Marijuana policy would have us thinking there are only two ways to use cannabis: medically, for severe conditions, and recreationally, for adults who just want to get high. Of course, the medical-versus-recreational dichotomy fails to account for the variety of other nuanced reasons to consume cannabis — reasons that, in fact, are increasingly becoming the primary motivation behind cannabis consumption.

So picture this: a cannabis ceremony that defines the herb as sacred and invites participants to journey inward. As with other plant ceremonies, be it cacao or ayahuasca, the ceremony is musical and honors the plant's inherent wisdom and spirit — as unfamiliar as that notion may be to those who've experienced only the clinical atmosphere of a medical dispensary, or the commercialism of adult-use cannabis.

Cannabis for spirituality and wellness — to nourish the soul, if you will — goes beyond pure recreation or specified medical purposes. Putting aside any judgments about hippie-dippie rhetoric, spirituality and wellness are increasingly the driving factors behind today's “new” cannabis consumption.

“Cannabis is a sacred plant that you need to commune with and properly respect,” says Sari Gabbay, who leads a cannabis ceremony at her annual retreat, Cannabliss, happening April 19-24 in Malibu. “Cannabis brings you to yourself, to come home to where you are. When you do a ceremony and sit with intention, it allows you to reveal aspects of you that you need to look at, contemplate, feel and observe. It's a healing and ritualistic way of working with cannabis.”

Founder of creative agency Redefining Cannabis, Gabbay's life work is offering a new spin on the cannabis plant. Through her branding and marketing work, alongside curating the Cannabliss retreat, Gabbay is modernizing the image of cannabis by drawing on ancient wisdom about wellness and sacred plant-based medicine.

Some happy pot explorers at Cannabliss 2017; Credit: Courtesy Cannabliss

Some happy pot explorers at Cannabliss 2017; Credit: Courtesy Cannabliss

This isn't about the latest vape-pen technology or breeding technique — it's about updating the image of cannabis as a tool for self-knowledge and self-improvement. “The beauty of cannabis is that it allows you to tap into so many facets of your life, so there's the educational, scientific, physical, creative and spiritual aspect of it,” Gabbay says. “Look at how many people use cannabis and yoga together and why, meditate with cannabis and why, who are bringing that spiritual aspect in.”

The whole premise is that cannabis has a psychoactive effect — an opportunity to engage a different sense of self. “How many people have actually asked themselves, 'How can this allow me to really benefit?' instead of just, 'Oh, I'm high,'” she says. “How many conversations do you have that are deep and meaningful [under the influence of cannabis]? That in itself outlines the underlying spiritual aspects of cannabis.”

At the six-day Cannabliss retreat, guests from around the country will not only tap into the spirit of the plant but also learn about its scientific and medicinal components through Kanna-Kare, a certification program created by Dr. Ira Price to provide education on the endocannabinoid system (a network of cannabinoid receptors throughout the body, regulating appetite, pain, mood, sleep and other physiological functions). Alongside yoga, hot tubbing, infused meals and healing arts, guests also will be able to participate in seminars with speakers such as cannabis licensing attorney Ariel Clark or pro-cannabis NFL player Eben Britton.

As the retreat shows, being a responsible, conscious cannabis consumer means not only knowing how to choose the right strain for yourself but also staying socially and politically aware of the context surrounding the plant.

“When I first started working as a physician in cannabis in 2010, nobody wanted to have the conversation, I was waving my own banners,” Price says. “In the past couple years, people are recognizing the benefits [of cannabis] and seeing that cannabis makes our toolbox for treating a lot of diseases much deeper. We're decreasing the stigma — it's not just about big blunts and getting high but about mindful consumption and the medicine of cannabis.”

Legal weed offers a clear distinction between medical and adult use; but within the scope of adult use, there's a growing divide between cannabis for the sake of getting high (and in its own right, recreation is a form of wellness) and cannabis to promote a healthy lifestyle. With more and more newcomers to the cannabis space — the elderly, baby boomers, people who may have only smoked pot 40 years ago in college, or people who've never smoked at all — the emphasis is shifting away from merely getting high.

We see that with the onslaught of non-psychotropic CBD products or non-psychoactive topical salves. Even trends in cannabis breeding are geared toward more CBD and more diverse terpene (aromatic chemical) profiles, rather than merely having the most THC.

HelloMD founder Pamela Hadfield, left, and Ellementa founder Aliza Sherman address an Ellementa gathering.; Credit: Suzanne Sutcliffe Photography

HelloMD founder Pamela Hadfield, left, and Ellementa founder Aliza Sherman address an Ellementa gathering.; Credit: Suzanne Sutcliffe Photography

“For me it's about cannabis in every medicine chest, making it a part of everyday life, removing the stigma,” says Aliza Sherman, founder of Ellementa, a national network for women to educate one another about cannabis. Through regular meetings in cities throughout the country, Ellementa offers women the opportunity to discuss personal matters like PMS and menopause, which cannabis can help. They introduce one another to products that might be helpful and incorporate conversations about the plant into conversations about women's health and purchasing decisions for a healthier lifestyle.

“We have women who care for their entire circle of family and friends, searching for [something for] their ailing parents or child with epilepsy or girlfriend with breast cancer,” Sherman says. “That's the beauty of these gatherings — we have the woman who has never heard of 4/20 and who doesn't know what dabbing is sitting in a room with a woman going to 4/20 festivals and taking dabs every day. It's a dynamic and empowering experience.”

The meetings also offer information on why cannabis was made illegal in the first place — mostly on account of racist politics to incriminate black and brown people, rather than because of anything based in science. “While it's eye-opening to understand the truth about cannabis, it's also frightening how many lies we've believed,” Sherman says. “For us, we love to talk about cannabis being an ancient healing plant that has been utilized by women for centuries.” And it's a return to that ancient wisdom that's rejuvenating the modern-day image of cannabis.

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