition against drugs in Judaism, as long as they don’t interfere with one’s ritual duties and don’t cause definite harm, though most rabbis generally prohibit drugs, in order to avoid social, legal and medical problems in their community.

Spiritual use of various alcoholic beverages, sometimes in very large quantities, is common and well known. In some Jewish communities there is a tradition to drink enough on Purim to not be able to distinguish between the Hebrew phrases for “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai”, which signified reaching the spiritual world, Atzilut, where all opposites unite. In many Jewish communities it is customary to drink on Simchat Torah as well. Drinking in small quantities as a mind-altering practice is commonly used during the Farbrengens of the Chabad Hasidim. A large body of Chabad literature refers to the spiritual dangers of drinking, but a few anecdotal references refer to the spirutal power of alcohol, when used for the sake of connecting to God and achieving brotherly love among fellows Jews. The Lubavitcher Rebbe forbade his Chassidim under the age of 40 to consume more than 4 small shots of hard liqueurs. Wine plays a prominent role in many Jewish rituals, most notably the kiddush. Hasidic Jews often engage in a gathering called a tisch in which beverages such as vodka are drunk in a group. Drinking is accompanied by singing and the study of the Torah.

Some Hasidic rabbis, e.g. the Ribnitzer Rebbe, used to drink large amounts of vodka on some special occasions, apparently as a powerful mind-altering method. The Ribnitzer Rebbe also practiced severe sleep deprivation, extremely long meditative prayers and a number of ascetic purification rituals. During his life in the USSR he used to immerse himself every day in ice water.

The spiritual use of caffeine and nicotine as stimulants is well known in the Hasidic communities. Many stories are told about miracles and spiritual journeys performed by the Baal Shem Tov and other famous Tzaddikim with the help of their smoking pipe. Some people suggest that, judging by the nature of these stories, the tobacco was sometimes mixed with strong mind-altering drugs.

The Nazarite vow includes a prohibition on fruit of the vine, to include wine.

A popular Hasidic saying relates coffee to the Psalmic verse “Hope in God”. The Hebrew word for hope (Kave) sounds identical to the Yiddish word for coffee. Coffee is believed to have power to awaken the soul to the worship of God.

Some Kabbalists, including Isaac of Acco and Abraham Abulafia, mention a method of “philosophical meditation”, which involves drinking a cup of “strong wine of Avicenna”, which would induce a trance and would help the adept to ponder over difficult philosophical questions. The exact recipe of this wine remains unknown; Avicenna refers in his works to the effects of opium and datura extracts.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, a prominent researcher of Jewish meditations, suggested that some medieval Kabbalists may have used some psychedelic drugs. Indeed, one can find in Kabbalistic medical manuals cryptic references to the hidden powers of mandrake, harmal and other psychoactive plants, though the exact usage of these powers is hard to decipher.

According to Aryeh Kaplan, cannabis was an ingredient in the Holy anointing oil mentioned in various sacred Hebrew texts. The herb of interest is most commonly known as kaneh-bosem (קְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם) which is mentioned several times in the Old Testament as a bartering material, incense, and an ingredient in Holy anointing oil used by the high priest of the temple. Many Rastafarians, who use cannabis as a sacrament, identify as Jewish.

According to Josephus, the head-dress of the Jewish High Priests’ was modeled upon the capsule of the Hyoscyamus flower, which he calls “Saccharus”. This Greek word for sugar stems from the Hebrew root that means “intoxicating”.

Benny Shanon, a psychology professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, proposed that Moses may have been high on hallucinogenic mushrooms at the time he received the Ten Commandments.


Many Christian denominations disapprove of the use of most illicit drugs. Many denominations permit the moderate use of socially and legally acceptable drugs like alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. Some Christian denominations permit smoking tobacco, while others disapprove of it. Many denominations do not have any official stance on drug use, some more-recent Christian denominations (e.g. Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses) discourage or prohibit the use of any of these substances.

Because Jesus and many Biblical figures drank wine, most Christian denominations do not require teetotalism. In the Eucharist, wine represents (or among Christians who believe in some form of Real Presence, like the Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox churches, actually is) the blood of Christ. Lutherans believe in the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, that the body and blood of Christ are “truly and substantially present in, with and under the forms.” of the consecrated bread and wine (the elements), so that communicants orally eat and drink the holy body and blood of Christ Himself as well as the bread and wine (cf. Augsburg Confession, Article 10) in this Sacrament. The Lutheran doctrine of the Real Presence is more accurately and formally known as “the Sacramental Union.” It has been inaccurately called “consubstantiation”, a term which is specifically rejected by most Lutheran churches and theologians.

On the other hand, some Protestant Christian denominations, such as Baptists and Methodists associated with the temperance movement, encourage or require teetotalism. In some Protestant denomination, grape juice or non-alcoholic wine is used in place of wine to represent the blood of Christ.

The best known Western prohibition against alcohol happened in the United States in the 1920s, where concerned prohibitionists were worried about its dangerous side effects. However, the demand for alcohol remained and criminals stepped in and created the supply. The consequences of organized crime and the popular demand for alcohol, led to alcohol being legalized again.

