Indiana's Religious Freedom Act Results in First Church of Cannabis

Indiana signed a new bill into law last week, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). This controversial law was intended to protect business owners who object to serving the LGBT community on religious grounds. But it has already begun to have some unforeseen consequences…
The same day the bill was signed into law, Indianapolis businessman Bill Levin filed paperwork to start a new church called The First Church of Cannabis, Inc. The application was approved the next day.
In just six days, The First Church of Cannabis has already reached 11,000 likes on Facebook, where Bill greets his flock every morning with a message of love and encouragement, and announces the times of the communal “prayer puffs.” They have also raised more than $3,000 toward construction of their first temple – which they plan to build out of hempcrete. Members of the church are known as “cannataerians,” and will be asked for a monthly donation of $4.20.
The church doctrine lists marijuana as it’s official sacrament, and Levin (who humorously refers to himself as the “Grand Poohba and Minister of Love”) told the Washington Post that the church plans to grow hemp, although it will not be buying or selling marijuana. He also said that his new religion does not have any traditional notions of sin or guilt, and will not use any conventional holy books, but instead will teach the contents of Jack Herer’s cannabis classic, “The Emperor Wears No Clothes.”
Besides advocating for cannabis, the church also plans to offer addiction counseling, and to teach and demonstrate a proper way of life, showing love and compassion to all. Toward that end the church has established the “Deity Dozen,” a modern 12 commandments for living a good life. Number one on the list is (and I quote) “Don’t be an asshole.” The Deity Dozen also encourages members to laugh often and be positive, to grow their own food, “Don’t be a troll on the internet,” and of course, smoke cannabis.
Both medical and recreational cannabis are currently illegal under Indiana state law, but the RFRA defends a person’s right to practice their religion without being prohibited by law. Bill Levin and his cannataerians are putting Indiana’s new law to the test by claiming the right to get high as a religious freedom, a religious right.
According to RFRA, the state cannot impinge upon a citizens religious rights unless it can demonstrate a “compelling interest” in doing so. Furthermore, they must prove that it is the “least burdensome” way of achieving said interest. The pressure is now put upon the state of Indiana to prove a compelling interest in keeping people from smoking pot as a religious practice and aid to worship.
Can they prove that marijuana is a dangerous and addictive gateway drug that corrupts our youth and undermines the social order? Or did they just inadvertently give Indiana pot smokers a religious “Get Out of Jail Free” card?
Stay tuned to find out.
image via: cannaterian.org

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Why Does Weed Make Music Sound Better?

Marijuana played a big role in my coming of age, and coming into my own in terms of my beliefs, my identity, my taste in art and music. In my early youth I was happy to listen to whatever my friends were listening to (which in America, in the 90’s, was mostly punk rock, grunge, alternative, etc), to talk like them and dress like them. I just wanted to fit in, to belong, to be a part of the crowd.
But when I was around 16, something shifted. I was no longer content to buy the same clothes and CDs as other kids. My music was no longer a social statement about which clique I was in. I was listening for the pure pleasure of it. I no longer cared what others thought or what they liked. I had started to form my own idea about what was cool.
It’s no coincidence that this was around the same time I discovered pot. Suddenly I had this pharmacological portal to another dimension where I was free to think outside the box; a way to relax and let go of my crippling teen angst, and appreciate the depth and beauty of the world; an altered state of mind where food tasted better, novels and poems came to life, movies and plays became profoundly moving, and music could carry me away to a state of timeless rapture and bliss.
I spent countless hours stoned, alone in the dark within headphones on, listening to entire albums on repeat, seeking out artists and genres I’d never heard before, exploring new worlds of sound and emotion. I’m sure that most of you can relate.
Cannabis does, undoubtedly, make music sound better, as anyone who’s tried it, ever, will attest. But we know very little about how or why marijuana effects the way we hear music. Because of the lingering federal ban on cannabis, research studies have thus far been limited to mice and other animals, or surveys and interviews of volunteers, with little or no control over dosage, set and setting.
What we can glean, from the scientific evidence thus far accumulated, is that THC and other molecules in the plant are similar to naturally occurring chemicals in our brains. They interact with our endocannabinoid system, lighting up certain regions which are associated with mood, memory, appetite and metabolism, and our responses to pain and stress.
The effects of cannabis can vary wildly based on the particular strain consumed, the manner of consumption, the set and setting in which it is used, and the expectations, mood, mindset and biochemistry of the individual user. But generally speaking, marijuana is a pain reliever, stress reducer, and mood enhancer, which makes us feel relaxed, happy, dreamy, thoughtful, etc. This is, of course, the ideal state of mind in which to appreciate music or any kind of art.
Cannabis changes the way the brain distinguishes between relevant and irrelevant stimuli, and screens or filters sense data accordingly. Marijuana suppresses that filtering process, so that when high we are subjected to a fuller range of sensory input, instead of the narrow spectrum deemed important by our subconscious mind.
Cannabis also suppresses the short term memory, altering the way we experience time. We stop analyzing the moments that have just passed by, and anticipating what is yet to be. We find ourselves more fully immersed in the present moment, savoring and appreciating each sensual detail as it unfolds, feeling like time has slowed down or even stopped.
Normally, in our sober, everyday waking state of consciousness, besides all our constant internal chatter (worrying, planning, going over and over things, random thoughts), there is also a lot of unconscious screening and processing going on, all of which affects what we hear, notice and remember. It affects how we hear music, and how we experience the world around us.
When we’re stoned, we aren’t caught up in cognitive analysis. We aren’t filtering out “irrelevant” sounds. We aren’t obsessing over the stressors of daily life. Rather, we’re fully in the moment, in a state of rapt attention; surrendered to the music, hanging on each and every note, and the spaces between them, moved by subtle variations of tone and tempo, and the emotions that they convey.
The truth is that we don’t completely understand why cannabis makes us feel the way we do, or why it makes music sound so damn good. With the changing legal landscape surrounding marijuana, we are bound to see some fascinating studies being done in the near future, that will reveal a great deal. But we will probably never understand it completely, anymore than we fully understand the brain, or human consciousness. The bottom line is that it works. So why ask why?
Just sit back and relax, put on some good tunes, light up… and enjoy.

