In the world of cannabis, it’s not uncommon to hear references and analogies to meditation. Cannabis products are often described as “zen” or “meditative.” Images of the Buddha, the lotus or other meditation symbols are fairly common in cannabis advertising and packaging.
It might leave you wondering: What’s the connection between meditation and cannabis consumption? Why are these two practices so tightly associated by those who practice both?
For myself and many others, the answer is simple: Cannabis was our gateway into meditation. Before cannabis, we either found meditation too challenging, or we never even thought about it. But incorporating cannabis, suddenly meditation and mindfulness were natural parts of life.
I want to share how cannabis helped me and others jumpstart our meditation practices as well as the science behind why people find cannabis so helpful in kick-starting and maintaining a meaningful meditation practice.
How Marijuana Helped Me Start Meditating
Years ago, when I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, meditation was one of the first things recommended by my doctors. “It helps people relax,” they told me.
Meditation is an incredibly helpful practice. The science shows that the simple act of sitting with our own minds can help reduce:
Meditation can also:
- Improve our ability to process information
- Delay the brain’s aging process
- Enhance mood and confidence
- Improve quality of life
My doctors assured me this was the best treatment for the intense anxiety symptoms I was going through.
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So, a few days later, I sat in meditation posture at a group meditation class. Contrary to my doctors’ prediction, I didn’t feel relaxed. In fact, the longer I sat, the worse I felt. The anxiety and panic that I was usually able to push down by focusing on other things was coming up with an intensity I’d never experienced. I was swimming in it … or maybe even drowning.
It was all I could do to just sit there until the class was over and then bolt. I never went back.
I tried meditating on my own over the years, but every time I had the same experience of intense panic and anxiety. Every time I tried to meditate, I felt like I was drowning, and I’d quickly end the meditation, coming up gasping for air.
But years later, something changed.
Cannabis as My Meditation Spark
I went to a meditation center and sat down to meditate, and I was actually able to sit there and be with myself. I was able to look at my own panicked thoughts and embrace them with compassion. I was able to just be. I couldn’t believe what a different experience this was. Suddenly, it seemed to be working. I was meditating.
So, what changed? Honestly, … this time around, I consumed cannabis.
I went back to the meditation center, and then back again. Then I started a daily practice of meditation. I got involved at my meditation center, I took meditation trainings, and I watched as meditation truly changed my life.
Eight years later, my meditation practice is stronger than ever. I can say with confidence it’s made a huge difference in my anxiety and my life overall. Now, regardless of whether I’ve consumed cannabis, I can sit with my own mind and meditate. Meditation is woven into my being, and I have unending gratitude for the self-compassion, patience and ease it’s brought into my life.
Still, I know one thing: Without cannabis, I’d never have started meditating.
Marijuana Improves Focus During Meditation Sessions
It turns out I’m not the only one who has had this type of experience. As a cannabis journalist and educator, I’ve heard so many stories from cannabis patients about their experiences. And many report the same phenomenon: Meditation felt out of reach, or wasn’t even on their minds, until they started consuming cannabis. Then suddenly, meditation started to make sense.
Gannon Castner is a San Francisco Bay Area resident who heads up operations and product development for Kikoko cannabis-infused teas. Like myself, Gannon tried meditating early on, but says she wasn’t in a mental place to be able to sit still and look inward.
“I think a lot of meditation is about facing yourself,” she explains. “And I think a lot of people struggle to see it, because they're struggling with facing themselves in some capacity. And I'm 100% guilty of that, too.”
But with cannabis, things started to click for Gannon. “It wasn't really until this year that I intentionally started combining cannabis and meditation,” she says. “And I genuinely think that that's why this year my meditation practice has solidified.”
Gannon consumes cannabis to treat attention deficit disorder and says, “[Marijuana] helps me quiet the white noise and really focus on what I want to focus on. ... Using cannabis helps me kind of broaden my perception of possibilities. Meditation does that same thing.”
When bringing cannabis into meditation, Gannon says she tailors her strain choices to the style of meditation she’s using and her goals for the meditation session. Sometimes she meditates with marijuana strains that provide a really clear mind for reflection.
Other times she says she “just can't do that and that's OK, too.” On those days she’ll consume a more psychoactive cannabis strain, which she says allows her to “just focus on my breath and allow that to melt through.” Gannon explains that “being able to use cannabis to help me settle into that meditation and mindset is really helpful.”
Cannabis Helps Inward Reflection During Meditation
Joely Balaz, a residential property assessor from New Brunswick, is another example of someone whose found meditation through cannabis. Joely struggled with anxiety and depression for years, when meditation and mindfulness weren’t yet a part of her life. Then a doctor suggested cannabis and Joely decided to give it a try.
With marijuana, Joely could begin processing her thoughts and emotions. “I would just take everything that comes up, and just look at it and say, ‘Where did you come from?’ and ‘How did you get there? and ‘Are you relevant?’ and ‘Can we live together?’”
“I did that with my emotions, and it felt natural for me to do that. Like I could talk to myself when I was talking to my emotions,” Joely explained. Incredibly, without any training or prompting, Joely began to meditate every day, sitting with her own mind for five or 10 minutes at a time.
Like me, Joely found that cannabis allowed her to look inward with more compassion and awareness. She explains that before cannabis “there was a chasm between me and all kinds of things I just shoved in a closet and didn’t want to deal with. I believed the chasm was uncrossable, and there was nothing I could do about it.”
With cannabis, Joely says it feels like a bridge is lighting up over the chasm. “Just a little bit, just enough to lighten the load so that you can go, ‘Oh, OK, that’s cool. Maybe I can go over there,’” she explains. “It’s still scary, and I don’t have to go. But there is a path if I choose to go there. And that just gave me a sense of relief.”
After that Joely began meditating two or three times per day. With this practice, she started feeling better and says that the bridge got brighter.
It was quite some time after that when Joely found her way to formal mindfulness and meditation practices. When she did, she remembers thinking, “Oh my God! That’s awesome. That’s what I’ve been doing!”
“I was genuinely healed,” says Joely. “I didn’t kill the pain; I embraced it and pulled the hood off … and I saw myself.”
The Science of Cannabis & Meditation
These stories are similar to my own in that in each one, cannabis was the gateway into a meditation practice. It’s not always easy to look inward. Personally, I was so overwhelmed by anxiety that I couldn’t get any kind of meditation practice started.
But with cannabis, my anxious reactions decreased. I still had a lot of intense emotions to process through in my meditation practice, but now I could tolerate the flood of emotions.
While this was a deeply spiritual experience for me, there’s a scientific explanation as to why this happens. Research shows that cannabis can reduce stress reactions. Marijuana not only lessens the subjective perception of stress and anxiety, it actually lowers its chemical markers of stress, like cortisol. For me and many others, this stress reduction is just what’s needed to open up the way to meditation.
Cannabis reduced my panic so that I could tolerate meditation. Meditation in turn has continually improved my ability to reduce my anxiety naturally. This cycle has led to vast and continual improvements in my life.
When people ask me what practices have helped me with anxiety, my answer is always cannabis and meditation. I can’t help but think of them together—an entwined pair—continually aiding, supporting and pushing me forward towards better and better versions of myself.
Photo credit: Lua Valentia