With snails and glaciers as pacesetters, the United States has gradually come around to the idea that marijuana and certain other medicinal plants may not be so bad after all. Dozens of states now allow cannabis for medical purposes, as countless studies show the plant and its components to be helpful for everything from chronic pain to anxiety and traumatic stress, to epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and so much more. Grandmothers rub CBD oil on their corns, cops use it for inflammation of the trigger finger, and nobody raises an eyebrow. Yes, the high times, they are a-changing.
This week, we’re thrilled to spend some time with Christopher Kilham, known globally as the Medicine Hunter for his drug-research work with Indigenous peoples. His new book, The Lotus and the Bud: Cannabis, Consciousness, and Yoga Practice, details how marijuana can enhance the mind-body connection while users practice yoga and seek a more expansive experience. In her review for Foreword’s January/February issue, Kristine Morris says the book “expresses the joy, peace, and deep satisfaction that await those who commit wholeheartedly to the practice of cannabis-infused yoga,” and we always take Kristine at her word.
Thanks to Park Street Press for help in connecting reviewer and author for the following conversation.
Kristine, you’re up.
The Lotus and the Bud explores the many ways that responsible, sacred use of cannabis can enhance yoga practice, offering profound benefits for body, mind, and spirit. Please tell us about how it has benefited your own practice, and how this spills over into your daily life.
While cannabis has never been the core of my practice, it has been an ally. Practicing yoga when high has led me very easily into deep states of energy awareness, a greater sense of spiritual connectedness with all things. Remembering this at all other times keeps me more aware and sensitive to the world around me. With any spiritual experiences, the task is to carry that awareness and remembrance into the rest of life. Experiences are a passing show. But if you can integrate the essential lessons of those experiences, then they become part of you.
To what do you owe your remarkable dedication to your yoga practice?
Since early childhood, I have felt that I knew yoga somehow. My initial attraction to practice was natural and enthusiastic. As soon as I started daily practice in 1970, it became like drinking from a fountain of clear, cool water, something I wanted every day. Over the past fifty years, there have been times when practice has been easier or harder. But there have been no times, except in rare instances of serious illness, when I have not wanted to practice. Yoga is food for my soul. It has been my constant companion since I was in my teens. I have no idea at all what life would be like without daily practice, and have no interest at all in finding out. It is an endless source of health, inspiration, and renewal.
Your book looks at how the combination of cannabis and yoga can unlock access to “unbounded states of consciousness.” What might this feel like for someone experiencing it for the first time, and what signs would indicate that one is, or is not, using the right amount of cannabis.
We are remarkable beings, capable of experiencing a broad variety of mental, emotional, and physical states. Cannabis-infused yoga helps to nudge us into greatly expanded states very easily. As our ego boundaries loosen and soften, we become more aware that nothing is actually separate from anything else. Carrying this forward in our minds and hearts helps us to appreciate the interconnectedness of everything, and can help to engender greater empathy and understanding. Also, the nervous system, which is activated by yoga, and the endocannabinoid system, activated by cannabis, work together to engender a greater sense of inner harmony. In terms of how much cannabis to infuse with, take in what elevates you, not what gets you trashed. This requires some experimentation.
What long-term changes might be expected from the dedicated practice of cannabis-infused yoga, and how do they differ from what might be expected from an equally dedicated, but non-cannabis-infused practice?
I advise that people who are serious about yoga practice engage themselves both without cannabis, and with. I would not advise an all-cannabis practice, because there is great value in attaining various dimensions of personal control without the boost of ganja. Longterm practice of infused yoga can yield a sense of fluidity and a greater integration of the self. This is also true for non-infused practice. Learn to practice yoga. Learn to meditate. Engage in these activities daily. Add cannabis to practice, and that will provide an additional boost of depth and attunement to the potent energies within.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to begin a cannabis-infused yoga practice? What about someone who does not practice yoga, but might like to begin a cannabis-infused meditation practice?
If you practice yoga and want to try it infused with cannabis, start small. Have a puff or a gummy and practice. Experiment. Play with it. Find out if you like the combination. Take time with it. If you like it, go a bit deeper. If you want to add cannabis to meditation, learn to meditate first. Develop a practice. Once you are in a groove, try it with cannabis. Find out whether it is an aid or a distraction for you. Everybody is different. I like to say that the deeper you go, the lighter you get. You want to be buoyant in spirit, uplifted.