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Cannabis: Medicine for the Mind, Body and Soul

Cannabis has been cultivated and consumed by humans for thousands of years. It is one of the most powerful and versatile medicines in history, and has been used to treat everything from depression and anxiety, to cancer and malaria. And yet, at the time of this writing, it is still classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic by the U.S. government, and prohibited and demonized by most nations on earth.
In this article, I’d like to explore the many uses of cannabis as a medicine, not just for physical ailments, but a holistic medicine for the mind, body and soul. I’d like to help dispel the fear and the lies that have surrounded marijuana for more than a hundred years, and to help spread knowledge, understanding and acceptance of this miraculous plant, and the ways that it can contribute to our health and well-being, as individuals and as a society.
Good For the Body
According to legend, the Chinese emperor Shen-Nung penned what might have been the first encyclopedia of medicine around 2700 B.C. It listed hundreds of plants and minerals, along with their known medicinal uses. Among them was cannabis sativa, which was known as “Ma” in ancient China, and used to treat rheumatism, gout, malaria, constipation, stomach and intestinal problems, nutrient deficiencies, and cold symptoms. It was applied to ulcers and sores.
More than four thousand years later, we area still using marijuana to treat bodily illness, and we continue to discover new medicinal uses. Today, marijuana is prescribed as a treatment for glaucoma, epilepsy, inflammation, insomnia and tremors. It is used to relieve chronic pain and stress. It is the most effective way to suppress nausea and vomiting, and stimulate appetite, and it has saved the lives of patients with anorexia, or unable to eat due to cancer treatments and auto-immune disorders.
There is also a growing body of evidence that cannabis has powerful cancer fighting properties. At least twenty studies have been done which concluded that THC and cannabidiol can slow the growth of tumors, encourage apoptosis, and effectively treat many kinds of cancer, including brain, breast and lung cancer, leukemia and lymphoma. These claims have yet to be acknowledged by the medical mainstream, which is funded and largely controlled by profit-driven corporate interests.
A Joint A Day Keeps the Psychiatrist Away
Marijuana has long been associated with schizophrenia and mental illness, not because of scientific evidence, but mainly due to a propaganda campaign that dates back to “public service announcements” circulated by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in the 1930s, and the hilariously awful film Reefer Madness.
The reality is that no causal link has ever been established between pot and mental illness. Surveys show that mentally ill people tend to use cannabis (and other drugs) more than the general population, but this can largely be explained as an attempt to self-medicate.
What the latest research actually suggests is that marijuana may in fact help treat depression, anxiety, bi-polar, PTSD, OCD, ADD, even addiction to opiates and other drugs, and all that with far less harmful side effects than the commonly prescribed psychiatric drugs. These studies are being proven in practice by people like Dr. Frank Lucido and Dr. Jeremy Spiegel, who are bravely blazing the trail by prescribing cannabis to their own patients.
And then of course you have millions of people around the world, myself included, who have found through our own informal experiments that smoking cannabis relieves boredom, depression and stress, and induces tranquility and happiness. I think I speak for all of us, when I say that we need no research studies, no doctors or scientists, to tell us what we already know firsthand.
Balm For The Soul
As long ago as 2000 B.C., the people of India had discovered the intoxicating properties of cannabis, and were using it as part of their religious worship, to induce visionary states. They would smoke buds or hashish (known as charas) in clay pipes (called chillums) or use it to prepare a bhang, a drink made with milk and spices.
Cannabis was also used as a sacrament by ancient Persians and Egyptians, by the nomadic Scythians and the old Germanic tribes of Europe. The methods and practices differ from culture to culture, but the common theme is this: the marijuana high induces a state of mind in which we are more sensitive to unseen, spiritual forces. It enables the mystic to shift from the ordinary, ego-centric state of consciousness, to a state more in tune with the infinite, and more receptive to inspiration, be it artistic or Divine.
Pot is still used that way today, despite local and international prohibition, most famously by the Rastafari movement in Jamaica, but also by modern fringe churches like the Santo Daime, the Church of the Universe, and the Way of Infinite Harmony. Not to mention millions around the world, myself included, who don’t belong to any of these churches, but who in the privacy of our own homes, or in the timeless temple of the great outdoors, continue to use marijuana as an aid to meditation and finding peace of mind.
Cannabis has played a key role in human culture, religion, medicine and industry from the very beginning. For thousands of years, it was used peacefully to make rope, paper and cloth, to heal the sick, to relax the mind and nourish the soul. Marijuana prohibition is a recent phenomenon, driven by fear and funded by corporate interests, in an effort to enforce the current social and economic order. But not for much longer!
Legalization is at hand. Cannabis is being rediscovered as a cure for many ills, both mental and physical, and being restored to it’s rightful place as a revered sacrament and doorway to the Divine, helping individuals to find and feel a sense of meaning and connection that is so needed in this day and age.
It’s about time.


