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Mike Rosati

The Cannabis Church: Zide Door

Several church members we spoke with unanimously agreed that access to mushrooms improved their mental health.

It’s a Sunday afternoon in 2019 and the clock reads 4:20 p.m. Dave Hodges stands on a stage and delivers a sermon to a group of 40 people seated in pews, dressed in the garb of a Roman Catholic bishop – only, instead of his attire displaying traditional emblems of the Christian faith, his miter (or tall, pointed hat) and chasuble (a cape that’s worn over other vestments) feature the two sacraments of his religion: an unmistakable Cannabis leaf print and images of psychedelic mushrooms. You see, Hodges is the founder of the Church of Ambrosia – a non-denominational entheogenic church in Oakland, Calif. that doubles as a dispensary of plant medicines known as Zide Door.

Zide Door opened to the public as a Cannabis church in January 2019, offering a variety of flower, edibles and other weed products to its members using a Prop. 215 donation-based model. Technically, Zide is operating outside of Prop. 64’s (very flawed) pot regime, as the law doesn’t outline a framework for the religious use of Cannabis or the creation of churches (or the sale of psilocybin mushrooms, but more on that in a second). While Zide Door may look like a dispensary, there are nuances differentiating it from other Cannabis shops – perhaps the most striking in pre-pandemic times, when people would gather for sermons on Sundays. 

In the United States, people have a constitutional right to practice the religion of their choice – and thanks to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act – the government doesn’t have the power to determine if that religion is “legitimate” or not. Moreover, Oakland also passed a local law in 2004 called Measure Z that made Cannabis the lowest priority for law enforcement.  

“I’d been in the Cannabis industry for a long time,” Hodges said in a phone interview. “But Prop. 64 changed everything, and my only real spiritual connection to anything at that point was Cannabis.”

Little did he know how his church would evolve. In June 2019, the City of Oakland approved activist group Decriminalize Nature’s historic resolution to make earth-grown psychedelics (i.e., psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline-containing cacti, ayahuasca) the lowest priority of enforcement on cops’ to-do list, just as they did with weed over a decade prior.

“To me, it was a sign that we needed to provide access to other entheogenic substances,” said Hodges, who remarkably admitted he’d never eaten psilocybin mushrooms before that time. “Knowing that we had to do something else, and out of the [entheogens] listed by the city, the only thing safe for people to have their own experience with was mushrooms, so I decided I had to learn the mushroom.”

And so Hodges cannonballed into the deep end of the psychedelic realm. Within just two months, he quickly went from a starting dose of two grams of cubensis to consuming 30 grams of mushrooms (yes, you read that correctly) in one sitting – a superheroic dose that he says will show you the origins of religion. In fact, he claims that his interactions with “entities,” in conjunction with the downloads he received on these high-dose journeys, have been nothing short of a revelation.

“What I can say from my high-dose work is that they’re not fun,” Hodges said. “But there are entities on the other side that hold knowledge for us. The Sunday sermons used to include safety tips and historical uses, but also some of the knowledge I gained from those entities.”

Exactly what kind of knowledge is Hodges referring to? He provides the following example:  

“After one of my five-gram journeys, a traditional heroic dose, I came back repeating a loop,” Hodges said. “I must have said it a hundred times: ‘You need to learn how to breathe, and you need to eat more mushrooms.’” 

Heeding this message, Hodges began researching how to breathe and discovered multiple doctors talking about how humans of the modern age have forgotten how to breathe. Not only that, doctors have identified a condition affecting humans – predominantly seniors – triggered by decades of not breathing into the diaphragm. It causes the diaphragm to atrophy, leading to serious breathing problems.

“I discovered that I was one of those people, and it’s because of the mushrooms,” Hodges said. “Breathing is something that you do non-stop every day, every moment of your life, and if you stop doing it, you die. So, this is a small example of the kind of important knowledge [mushrooms] can give you.”

Despite Oakland relaxing its enforcement laws on plant medicine, Hodges says these mushroom experiences also contributed to the decision to expand the entheogenic offerings at Zide Door (another nuance separating it from a Prop. 215 dispensary). For the donation price of around $280 an ounce, patients/parishioners can purchase an array of psilocybin mushroom strains, including Golden Teachers, Burmese, Thai, Penis Envy, B+ and others. Church members can also buy other mushroom-infused products, ranging from branded chocolates to psilocybin-infused honey to microdose capsules blended with functional, non-psychoactive mushrooms like Lion’s Mane (a combination known as the “Stamets Stack”). 

When asked about their experience attending Zide Door, several church members we spoke with unanimously agreed that access to mushrooms has improved their mental health. “I didn’t really have the same kind of access to mushrooms before Zide Door,” said one San Francisco resident. “And it’s because of this access that I now know mushrooms can lift me out of depressive loops on low days.”

Some mushroom growers from Northern California complain that the Zide model has caused the wholesale price of mushrooms to drop. “It’s not a growers’ market anymore,” an anonymous source told California Leaf. “It’s become a bit of a monopoly, and ‘the church’ is making more money than any of the growers are.” And, of course, legal dispensary operators are always feuding with Cannabis operations that don’t have to pay the same hellish taxes.

No doubt Zide Door is pushing boundaries. It’s the first iteration we’ve seen for the retail sale of psilocybin mushrooms in the U.S. and is instigating new discourse around the religious use of entheogens – neither of which the government is necessarily happy with. In fact, the church was raided by Oakland police on August 13, 2020, causing Hodges to incur cumulative losses and damages equating to roughly $200,000. His first court date pertaining to the incident takes place this month. It could take upwards of a decade for the case to play out and by then, the laws around entheogens will likely look different than they do today. In the meantime, Hodges is looking for a new venue to host his Sunday services.

“I’m really looking forward to starting again,” he said. “We have a few prospects, but nothing official yet. I know a great venue will come along when the time is right.”

Photos by @rosatiphotos

This article was originally published in the August 2022 issue of California Leaf.

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