Known internationally as the “Medicine Hunter,” you’ve gone to places most people would never think of visiting, and have had the privilege of hanging out with, and learning from, Indigenous peoples and their shamans and healers. How have these people received you? Do they welcome the opportunity to share their knowledge? Please share a particularly memorable experience or two with our readers.
Traveling the globe and working all over in remote areas with Indigenous people has been the greatest privilege of my life. Thankfully, I have been very warmly received almost everywhere. Part of this is that I approach people with great respect. I am always aware that I am a guest. And I genuinely love people. My experience is that people trust me and are happy to share knowledge. In my years of travel in Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, I was made a chief, became the honorary consul of that country to the US, and fire-walked in massive ceremonies for six years. It was exhilarating beyond my ability to describe. With shamans in the Andes and the Amazon, I have been accepted openly with great warmth, and have experienced dimensions of healing and consciousness that have surprised and greatly humbled me. Many of these shamans have taken time to teach me, to share, to help open me up to greater dimensions of spiritual understanding.
Are the Indigenous groups you’ve spent time with concerned that their resources of medicinal plants will be depleted as interest in them grows? Are they being fairly compensated for their knowledge, practical experience, and any materials they share? Who stands for them and makes sure that they are being treated fairly and with respect? What threats do they face?
By and large, Indigenous people around the globe have been screwed again and again. They have been marginalized and harmed. Some are concerned about depleting supplies of plants, but many are quite poor and have a greater concern to feed their families. For the most part, native people are not being fairly compensated. The herb and spice trade is largely a poverty trade. I work on projects of trade to help to boost both the sustainability of potentially endangered botanicals and to increase earnings for native people. In general, it is a hard and slow process. I am one of many people who are aware of this and who work on behalf of Indigenous people. There are many others doing very fine work. But overall, it is tough going, as market forces depress opportunity, earnings, and benefits for native people so that those of us in developed nations can get richer. Native people face marginalization, violence, food shortages, lack of opportunity, poor educational options, little medicine, and much of what we take for granted. It is not a happy picture. I do what I can, and often my efforts and the efforts of those with whom I work do help to elevate wages and improve conditions. But it is not pretty out there.
How do you communicate with them? How do you record what you’ve learned?
I always have a team, so there’s always a translator, a driver, maybe a botanist, a shaman, and more. I always write a journal, take thousands of images, shoot video, and bring materials back home and to the international botanical scene to share what I have experienced and seen. In 1997, a 103-year-old shaman told me to bridge the worlds and to help people to better understand each other. I took her guidance very much to heart and try to do that in presentations and media.
Please describe some of the sustainability programs you are developing.
Right now, I am involved with a sustainable ashwagandha cultivation and extraction program in India, ongoing research into the sustainable sourcing and supply of ayahuasca vine, and helping to boost the Vanuatu kava trade, which is a wonderful model of sustainability. When these projects work well, benefits emanate in all directions.
What are some of the dangers you’ve faced in doing this work?
Diseases and vehicle failures are high on the list of dangers. Over time I have broken down in cars, buses, moto-taxis, boats, and even a plane. Transportation troubles are frequent, and many times they’ve happened in remote places where there is no help. I’ve gotten malaria twice, and have had debilitating dysentery as well as falls, cuts, scrapes, burns, toxic and necrotic bites, painful stings to the face and head, and nerve damage. I’ve had encounters with guys with guns, pirates, robbers—the stuff that happens when you’re out there on the edge without much of a safety net.
What are some of the most important discoveries you’ve made in your work with medicinal plants, and how would those who need them for wellness and healing access them?
Some of my most important work has been with kava, maca, rhodiola, and ashwagandha. To work with them I have gone to Vanuatu, the Andes, Siberia, and India respectively. These days, good quality products made with these botanicals are readily available on the market, so accessing them is not difficult at all. The work I do is successful when all parts of the chain of trade thrive. It’s important for end users to derive significant benefits—this completes the cycle of sustainability. Natural remedies are the best medicines on earth.
What fuels your passion for the vital work you are doing? How might others support this work?
Love of people and our planet fuels my passion. Plus, I love to travel more than just about anything. I am happy when I’m in in the back of a truck with a bunch of natives, or going along a river someplace remote, or trooping through a jungle. This world is amazing. I have been very privileged to see a lot of it, and to make friends in faraway places. All of this activity boils down to love. My grandfather had a saying that is pretty much my pole star: “Do good and forget it.” Others can support this work by becoming better informed about safe, natural remedies, and choosing them.