Perhaps the best known Rastafarian (aka “Rastaman”) in the west is Bob Marley. In fact, Bob Marley did not use cannabis recreationally and did not see its value as a recreational drug. He viewed marijuana as a holy rite. He saw himself as a holy person (as do all Rastafarians), and believed strongly that marijuana opened up a spiritual door that allowed him to access his creativity.
Why might these Rastamen use marijuana only for religious rituals, while many recreational pot users have the risk of addiction and abuse? For instance, in India, where marijuana is used both recreationally and for religious ceremonies, the abuse profile is 3.2%. This is according to a 2000 report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The percentage for the U.S.? 17% as of 2016. So, the question remains, why do those who use marijuana religiously (as in, for religious purposes, not the colloquial meaning of “all the time”) have lower chances for abuse?
This is where drug addiction and psychopharmacology meet. Drug use is very dependent on context, cues, friends, land behavior. An often cited example of this comes from a study of returning servicemen from Vietnam. In Vietnam some soldiers abused heroin. Yet when they returned home they reported no cravings. Drug abuse (including marijuana abuse) can hijack the brain’s reward system. This system is designed to pair cues, environments, and patterns of behavior with a primary reward, such as food. When hijacked, the reward system works to find another primary reward: drugs.
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This is relevant to the difference between religious and recreational use. Marijuana is used in religious practice in the context of some sort of ritual; there are no outside contexts or cues to drive drug-seeking behavior. Also important is the fact that marijuana’s effects are believed to be doing something else: not to produce euphoria or “have fun” but to achieve closeness to the divine. The belief going into smoking can also change how you experience it.
A good example of this effect is where scientists divided people into two groups. Both groups were given beverages and told that they were alcoholic. Both groups showed signs of being drunk. Guess what? Only one group had an alcoholic drink, the other group had a placebo. What you believe can have a very strong effect on what you experience. This could explain why a common westerner will smoke pot to get “high” (and may show signs of addiction), whereas Rastamen smoke pot to exercise their religion. And that is all they use it for.