Cacao vs. Cannabis: which is better for your Spiritual Practice?

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Floating lightness or warm and fuzzy: which connection do you desire?

As cannabis becomes legalized in more areas of the world, now is the ideal time to compare and contrast it with the totally legal ceremonial cacao—the original, unprocessed form of chocolate.

Both of these plants have potential application in a spiritual practice.

If you’re of a more metaphysical persuasion, you might say there’s a “spirit” connected to each of them, or that they have a mind of their own, common references made when talking about plant medicines.

Because of their unique deep nature, these two plants offer notably different things to the world. Understanding these differences is important as we decide how to shape our spiritual practice, in order to bring us the most fulfillment and joy.

Both plants can bring one to a deeper connection with their own body. That in itself can be considered therapeutic or healing, especially in a culture where so much shame gets attached to the physical body.

With cannabis, there can be a floating lightness that counters the heavy weight of life that many people feel on a daily basis. On the other hand, cacao is known as a “heart opener,” producing a warm and fuzzy feeling in the chest, as well as a quickening blood flow.

Cacao contains anandamide, the “bliss molecule,” which is chemically related to THC (the main active compound in cannabis). However, anandamide is barely perceptible, and is mainly noticed only as a light mood boost, or mild euphoria.

Cacao can’t really be considered a drug, even if people snort it—trust me, it’s not as interesting as it sounds!

Depending on perspective, both plants could be considered to have an antidepressant aspect, and may help people through difficult times. They’re also known as creative aids that can tease out ideas, insights, and inspiration.

As with many other plant medicines, cannabis and cacao are both psychological “amplifiers” in the sense that they can bring what’s in our subconscious up to a more central awareness. That could include memories, old conditioning, the source of unhelpful beliefs, and so on.

Here’s where more differences start to come in:

As an amplifier, cacao tends to be more gentle. Any discomfort arising from its use can usually be handled with deep breaths and maybe some movement, such as yoga, dancing, or walking in nature.

Cannabis is known for the “paranoia” it can stir up, which in some cases might be experienced as physical anxiety. Consider it like a rapid looping of subconscious patterns of perception that could lead to mental distortions and physical discomfort.

Are either of these plants addictive? Guatemalan ceremonial cacao is said to have little to no caffeine (a highly-addictive substance). The active compound in cacao (theobromine) bestows focus, motivation, and a sustained energy without any crash or cravings.

Cannabis isn’t physically addictive. There’s no withdrawal like with tobacco, for example. However, cannabis use can easily become habitual. That may not be much of a physical concern, but there are mental, emotional, and even spiritual factors to consider.

In fact, the process of working with any plant medicine can be thought of like a relationship—a sustained interaction with another locus of consciousness.

This relationship we have is one place where the two plants differ quite a bit:

Cannabis is known as a “master plant,” and its psychological effects can be hard to track. It may present itself like a friend or lover who makes up for what we’re missing, or what we’ve lost in real human connection. But because of its stronger amplification and mental looping, it can make that real human connection and communication more confusing.

This is an uncommon view of addiction: when something appears to provide a solution to a problem it’s actually creating, to paraphrase David Foster Wallace.

To further the relationship metaphor, cannabis often acts more like a jealous lover who wants devotees. Cacao, on the other hand, isn’t so much a master plant, as it is a “plant ally.” It seems to want us to be more tuned into our independent path of purpose and meaning.

Like some other plant medicines, cacao can even have a reverse tolerance—meaning that over time, ingesting less cacao could have the same (or even greater) effect. And if we’re consuming too much, cacao lets us know through subtle embodied sensations—not quite anxiety, but something like a mildly-frazzled energy.

So in a way, cacao models an interdependent relationship, where both entities are holding their own weight and able to share that weight in a conscious dance.

I want to be clear that I support the legalization of cannabis.

States that legalize and tax cannabis reap large amounts of funding for social programs that would otherwise get lost to the black market, and end up fueling drug cartel activity.

It’s ridiculous that anyone would ever be sent to prison for anything having to do with cannabis. And we must acknowledge that people of color are disproportionately targeted for that very type of punishment.

This isn’t a statement of moral judgment or a final conclusion on which plant is better. I firmly believe that different things work for different people at different times.

Yet, it’s time to evolve the conversation about plant medicines and get clear on the fine particulars of what they actually do.

While there are some general patterns, only you can decide what’s right for you.

Ultimately no plant heals or cures us—just like no other human can.

We are each responsible for our own holistic well-being.

So let’s take responsibility for which plants we allow into our system at which times, and practice radical self-honesty regarding when something is working for us and when it’s not.

author: Nick Meador

Image: Author's own

Editor: Julie Balsiger

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Nick Meador

Nick Meador is an RYT-200 yoga instructor, transformational life coach, holistic event producer, mindful entrepreneur, and world explorer. Ceremonial cacao changed Nick’s life in 2015 by helping him overcome a chronic illness. With his project BS Free Spirituality, Nick is currently working to demystify introspective practice, and make holistic self-management options more accessible to everyone.

