First, I’d like to acknowledge a common misperception: plant medicine is a nice way of saying what it really is, a ‘drug’. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I remember attending an ayahuasca ceremony where I used the word ‘drug’ and the shaman quickly corrected me.
“This is not a drug, this is a sacred plant medicine.”
My response was, “Oh, right! I’m sorry.” She was right and even though I’ve had life changing experiences with this medicine, it took me a while to truly understand what she meant. In order to grasp the significance, I had to check in with myself and do some internal cleaning.
1. Eliminate False Ideas
“…herbal and naturopathic medicines were the common healing modalities. Grandmothers and mothers gave family members natural or herbal remedies when they were sick. Parallel to the onset of the industrial revolution, rose allopathic medicine — not because it was better, but because more money was available for its propagation. A chief developer of allopathic medicine was Andrew Carnegie, who saw a better financial future for himself in investing large sums of money to develop allopathic research and diagnostic machinery instead of encouraging natural medicine research. Thus allopathy had the backing to develop and surpass natural medicine.”
Ayurveda believes that both western and natural medicine have their place in the balance of medicine but because western medicine tends to lean towards profit, these beautiful teachers are stigmatized as something dark and ugly. The truth is, we don’t know enough about them to say otherwise. We do as we’re told and as far as we know “that’s illegal”.
But our world is evolving! Cannabis is becoming legal all over the world. Ayahuasca and other sacred ceremonies are popping up all over the place and (while that isn’t necessarily a good thing) we need to be proactive and educate ourselves on the fundamentals between drugs and plant medicines.
Having experienced plant medicine myself I can tell you, they helped me to completely transform my life. Still, many times I didn’t share my experience because I feared criticism. I transformed in the dark, so to speak, because I felt I couldn’t outwardly express what I was going through. I have a lot of friends who feel the same way and they are very careful with who they share their experiences with. Luckily we had each other, we created beautiful bonds and a safe space to share.
I eliminated this false idea by first eliminating the fear that gave power to it. I did the work, both internally and externally, defining the difference between a drug and a plant medicine for myself!
2. Understand The Internal Difference
In my humble opinion, drugs are any chemical, substance, or plant used with the intention of covering pain instead of dealing with it. When I used drugs, there was no respect for the plant or substance. My only intention was to get wasted, high and have a good time. While I can’t lie and say that all of those experiences were negative, when the music stopped and the party was over, they left me feeling alone, empty and worse off than I was before.
But what is a drug? We drink countless cups of coffee to keep us going. We make plans to go out on Friday nights and drink our faces off. We smoke cigarettes. We make light of our addiction to food and sugar. These aren’t drugs according to society so it’s fine. Right? Deep down, we can’t continue to lie to ourselves.
We’re a hypocritical and unconscious culture of addicts.
Before plant medicine, I turned to western medicine’s version of therapy. I saw countless counselors and therapists throughout my life to help me deal with mental and emotional pain that effected my every day life. As much as we spoke, it didn't help much. Even therapists I considered to be “good,” because their guidance seemed to work for a short while, didn’t provide a lasting effect. I would always go back to the same depressed, anxious, angry and stuck feelings that brought me into their office in the first place. No one ever seemed to be able to help me get to the bottom of it. I could talk my brains out and never reach the realizations that I did the first time I went to a plant ceremony. It was like HOLY SHIT! I've spent 28 years trying to fix what this plant helped me to understand in one day. They don’t mask the pain, they uncover the root. You don’t take them to go party, you humbly receive them with intention and respect. Instead of making me feel empty, they helped me to understand and deal with my past instead of silencing it. They taught me how to find the answers within myself and within the earth. So many messages came through about why I did certain things, why I felt certain ways and how I could begin to look at things for what they were instead of how I wanted them to be and begin to change my life!
3. Accept Your Relationship With Both.
Like most people, we’re introduced to drugs on the low and sometimes at a young age. I was introduced to cannabis at 17, my junior year of high school. A good friend of mine who was in musical theater with me invited me and a friend of ours to his house to try this wonderful new thing. I remember it like it was yesterday. We got to his house, he taught us how to smoke from a bowl and then we began to play uno. I mentioned that I didn’t feel anything and then… “Draw two, Krystal,” ::insert laugh attack:: Yep. I was high. It went on like that for about an hour, still not sure if I ever drew two. That was my first experience with weed and I didn’t see it again until my 20’s.
At this time, I was 21 and in the most toxic relationship of my life. We smoked all of the time, day and night, and I started smoking cigarettes. We were young. We had no idea this was a powerful plant medicine or how to use it but it felt good. It kept the pain at bay, so we continued to abuse it. Drugs are supposed to be cool, fun and the only ones teaching you how to use them are also abusing them.
