I’m a cannabis nurse—a registered nurse who specializes in medical marijuana—and I serve as a patient educator at MarjuanaMommy.com. This makes me intimately familiar with the medical benefits of weed. I also meditate daily. And while I do use cannabis all day every day, I microdose, so I’m not usually high when I meditate. Still, I’m not afraid to partake a little more heavily if, for example, my pain levels (from a cervical spine injury I got years ago) are elevated. As we know, though, weed isn’t just used to alleviate pain—people love how present it makes them feel.
Science’s growing support of meditation as a coping/healing mechanism gives me the feeling that marijuana and mindfulness might just be a natural combination. Research has shown long-term meditators exhibit “changes in the brain, and positive effects on empathy, meta-cognitive skills and health.” Exactly how meditation produces these effects is not completely understood, but these benefits correlate with decreased activity in the brain’s default mode network (DMN). Decreased activity in the DMN is suspected to signify a mind more at rest. While there isn’t any substantial research on weed relaxing your mind, there’s a strong belief that CBD—one of its two main components—can have a calming effect.
So my natural next step was to see if an increased dose of weed might also deepen my meditation.
Unfortunately, I live in New Jersey where prohibition still reigns and there are no ganja yoga classes (yet). So I decided to simply head to my next meditation class amply medicated. About an hour before class, I scarfed down a wickedly potent kief cookie, attempting to time the peak of my high with the beginning of a tibetan singing bowl sound bath meditation.
Stacey Mulvey, ganja yogi and founder of Marijuasana (a Las Vegas-based community of weed-positive yogis) tells me, “As cannabis users, we do enlightenment almost a little bit backwards in a way. Instead of getting there through years and years of dedicated practice of strict meditation, we’re kind of amping it up and [getting a] glimpse of that other side first…Then [we] learn how to ground that, and balance it, and center it, so we have a better understanding.”
High meditation may have a new-age vibe, but this practice actually has ancient roots. The Vedas—historical texts written in India around 1500 BC—name cannabis as one of the five sacred plants. Additionally, many legends describe Lord Shiva, a Hindu deity, as a passionate cannabis lover. Modern-day Nepal still holds a yearly spiritual festival with marijuana serving as a central feature of the holy celebration.
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Being able to access calm when you need it can be physically beneficial. “Mindfulness can be helpful for a variety of physical health issues, generally speaking, stress-related conditions such as high blood pressure,” says Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at UCLA Semel Institute’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. “Conditions that relate to inflammation can be positively affected such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc, and it’s also has been shown to boost the immune system and promote the healing response.” Cannabis has also been associated in very small initial studies with a decrease in blood pressure and an improvement in conditions related to inflammation. It’s reported to help as a muscle relaxant, with chronic pain and gastrointestinal issues.
On the other hand, THC can spur anxiety. This is exactly what happened when I walked into the studio and saw class more crowded than expected. Sweat dripped down the back of my neck as I began to wonder if I was the only attendant who was high. Were my eyes red? My tongue felt like the Sahara (tip: bring water). Surely the other meditators could tell? But no one seemed to notice or care. Then I remembered I was conducting important research: Getting high and meditating was my job for the day. After I got a water bottle, I relaxed and reconsidered bliss.
That night, I didn’t just hear those crystal bowls, my full body experienced them.
Mulvey thinks that when we meditate, do yoga, or exercise in general, we’re naturally supplementing our endocannabinoid system (a bunch of receptors in your brain and body that affect how you feel and behave). And this balancing can purportedly result in a feeling of bliss. Research supports this: A 2015 study suggests the euphoria of “runner's high” is actually caused by the natural endocannabinoid, anandamide, as opposed to endorphins as previously accepted.
The strain you choose when you meditate steers your experience. Keep in mind that CBD is relaxing, but not intoxicating; the THC in weed is the part that gets you high—and for some, this is ideal. Others are more prepared to add THC: My kief cookie was filled with a high-THC blend of Nigerian Haze, which is marketed for for creative insight, and Death Star, for full-body relaxation. Whichever strain you choose, use cannabis responsibly and in moderation. You don’t want to be so inebriated that feet look funny. You also don’t want to wreck anyone’s bliss with a pre-Savasana panic attack. Cannabis newbies should always start small and work their way up to higher does gradually.
The Nigerian Haze heightened my senses, as it does for many others. With the lights dimmed, we began by sitting upright on our mats. The instructor coached us through a series of deep breathing, reminding us to fill our lungs and exhale fully. She encouraged us to let go and allow the tension to melt out of our muscles.
Soon we relaxed on our mats, and our guide circled the room anointing the forehead of each participant with a blend of aromatherapy essential oils. She reassured us that falling asleep was common and appropriate, and while I did hear soft snores scattered throughout the room, I didn’t drift off.
With everyone at ease, our meditation leader began playing the Tibetan bowls. Sprawled on my yoga mat, the sound waves seemed to dance across my skin. The sound of singing bowls is hard to describe, I wouldn’t call it “pretty” in a classical sense, but the vibrations are storied to have healing properties and enhance the meditative state. Maybe it was the weed heightening my imagination or perhaps it’s the mystical quality that science still hasn’t explained, but I felt something different during that meditation. Around the area where a metal plate now holds together my spine, I felt a sense of longing. I can only describe it like a massage where the masseuse is hitting the right spot but you’re desperate for the pressure to be deeper.
At the end of the session, the leader gently roused us, instructing us to wiggle our fingers and toes. She refreshed us with a drink of water which had been stored in the bowls while they were being played. While I packed up my mat, I reflected. The vibrations of the bowls had penetrated my psyche, combining with my high. And while I wouldn’t yet be able to identify all the benefits of two lauded practices—smoking weed and meditating—my marrying of the two for under an hour intensified my conviction for both.
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