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Bubs Brews Sep 9, 2018 1:58pm

Nice work!!

Mary Morse Sep 9, 2018 1:02am

Nick Meador the thc content of modern day cannibus is causing physiological withdrawal symtoms in chronic users. Heavy sweats, nausea, loss of appetite, insomnia, headaches to name a few. Bad enough that many users give into the cravings that come with withdrawal. It is not just a psychological dependence. The body needs more to achieve the same effects . That in itself, the tolerance level, makes it addictive to those who are prone to substance abuse. Just like alcohol use, not all who drink are alcoholics. However, many people become addicted. Meani g it is very very hard to stop. Then when you do abstain, the body has symptoms. Like alcohol, Marijuana is a potent medicine and is a danger to those who are vulnerable. Mind and body cannot be seperated. Psychology and physiology are interconnected.

Heidi Mason Sep 8, 2018 7:22pm

If a psychosis was apparently caused by cannabis, then the psychosis was ALREADY there... and that goes with any other plant medicines. If they are used as medicine, and psychosis arises, then the plant (teacher/spirit) is attempting to help one heal from the *already there* psychosis... Shamans and natives have known this for eons.

Heidi Mason Sep 8, 2018 7:15pm

I find the "anxiety" related to cannabis very interesting... In my 30+ years of using it, I have never once experienced anxiety or paranoia. Quite the contrary. I feel very at peace with a wide open heart. I also am a big fan of cacao and consume it almost daily... mostly for its flavor. (I love that bitter sweet sensation) But with too much cacao I get headaches... Thanks Nick for the article and your perspective on these two powerful plants!

Brady Newport Sep 8, 2018 7:10pm

Amy Leanne Snyder I agree, Amy. Thank you for the clarification! I know people that have been addicted to substances and this was also a rough read for me too.

Amy Leanne Snyder Sep 8, 2018 6:48pm

Nick Meador Please please stop. Just stop. Have your philosophy fine, but please do not be reckless with it. I love you guys, but I’m telling you it’s like nails on a chalkboard at all the red flags with your comments. Elephant, in my opinion needs to be more responsible about respecting addiction and the potential for people to relapse on ANY MIND OR MOOD ALTERING SUBSTANCE HERBAL OR NOT. Recovering addicts form whatever they use are seeking to live a cleaner and healthier lifestyle. I repost so much of these articles, but be mindful that you may not be educated in the science of certain things and as a respected platform for people just know you have a responsibility to the people you serve. People with addiction make by far the most irrational decisions when it comes to giving themselves permissions. As it would never be anyone’s fault, I’m certain you would not want to be any part of someone’s slide back into incomprehensible demoralization aka full blown use. We have to tell patients to stay away from Kava Kava, Valerian root, certain tincture’s. I’ve had so many people re activate that portion of their brain with these things. Kratom is reaking havoc. Some of the worst psychosis in history. Cannibus is not what it was in the 70s. It’s causing permanent psychosis in young people- who may have been predisposed but the usage triggered a mental health condition that may have never surfaced. My husband is a young men’s counselor and these boys always think pot is ok. Just know that with an addict the pot will be their intro back into use- which almost always leads a heroin addict back to their drug of choice. We have a very sad epidemic on our hands and as a whole we really need to be vigilant about educating the general public. Listen- I believe pot, has many therapeutic properties, in fact we know this medically. I would rather see people use CBD- and be monitored in a realistic and responsible manner than take opiates by far. Let this discussion be something that can perpetuate further discussion in the Elephant Community. It’s been a great exchange- I’m glad we could correspond. Keep in touch Nick

Nick Meador Sep 8, 2018 4:55pm

Thanks for the kind words. I'm so glad to hear that!

Melissa DeFalco Sep 8, 2018 2:54pm

Nick Meador cannabis and caffeine both give me horrible anxiety, but cacao is comforting for me. Guess it depends on the individual.

Allida Webb Sep 8, 2018 2:30pm

I've always considered it as psychologically addicting for a daily user, and that can be a light use after work at night type. I would think it takes very heavy daily use to have the withdrawals you speak of.

Nick Meador Sep 8, 2018 1:19pm

Hi Vicki, yes after traveling Latin America and trying organic small-batch cacao from many countries, I believe what I've heard about Guatemalan ceremonial cacao in particular... that it has little to no caffeine. However it contains theobromine which does increase blood flood, just without the crash or cravings that come from caffeine.

Nick Meador Sep 8, 2018 1:15pm

Thanks, Ariel! I don't personally think there's any special alchemy in mixing the two. Nothing more than the sum of its parts.

