Chris Kilham is quick to wave off CNN’s branding of him as the “Indiana Jones of natural medicine,” however if you look at the trajectory of his work, research and travels around the world, the moniker seems just right.
This prolific medicine hunter, author and educator has traveled to over 45 countries for medicinal plant research. His global expeditions include traditional botanical medicines, nutraceuticals, and psychoactive plants. He’s also very well-known in the natural health and sustainability sectors.
The bio on Chris Kilham’s website really captures the color of his work:
Chris has traveled over 4 million miles and has spent thousands of days and nights away from home. He has fire-walked in the South Pacific, been made a chief, enjoyed a diplomatic post for three years, has made good friends all over the globe, roamed rainforests and mountains, made best friends with a prince, dined with prime ministers, embarked on ceremonial journeys with shamans, and explored wild places, from deserts to rivers.
“I have gone where few go, seen what few seen, and participated in some highly unusual and memorable scenes,” says Chris. “I have also gotten malaria, contracted numerous tropical diseases, gotten parasites and nerve damage, been chased by pirates, had guns pointed at me, and collected burns, bites, stings, cuts, abrasions, infections, injuries, dysentery. I have broken down in virtually every type of transportation, including a plane. All of this has added texture to this work.”
The list of accomplishments, expeditions, and high-profile educational projects is simply astonishing. And if you love to learn new things, it’s very exciting! Chis can speak to a variety of audiences on topics ranging from medicinal plants, cultural preservation, global environmental sustainability, yoga and meditation, shamanism, adventure travel, fitness, and much more.
The Ancient Origins of Cannabis
“I’ve been to the source, to the origin of cannabis – twice,” Chris says. “The Silk Road in Central Asia where it all began, where the very first cannabis plants originated, and I followed that all along the silk road trading route across the Borohoro Shan [mountains], which leads up to the Tian Shan – probably the greatest, most unsung mountain chain out there.”
And from there, Chris continues, cannabis took all kinds of turns across the globe. He’s investigated cannabis in different parts of the United States, places like Southeast Asia, and throughout the Indian Himalayas. “I went very deep into cannabis culture and the entire scene there, especially in the Shiva worshiping temple areas where cannabis is a sacrament. So yeah, I’ve done a ton of fieldwork with cannabis.”
Chris talks about how certain plants like coffee, cocoa, and hot chilies may have tightly defined geographic origins, but at some point they’ve spread out all over the world – and cannabis is a great example of this.
Although a lot of people today are being turned on to the benefits of cannabis for the very first time, Chris Kilham is quick to remind that humankind has an ancient relationship with this plant. “It’s a modern version of something that’s gone on for 10,000 years that we know of. None of this is new. Not even vaporizers are new. The first vaporizer that we know of was 2500 years ago,” Chris says.
“But the thing about it is that today we are able to apply modern technology, investigative techniques, and dissemination of information to this plant in a way that has never occurred before.”
And it’s not just the pharmacological or the psychoactive benefits of cannabis – there is a nutritional component as well. People in certain parts of the world have been eating massive amounts of cannabis seeds for 10,000 years. “I mean you go into Indian markets to this day and there are these gigantic sacks of cannabis seeds – not for growing, but for taking it home and putting it in your vegetable curry,” Chris says, adding that we’ve also seen “the use of it in fiber forever: cordage, string, cloth, banners, all kinds of fasteners, ropes, it’s endless.”
Utilizing the psychoactive properties, we know that goes back at least a few thousand years, Chris says. “We’re not doing anything new at all. The experience of different ecstatic states, it’s a long, long pursuit predating religion – probably the basis and foundation of religion.”
The Mind, Body, Spirit Applications of Cannabis in Today’s Modern World
When I ask Chris this question about mind, body, spirit + cannabis in today’s world, he first offers me a wonderful disclaimer:
While I use the term “mind, body, spirit” I really think that it’s an artificial delineation; I don’t think there’s any separation. For the purposes of social conversation, people seem to like that, but I think it’s all one. I don’t think there is actual differentiation between spirit, mind, and body but rather one entire whole integrated entity that can’t survive with separation.
From a physical health standpoint, you can just Google health benefits of cannabinoids and you’re going to get hundreds of scholarly papers at this point because the endocannabinoid system is throughout our entire body pretty much, helping to regulate reproduction, fetal development, cardiovascular function, and immune function, pain management, and different mental states, and the list goes on and on.
“So from a pure health standpoint in terms of addressing what we perceive as bodily needs, which I would suggest are broader than that, the information on cannabis just gets better and better,” Chris says.
“At the same time, there are people who are using cannabis in a more intentional and thoughtful, ceremonial way, and there are lots of people who are just getting high. And I don’t disparage the latter. We should have the conscious freedom and liberty to choose what states we want to be in at what time, hopefully in a manner that’s not injurious to anybody including ourselves.”
It’s no surprise, Chris continues, that people are finding cannabis to be a superior alternative compared to the classes of anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs. “For a lot of people cannabis just in terms of mind and mood helps better than many of those drugs, whether you’re talking Prozac, Xanax – whatever the real horror-show-shit-show drug is out there.”
