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Many religions have beliefs about drug use; these vary greatly, with some traditions placing the ritual use of entheogens at the center of religious activity, while others prohibit drug use altogether.

Indigenous religions

Many indigenous and shamanistic religions of the Americas, Asia and other continents use entheogenic drugs to make contact with the divine as part of their religious rituals. Most commonly, these are used in shamanistic practice involving healing rituals.

Cannabis is widely used in India by Hindu gurus and by Middle Eastern Sufis. Salvia Divinorum and psilocybin mushrooms ("Magic Mushrooms") are used in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Ayahuasca is used ritually among Amazonian Indians. The "Fly Agaric" (Amanita muscaria) mushroom has a long shamanistic use in Europe and Russia. Also, in Europe Damiana, various Nightshades (Solanaceae) like Datura, Brugmansia, Belladonna and other plants have been used. Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) and other Mescaline containing cacti has a widespread use among Mexican and some North American Indians. Aztecs used the LS containing seeds (similar to LSD, but not as potent) of the very common morning glory (Ipomoea violacea) creeper, and the related Hawaiian baby woodrose, present in other places than Hawaii despite its name, has also had use among indigenous people because of its LSA-containing seeds. In some places, even frogs and fish are consumed for their intoxicating effects.

In many Eastern countries, including China (which is said to be dominated most by Confucianism), opium has been used, especially by the elderly, without many social problems. In regionss like Thailand (Buddhist) and Bali (Hindu), the leaves of Kratom tree have been used as an ingredient in a tea with mild stimulant and opioid properties.

Ancient Greece

Many Ancient Greek mystery religions are hypothesized to have centered around the use of entheogens, such as the Kykeon central to the Eleusinian Mysteries. Recent research suggests that the prophesies of the Delphic Oracle of Apollo were uttered by priestesses under the influence of gaseous vapors.


Much of Hindu belief and practice grew out of the use of Soma, a god, plant, and drink which is the focus of the Rigveda. The continued entheogenic use of drugs such as Cannabis is not uncommon among various Hindu sects. Cannabis is connected with the god Shiva who is said to have rested in the shade of the Cannabis plant on a particularly hot day. In gratitude Shiva gave the plant to mankind. Often the drink Bhang is drunk in Shiva's honor, it is a tea typically cooked with milk, spices, cannabis leaves and flowers.


According to the fifth precept of the Pancasila, Buddhists should refrain from any quantity of intoxicants which would prevent mindfulness or cause heedlessness.[1]

Many modern Buddhist schools have strongly discouraged the use of intoxicants or psychoactives of any kind however they may not be prohibited in all circumstances in all traditions. For example: Priests in the Soto Zen tradition of Japan, are allowed to consume alcohol and Tibetan artwork appears to implicate the utilization of cannabis and psychoactive mushrooms at some point in the culturally diverse history of the tradition.


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 do not interfere with one's ritual duties and do not 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 all adult men are required to get drunk on Purim until they forget the difference between the Hebrew phrases "Cursed is Haman" and "Blessed is Mordechai", which signified reaching the spiritual world Atzilut where all opposites unite. In some Jewish communities there is a custom to drink on Simchat Torah as well. Drinking as a mind-altering practice is commonly used during the Farbrengens of the Habad Hasidim. A large body of Habad literature refers to the spiritual power of alcohol, when used for the sake of connecting to God and achieving brotherly love among fellows Jews.

Wine plays a prominent role in many Jewish rituals, most notably the kiddush. [[Hasidic Judaism Hasidic Jews]] often engage in a free ceremony called "Tisch" in which drinks 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. [2][3]

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.[4] 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, mentions in his books LSD and mescaline as a source of positive spiritual experience. He suggested that some medieval Kabbalists used some psychedelic drugs, though it was discouraged by the more conservative mystics.[5][6] 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,[7] 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 [8]) which is mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible as a bartering material, incense, and an ingredient in Holy anointing oil used by the high priest of the temple.

Occasional use of cannabis is accepted as a spiritual tool by some Breslov Hasidim, especially on Purim, as well as among some Sephardic Jews.

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 stems from the Hebrew root that means "intoxicating".[9]


Most Christian denominations disapprove of the use of most drugs, although many would exclude moderate use of drugs socially and legally acceptable in modern Western society, such as alcohol and caffeine. The smoking of tobacco is also disapproved of by some Christians although many denominations do not have any official stance on it. Some groups (e.g. Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses) discourage or prohibit the use of even these substances as well.

Jesus and many Biblical figures drank wine, therefore, most Christians do not believe it possible to prohibit the moderate consumption of wine. Indeed, Christians who believe in some form of Real Presence (e.g. Catholics, Orthodox), believe that wine in the Eucharist becomes the very blood of Christ; some, notably Methodists associated with the temperance movement, use grape juice instead.

The best known Western/Christian prohibition against alcohol happened in the USA in the 1920s, where concerned prohibitionists were worried over the dangerous side effects of this product. However, the demand for alcohol was massive and a new class of criminals stepped in and created the supply. The consequences were violent, organized crime and incredible damage to the people because criminals had taken over the production of alcohol. Combined with the popular demand for alcohol it was finally decided that alcohol would be legalized and brought back to its initial legal status. So instead of using punitive action against alcohol users, today the strategy is more aimed at harm reduction.


Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol and by extension other drugs of similar or greater strength. It also disapproves of tobacco use, although not all deem it prohibited. In some Islamic countries, alcohol is prohibited; and sometimes possession, manufacture, or trade is punished with severe penalties (e.g., corporal or capital punishment).

From the Islamic point of view, the most important aspect determining the illicitness of recreational drugs is whether or not it is of any harm.

"And make not your own hands contribute to your destruction." Surah, Al-Baqara, 2: 195 Drugs with the potential to lead to intoxication or other significantly altered states of consciousness (such as alcohol, Cannabis, opium and its derivatives, cocaine, psychedelics and so on) are prohibited. However, khat leaves are often chewed or consumed in some Arabic countries (particularly in Yemen). Khat contains the alkaloid called cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant.

The Muslim nations of Turkey and Egypt were instrumental in banning opium, cocaine, and cannabis when the League of Nations (the forerunner of the United Nations) committed to the 1925 International Convention relating to opium and other dangerous 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 coca. 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.

Bahá'í Faith

Bahá'ís are forbidden to drink alcohol or to take drugs, unless prescribed by doctors. Accordingly, the sale and trafficking of such substances is also forbidden. Smoking is discouraged but not prohibited.

Rastafari movement

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

See also


  1. Dahlke, Paul; Sīlācāra, Bhikkhu; Oates, L.R.; Lounsbery, G. Constant (1963). [ "The Five Precepts"]. The Wheel Publication (Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society) (55). 
  2. [1]
  3. [2]
  4. Aryeh Kaplan, Meditation and Kabbalah, p. 108
  5. Aryeh Kaplan, Jewish Meditaion, p. 27
  6. Aryeh Kaplan, Meditation and Kabbalah, p. 156
  7. Kaplan, Aryeh (1981). The Living Torah. New York. p. 442. 
  8. "Cannabis and the Christ: Jesus used Marijuana". Cannabis Culture. 
  9. Josephus, Antiquities, Book III, 7:6

Further reading

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Religion and drugs. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.