After that relationship ended, I stopped smoking. Not for long though, around the age of 25, I made a friends with a fellow pot lover, got into yoga and started smoking again. Unfortunately mainstream yoga is full of stoners, myself included, unaware of how to properly use cannabis.
When I first entered the world of plant medicine, old habits were hard to break and I would lie to myself. Even after 7 ayahuasca ceremonies, my shaman would ask me, “how’s it going with the pot”? I was still smoking and told myself, “it’s my medicine,” “it helps me with anxiety,” “it helps me to relax.” I mean it wasn’t a complete lie, all of these things are true but the devil is in the details, am I right?
I used cannabis as a bandaid. I wasn’t doing the work. In the words of the late Carrie Fisher,
“The drug was doing the work for me.”
It wasn’t until a recent Ayahuasca ceremony in the mountains of Tepoztlan that I finally faced myself. It wasn’t a familiar journey filled with intriguing messages, visuals, and beautiful feelings. This time, the medicine went straight for my throat. I couldn’t sit still, I couldn’t find comfort and I couldn’t understand why I was having such a hard time. When I closed my eyes I kept seeing vampires sucking my life energy, cigarettes and weed. The ayahuasca was showing me the lies I told myself. I saw myself not for who I wanted to be but for who I actually was. We love to think of ourselves as our highest version but sometimes we forget that who we’d love to be is not who we currently are and so we go through life as an imposter.
In previous ceremonies, I let go of past pain, memories, blame, and basically layers of shit that were piled on top of me. This ceremony wasn’t about letting go, it was about accepting myself as I am. I saw myself as this illuminated yogi healer who was filled with pure love and did everything with love and highest intentions. ← Half of that is true, but let me give you the other half.
I’m a yogi, who sometimes eats like shit, smokes cigarettes and misuses plant medicines to get through hard stuff without having to feel it.
It was a fucking smack in the face and hard to look at. It took all night and all morning before I finally made peace with who I am instead of continuing to see myself as who I wanted to be. The good news is, once you decide to accept the truth instead of the lie, you break the spell and create the perfect space for transformation.
4. Build New Relationships
I thought about plant medicines I have recently been exposed to in my journey; Ayahuasca, San Pedro, and San Isidro. Would I take those and just go about my day? No freaking way. I respect the wisdom these medicines have to offer way too much. But I had created a bad habit with cannabis. Was it not also a plant medicine? Was it not also a teacher? Then why did I normalize abusing it? I’ve never used it in a ceremonial way before.
I came home from the ceremony feeling very aware of myself. I stopped smoking cigarettes right away and decided I wouldn’t touch cannabis again unless I was going to enter into a ceremonial space or use it for medicinal purposes. A couple weeks earlier, I had planted some seeds from the last bud that I bought. These seeds were now growing into tiny plants. It was beautiful to witness their physical growth and our relationship started to change.
Watching them grow and respecting their lives as plants made me realize that unconsciously smoking weed is exactly the way our society treats milk. We don’t have any respect for the cows, quite frankly from the videos I’ve seen and the stories I’ve heard, we treat them like shit. A deeper bond grows when unconscious behavior and abuse are exchanged for honor and respect for life, even plant life.
I’ve held several cannabis ceremonies with my husband and a friend of ours who was also an avid smoker. Our friend came out of that ceremony with insight that most yogis who have been practicing for years still don’t grasp. He said,
“I felt this inner anxiety when we first began and my heart started to race. This is normal when I smoke but usually, I cover the anxiety by talking to my friends or getting up and doing something or being creative. Smoking and then meditating helped me to relax and then the plant began to speak to me. It showed me that everything was ok and I could slow down. It showed me places in my body where I was tense. I realized these anxieties were just energies I had picked up throughout my day, on the phone, on the computer, at work, and in traffic. Just the same, as I was meditating it showed me that I could take this and apply in daily life when I’m not in ceremony. All I have to do is take a second and breathe. Remind myself that I am not this anxiety or high energy that I’m feeling and come back to myself.”
I’m paraphrasing because he said all of this in Spanish but Israel and I could not believe how much he was able to access on a cannabis journey. He’s learning how to change his relationship to cannabis, as am I.
I am grateful for all that I have experienced because it led me to where I am right now. I am grateful for first experiencing who I am not so I could better understand who I am. I am grateful to have learned from teachers, not only human but plants that bring ancient wisdom right into the hearts of those who are willing to do the work. I am by no means “cured,” nor have I finally arrived and become the perfect yogi. To be honest, I don’t believe in that. But I do believe in accepting things for what they are so I can continue to grow and not continue to eat the bullshit I was feeding myself for so long.
Most of all, I am grateful that I have finally been able to shift from drugs to plant medicine.