Daniel McQueen makes a bold statement: Cannabis sativa can produce an experience as deep and profound as those induced by psychedelics.
As the proprietor of Medicinal Mindfulness, a consciousness company supporting people who choose to use cannabis and psychedelic medicines, he has built a business (and some might say a movement) dependent on the validity of this equivocal claim. Admittedly, I was skeptical. Based on my own experiences with cannabis and psychedelics, they seemed distinct substances offering vastly different experiences. To me, cannabis seemed tame by comparison, less of an immersive experience, more casual.
But in the spirit of open exploration (a psychedelic concept indeed), I accepted McQueen’s invitation to attend one of his Cannabis Consciousness Circles, a ritualistic smoking ceremony that, when combined with mindfulness techniques, produces what he calls “a deeply transformative journey.”
It wasn’t until I started packing my bag for the Circle (a gram of flower, a little glass pipe, a lighter, a blanket and a bottle of water) that I noticed just how nervous I was. I was going to a place I’d never been, with people I’d never met, to spend four hours with nothing else to do but experience a cannabis-fueled journey through consciousness.
Most unnerving of all was that, up until that spontaneous moment of doubt, I thought I knew what I was doing.
I’ve spent the past few years with my boots on the ground exploring, researching and writing about cannabis and by far the biggest takeaway from my work has not been about cannabis at all. It’s been all about the danger of what we think we know, i.e., prejudice.
For decades, cannabis was used as a political pawn to help elite interests pursue power and supremacy. By attaching immoral and evil connotations to the drug and its users, cannabis was successfully leveraged to criminalize entire populations of minorities and to suppress its industrial uses.
Once activists broke through the barrier of legalization, all of the propaganda and all of the nonsensical bias started to unravel. The marijuana we thought we knew — the gateway drug, the troublemaker, the villain — gave way to open-minded and scientific explorations of the plant in an honest appraisal of both its risks and rewards.
So imagine my surprise in recognizing the prejudice that plagued me still, in seeing all the ways that I had become re-habituated, albeit to new circumstances. My understanding was tenuous at best yet I clung to it firmly, afraid of what would happen if I let go.
“Generally we don’t want to be disrupted, we just want our own place to be who we are,” McQueen told me before the event. “Psychedelics have a tendency to disrupt that homeostasis and will replace it with clear seeing — seeing things as they really are — which allows us to question deeply held assumptions. On a neurological level, there is some good evidence that it is rewiring our brain so the change becomes a permanent re-understanding or awareness.”
Inside a sanctuary in East Boulder, the experience was finally underway with a ritualistic intake of the “sacrament” performed in each of the seven directions — east, south, west, north, earth, sky, interior.
Inhaling so much cannabis in such a short amount of time put me far, far past the height of my typical dose. When the time came, I was more than ready to lie down, be still, close my eyes and discover what came next. Loosely, I wrapped a piece of fabric over my eyes and went deep inside.
Immediately, I lost sense of time and place and my body felt as if it was shuttling through space. From behind the darkness of my blindfold I was swarmed with atypical somatic distortions and disorienting visuals. I felt waves of warmth followed by cold, my body producing inexplicable spasms of energy. I had vivid imaginations of my mother, of children, of an orange glow and yes, I even had an encounter with Beyoncé. Never have I felt so in touch with the origin of creativity.
Soon my internal world was interrupted by the external and I became aware of the group, of which I was only a part. I heard their noises, sensed their movements and suddenly became very aware that I was the only woman in the room — I felt the responsibility of holding that space but also felt slightly afraid.
Heightened to a defensive state, my body grew tense and I watched it transform from flesh into a crystalline structure as shards of rose quartz grew out of me in every direction. Later, McQueen told me rose quartz is the stone of the heart and I thought it beautiful that, faced with fear, I sprouted an armor of compassion.
My experience was different than a psychedelic one, less intense only because the thinking self came along for the ride, a capable agent in an otherwise trippy world. But the experience was, as McQueen had promised, “deeply transformative.” And I can’t help but stand in awe of the way in which cannabis guided me to confront my own prejudices, just as it has been doing for many along the likewise “deeply transformative” journey of legalization.