Nick Meador Sep 8, 2018 1:13pm

I hear that you have strong feelings about ths subject. I'm not sure which words you're pointing to specifically when you say I misspoke, but it seems like you're implying I said cannabis isn't addictive. If that's your impression, it's not what I wrote or what I meant to say. I was differentiating between physical addiction (where someone has an excruciating physiological reaction when a substance is taken away) and psychological addiction (where someone thinks a substance or behavior is helping them but it's actually contributing to problems or preventing them from being their best self). Cannabis is more psychologically addictive. However, the thing I'll ask you to consider about addiction is that no one who's dependent on a substance or behavior wants to consider themselves an "addict." Especially with something that's more psychologically addictive, a person will come up with rationalizations for using it and make it seem "okay" however possible. I do know a lot of people who are able to use cannabis and remain totally functional with no dependence on it. But I ended this article with a very strong suggestion that people practice radical self-honesty, which to me would include the kinds of things you say about knowing when to avoid or forego certain substances. My point is that telling an addict they're an addict or that they "should" cut out a substance will always push them further in the direction of addiction. But humanizing their experience and inviting them to see the bigger picture without judgment or condemnation could be a way to guide them towards independence. Our aims are similar, I think. I just have a different approach to "intervention."

Nick Meador Sep 8, 2018 1:02pm

Interesting. Never in all my years and associations with cannabis users had I heard of anything like that. Now that I read up on it, I'm still not convinced that it's a physiological reaction of suddenly not having cannabis in the system (how I would define a physical addiction and withdrawal). Especially because cannabis CAUSES anxiety for so many people... it could just be cannabis-induced anxiety that remains but without the sedative effect that also comes from cannabis. And people might have anxiety aside from both of these things that they were self-treating with cannabis. Anyway my point was in the same vein as what you're saying and this conversation is mostly about semantics. Our culture tends to think of cannabis as not physically addictive in comparison to opiates, nicotine, or caffeine, in which a STRONG or even excruciating physiological reaction happens when the substance is removed. Yet at the same time, cannabis use can become HABITUAL because it seems to take care of certain problems or "help" in certain ways, and the person might start to feel that they need it to get by. Which is why I offered the revised view of addiction, because I believe cannabis can and should be considered addictive. I'd just define it more as a psychological addiction, because cannabis has a way of convincing its hosts that it's not a problem, even if/when it becomes one. This psychological piece is not as explored or understood, and fleshing it out can empower people to notice or decide when this or any other substance might not be serving their "higher path."

Nick Meador Sep 8, 2018 12:52pm

Thanks for the kind words! Good call about how addiction can happen in so many ways and can be either physical, psychological, or both. And it's not just a question of dependence, but what kind of problems it generates for the person. What opportunities are they missing out on? How is their best self being sacrificed? Those aren't even questions when it comes to cacao. More like "Whoa, look how much my life has gotten better since that came into the picture!" ;)

Kristin Toussaint Sep 7, 2018 10:32pm

Great article Nick. I started experimenting with cacao this year with my Kula at YTT in ceremonial form and have been sold ever since. It's like Yerba Mate with the added feeling of bliss and creative calm. Addicts are either physically or psychologically (or both) dependent on habitual routines that include foods (real or fake), porn, alcohol, drama, attention, cola, tobacco, exercise, sex, the couch and the TV, narcotics, cannibus, shopping, abuse. They are enthusiastic devotees of a specified thing or activity. Aren't we all to some degree? "So let’s take responsibility for which plants we allow into our system at which times, and practice radical self-honesty regarding when something is working for us and when it’s not." I found your piece interesting, well rounded in perspective and by the comments, provacotive. Well done brother! "Practicing "radical self honesty when something is working and when it's not". #chooseyouraddiction Namaste KAT

Amy Leanne Snyder Sep 7, 2018 9:55pm

Yes, you have misspoke on the addiction part. You are not credentialed to even make that statement and doing so could be very irresponsible on your part. If you would have put a small disclaimer about those with addictive problems should avoid these drugs. I love elephant journal but you really need to consider that a portion of your community may be working on being a healthy sober individual and your support for certain “medicines” could take someone back down a dark path. Be more responsible.

Ariel Wolansky Sep 7, 2018 9:27pm

Amazingly well written! Would love to know your thoughts on mixing the two.

Vicki Davis Sep 7, 2018 6:19pm

Great insightful article Nick. My cardiologist suggested brew with cocoa for a bit too low BP&pulse cuz of the caffeine. You stated the ceremonial has less caffeine. I've been musing over what to get and then would love to learn various brew methods. Thx!

Mary Morse Sep 7, 2018 5:58pm

Thank you for expounding on cacao. But, you are mistaken cannabis is not addictive. For some it is, that is why it is known also as Chronic. The withdrawals are well known among chronic users. Sweats, nausea, anxiety. Check it out please. It also builds tolerance, requiring more to get the same effect. It should be treated as.medicine and used in proper dosing . I am very familiar with the benefits of medicinal use, but recreational to treat oneself is misguided. It can lead to dependence.that and can be incredibly hard.to kick. I , and others know this

Nicole Gnutzman Sep 7, 2018 5:29pm

I love this! I have been working with cacao for the past four years in personal practice and group ceremony offerings and she has been my teacher, healer and guide. So much of what you shared here resonates deeply. So grateful.