The Seventh-day Adventists is supportive of scientific medicine. It promotes eradication of illicit drug use and promotes abstinence against tobacco and alchahol., and promotes a measured and balanced approach to use of both medicinal drugs as well as natural remedies (which it neither discourages or prohibits), promotes the control of medicines that may be abused, and promotes vaccination and immunization.


Main article: Haram

Islam prohibits all drugs that are not medically prescribed. Islam’s prohibition of drugs stems from two concerns:

  • their intoxication effects
  • their harm to the human body

There are numerous verses in the Qur’an and hadith that ban khamr (intoxicants, including alcohol). Muhammad said:

Every intoxicant is like alcohol, and every (type of) alcohol is prohibited. (Muslim)

The second reason for banning drugs is that they are believed to have a harmful effect on the body. The Qur’an says,

“And make not your own hands contribute to your destruction.” Surah, Al-Baqara, 2: 195

The Muslim nations of Turkey and Egypt were instrumental in banning opium, cocaine, and cannabis when the League of Nations committed to the 1925 International Convention relating to opium and other drugs (later the 1934 Dangerous Drugs Act). The primary goal was to ban opium and cocaine, but cannabis was added to the list, and it remained there largely unnoticed due to the much more heated debate over opium and cocaine. The 1925 Act has been the foundation upon which every subsequent policy in the United Nations has been founded. Cannabis use and abuse as an intoxicant was largely unknown in the West at that point, but Islamic leaders have been critical of it since the 13th century.

O You who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones and (divination by) arrows are an abomination of Satan’s handiwork. Avoid (such abominations) that you may prosper. (5:90)

Satan’s plan is to sow hatred and enmity amongst you with intoxicants and gambling, and to hamper you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. Will you not give up? (5:91)

There are no prohibitions in Islam on alcohol for scientific, industrial or automotive use and cannabis is generally permitted for medicinal purposes.

In spite of these restrictions on substance use, tobacco, caffeine and recreational use of cannabis still occur widely throughout many Muslim nations.

Rastafari movement

Main article: Rastafari movement

A Rasta man wearing symbols of his religious identity in Barbados

A Rastaman in Barbados, wearing a rastacap decorated in the Rastafari colours: green, gold, red and black

Many Rastafari believe cannabis, which they call “ganja,” “the herb,” or “Kaya,” is a sacred gift of Jah. It may be used for spiritual purposes to commune with God, but should not be used profanely. The use of other drugs, however, including alcohol, is frowned upon. Many believe that the wine Jesus/Iyesus drank was not an alcoholic beverage, but simply the juice of grapes or other fruits.

While some Rastafari suggest that the Bible may refer to marijuana, it is generally held by academics specializing in the archaeology and paleobotany of Ancient Israel, and those specializing in the lexicography of the Hebrew Bible, that cannabis is not documented or mentioned in early Judaism. Against this some popular writers have argued that there is evidence for religious use of cannabis in the Hebrew Bible, although this hypothesis and some of the specific case studies (e.g., John Allegro in relation to Qumran, 1970) have been “widely dismissed as erroneous” (Merlin, 2003). The primary advocate of a religious use of cannabis plant in early Judaism was Sula Benet(1967), who claimed that the plant kaneh bosm קְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם mentioned five times in the Hebrew Bible, and used in the holy anointing oil of the Book of Exodus, was in fact cannabis, although lexicons of Hebrew and dictionaries of plants of the Bible such as by Michael Zohary (1985), Hans Arne Jensen (2004) and James A. Duke (2010) and others identify the plant in question as either Acorus calamus or Cymbopogon citratus.


A “reasoning” is a simple event where the Rastas gather, smoke cannabis (“ganja”), and discuss. The person honored by being allowed to light the herb says a short sentence beforehand. The ganja is passed in a clockwise fashion (passing ‘pon the lef’ han’ side) except in times of war, when it is passed counterclockwise. It is used to reason with Jah.


A “groundation” (also spelled “grounation”) or “binghi” is a holy day; the name “binghi” is derived from “Nyabinghi” (literally “Nya” meaning “black” and “Binghi” meaning “victory”). Binghis are marked by much dancing, singing, feasting, and the smoking of “ganja”, and can last for several days.

Bible verses which Rastas believe justify cannabis use

…thou shalt eat the herb of the field. – Genesis 3.18

…eat every herb of the land. – Exodus 10:12

Better is a dinner of herb where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith. – Proverbs 15:17

Beliefs about other drugs

According to many Rastas, the illegality of cannabis in many nations is evidence of persecution of Rastafari. They are not surprised that it is illegal, viewing Cannabis as a powerful substance that opens people’s minds to the truth – something the Babylon system, they reason, clearly does not want. Cannabis use is contrasted with the use of alcohol and other drugs, which they feel destroy the mind.


Alcoholic drinks are commonly used during Asatru blots but non-alcoholic drinks can be substituted.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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