I Believe In Cannabis

I believe in cannabis.
I believe that it’s medicinal properties far outweigh those scant few risks that haven’t yet been debunked by scientific research. I believe that, whatever negative side effects there may be from smoking weed, they are far less harmful than those of the pills you see advertised on television every 15 minutes. And I believe that more and more medical applications will be discovered with time.
I believe that cannabis prohibition has done more harm than cannabis itself. Making marijuana illegal creates a black market for a plant which could be grown in anyone’s garden, making it possible for hustlers and gangs to profit from what should be freely available for all. It turns peaceful, law abiding people into “criminals,” who are then harassed and persecuted, handcuffed and thrown in jail. Every day, innocent people have their careers and their finances destroyed, their families torn apart, and their lives turned upside down, just for kicking back and smoking a little grass.
I believe that the urge to get high is normal and natural, felt by all people, and indulged in a variety of different ways. Some people drink beer to feel good, others prefer wine or coffee. Some people go jogging or rock climbing; others go out dancing, or eat a pint of ice cream. Everyone has something that they do to relax and make themselves feel better, whether it’s yoga or television, prayer or rock music, sex or shopping.
I believe that most people who condemn marijuana haven’t even tried it, and are merely afraid of what they don’t understand. Those same folks all probably have their own way of “taking the edge off,” which is likely more harmful and addictive than cannabis, just not against the law.
But I am not afraid to try anything: cigarettes and booze, drugs and pills, yoga and chanting, prayer and meditation, music and dancing, fasting and feasting… I’ve done it all. I have found that compared to many of the “approved” substances – like alcohol, tobacco and anti-depressants – cannabis is a relatively harmless way to catch a buzz. It may not be as healthy as a good work out, or a good fuck, for that matter, but it makes them both more fun. And it’s certainly a lot better for you than compulsive eating or shopping, or zoning out in front of the TV.
Getting high helps me to be a healthy, sane and active member of society. Smoking this herb makes me feel more alive. It makes music sound better, and food taste better, and the tedious routines of everyday life just a little bit more exciting. It helps me to appreciate art and poetry, and the beauty of nature. It energizes my mind and body, and inspires me to think for myself, to ask deep questions, and ponder the wonder and mystery of existence. It stimulates my creativity, and makes my writing more lively and interesting.
I believe that smoking a joint while taking a walk outside is absolutely one of the best and most pleasant things a person can do, anytime, night or day, rain or shine. Your worries and stress just melt away, replaced by a joyous, innocent curiosity about all the little things we tend to overlook. It awakens a sense of awe and gratitude, a sense of connection to and harmony with the natural world.
I believe that the “cannabis state of mind” can contribute to our happiness and well-being, as individuals and as a society. I believe it can inspire great works of art, therapeutic personal insights, and brilliant technical innovations in all fields of human endeavor (both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were pot smokers). I believe that being high shows us the benefits of slowing down and “taking it easy,” and that it can help us find contentment and meaning in a world out of balance.
I believe in cannabis.
I believe that the philosophical ramblings of stoners everywhere (myself included) are worth reading and contemplating. There really might be whole universes within the atoms of our fingernails. The world is much more strange and intricate, more amazing and beautiful than we realize – and I believe that cannabis can help us to see and appreciate it more fully.