Tobacco: Sacred Medicine

by Jasmine Pahl

It was a typical grey and drizzly Vancouver Sunday. Cold rain pelted the windows of Forget Beauty founder, Amanda Beisel’s Yaletown home. We were cozy inside, though, sipping cacao shell tea and playing with her white fluffy dog, Buddy as the soothing tones of Kundalini singer Snatam Kaur echoed on the stereo. We were about to snort rape, an experience I would never forget.

A New Relationship with Tobacco

I’ve had an unhealthy relationship with tobacco. I’d smoked my first cigarette at age 12 behind the convenience store across from my junior high school. I didn’t like it of course, but that first smoke paved a neural pathway that became my Achilles heel for decades. Some people can smoke when they drink. I have a cigarette with a cocktail and I open my eyes the next morning, wanting one with my coffee. Anytime I would go through a break up, a job change or a renovation gone wrong, I would hustle up to the head shop around the corner that stocked the “safer” organic cigarettes and then sit on the space between my apartment and my patio blowing the smoke out of my space and pretending I didn’t feel like garbage for desecrating my beautiful body. I would smoke one or two and then, in a fit of shame, throw the pack down the garbage chute, drink some lemon water and, often, find myself trudging up to the head shop within an hour for another pack. Just writing this, I feel the longing for just a quick drag.

I find that taking B vitamins helps with cravings, and taking care of my spirit via meditation makes tobacco addiction a non-issue for me but, I did want you to know that I come to this conversation with a complicated relationship to tobacco. Our society also comes to this conversation with a complicated relationship to tobacco—a plant that we have treated far too lightly. It’s a potent spiritual vehicle that needs to be treated with respect and intention.

Power of The Sacred Plants 

In fact, it’s ironic that tobacco is the willpower kryptonite for so many, because it’s a plant that is used in indigenous societies for setting intentions. Perhaps, if it is not treated with its deserved gravity, it turns its power against us. Plants can be tricky like that.

I encountered my first non-addictive tobacco experience before a Peruvian-lineage plant medicine ceremony on Vancouver Island. One of the facilitators brought an old 7-up bottle full of tobacco juice around the circle. He poured a small brown puddle into each person’s palm. We snorted it in one nostril and then the other, as a way of purifying ourselves before ceremony.

Tobacco Grounds You To The Earth

Tobacco has a long ceremonial history. Along with setting intentions, it’s believed to be one of the few plants that is both grounding and centering. Scientific studies back up these claims, finding that it acts as an anti-depressant and increases blood flow to the brain. Other studies have found, ironically, that, used correctly, tobacco can have anti-cancer properties.

Amazonian Healing Medicine 

Amanda and I sat in easy pose on her living-room carpet and she gifted me with a rapé pipe. Rapé (pronounced ha-pay)is a tobacco snuff common in the southern Amazon and is used before ceremony and meditation. The pipe was a V shape with beautiful blue and yellow feathers hanging from one end. Amanda guided me through the technique: put rape in one end, insert that end into the one nostril, insert the other end of the pipe into the mouth and blow. We repeated on the other side and sat in silent meditation. When we opened our eyes I felt a peculiar clarity, and as though I had the strength to act on my realizations. I had been afraid that the experience would punt me back down the shame spiral of tobacco addiction but I experienced none of that. I hugged Amanda, and I went home and did the things I intended to do that evening. I left with a chance to start over with a powerful plant, that, when I abused it, made it painfully clear to me who was in charge. I’d finally approached tobacco with respect, and encountered a willing and energizing guide on the path of fulfilling my purpose.