Cannabis is clearly better and safer for many people than those pharma-toxins, Chris adds. It’s impossible to have a lethal overdose on cannabis because we don’t have any cannabinoid receptors in our brain stem.
“Which means people may eat too much cannabis wedding cake, and they think they’re going to die, but they never will. And one area that I think we have inadequately explored, and that we should reinvigorate, which is also a real primary area of cannabis consumption at least in different times and different places [around the world] is using cannabis as a psychedelic.”
Exploring Cannabis As a Full-On Psychedelic
Chris Kilham applauds all the focus researchers put on cannabinoids and their health benefits. He also thinks it’s a waste of time when scientists attempt to fractionate or purify the cannabinoids. However, using cannabis as a full-blown psychedelic has yet to be comparably investigated.
“In oral doses, it is entirely possible, in fact guaranteed that over a certain threshold amount you can and will have a full-on psychedelic experience with cannabis,” Chris says.
“I’ve done it many times, it’s extraordinary, and it’s every bit as powerful as any of the other psychedelics really once you get up to that dose, whether you’re talking about oral consumption of hash or oral consumption of infusions from flower.”
Chris compares psychedelic cannabis to the current emphasis on MDMA and the many remarkable things that it does for people. He also compares it to Ayahuasca, a powerful psychedelic he’s been drinking for 11 years. These substances can add value with the right “set and setting” but they’re just not as accessible as cannabis.
“If there’s any disadvantage to [psychedelic doses of cannabis] it’s that it lasts so long. It lasts longer than acid. It just goes on forever; you could go 13 hours with psychedelic cannabis,” Chris says. “But it is a remarkable thing: visionary, inspiring, deeply profound, takes you on a journey – all of that. So I’d like to see more of that dimension of the spirit side if you will of cannabis more fully explored and talked about.”
Chris Kilham’s Psychedelic Cannabis Experience in Kathmandu, Nepal
“One of the greatest was when I was in Kathmandu Nepal, and I found somebody who had some Nepalese Temple balls – that really dark, creamy, beautiful, perfect mountain hash they make. The next day, I took about a chickpea-size ball, and I put it inside of a really sweet, dried apricot, and I chewed it up really thoughtfully, and ate it. And I went down into Old Kathmandu for the day.
“By the time I got down there I was ripping high. Within 45 minutes or so, I was full-on tripping my ass off. I had wild and lavish visions and all of the extraordinarily amplified synesthetic experiences that we have with taste, touch, smell, and hearing – all of that.
“The most intense, peaking part of it probably went on for about seven or eight hours in this amazing, ancient, crazy, bustling, chaotic, colorful, wild place. This high lasted right through into the night when I was at a temple listening to temple music to finish it all off.
“I had another experience in the desert, one in the islands, and a few in other places, just full-on no-nonsense psychedelic, visionary, journeying experiences, and this is absolutely possible [with oral cannabis]. When you consider the myth of Shiva and yoga and cannabis, Shiva ate cannabis, didn’t smoke it, and said wow this stuff is great, I should give this to humanity so that they can have the experience of me and worship me. That was oral cannabis.
“And I think the whole getting high on or getting relaxed on or relieving pain with oral cannabis, that’s all being well pursued, but on the far end of that desert highway, there is something really big and powerfully intense in the cannabis psychedelic experience.”
De-stigmatizing the Cannabis High
A while back Chris was at the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo in Orlando. On the one hand he was interested to observe the whole industrial infrastructure building up, under and around cannabis: lighting operations, fertilizer systems, and people to help you with your human resource needs if you’re building out some sort of big cannabis business and so on.
“But, you know what was missing there by pretty much 98 percent? Any sense of the pleasures of cannabis, of the benefits of the effects of cannabis for mood enhancement and for, you know, getting high,” Chris recalls. “It was as though these [industry players] thought that if they looked like they were all hedge fund people from the Hamptons they’d be taken seriously. And I hate to see that.”
To Chris’s mind, trying to ignore or disparage the many aspects of the cannabis high is a mistake. “Rather than kind of ducking the issue of ‘getting high’, it’s very important to put it out there on par with any of the other completely credible ways that we modify our mood,” he says.
“When people have a beer or two or a glass of wine or two, let’s face it, they’re not doing it just for the taste – they’re doing it because it modifies their mood, because it changes something about their state that they like or that’s conveniently accessible.”
Another reason to embrace the cannabis high as an acceptable mode of achieving an altered state: it’s far safer than many of the other ways that people choose to modify their minds and moods.
“The majority of people in the United States who use cannabis, they’re not doing it for epilepsy. I understand that there are many who are deriving benefits, but most people are getting a buzz. And that’s okay. That’s something we can say.”
Indeed, if you look at the history of humankind, you could accurately say that the desire to get your buzz on is totally human.
Respecting the Plant: Cannabis Is Still One of Our Top Medicinal Resources
After all the expeditions, studying and hunting for plants across the globe, Chris does not hesitate to label cannabis as one of the greatest and most broadly beneficial of all medicinal plants.
“If you accept the broadest definition of healing, you know that true healing puts into order the past, present, and future with the body, mind, and spirit, you know the uplifting and the relaxing dimensions of cannabis are every bit as healing as specific cannabinoids fitting into specific receptors throughout almost our entire body.”