I started meditating out of necessity.
After a particularly challenging few months, I found myself overwhelmed by crippling anxiety—complete with thought spirals that I couldn’t control, intense waves of sudden and inexplicable fear, and full-blown panic attacks. I was willing to do anything to find some relief from my anxiety—including meditate.
Fast forward a few years and, today, meditation (and, in particular, mindfulness meditation) is the foundation of my self-care routine. Not only has meditation been a complete game-changer for my anxiety, but it’s also helped me to feel more present, calm, and focused—and, in the process, completely redefine the way I deal with stress.
But, if I’m being honest, meditation isn’t always easy for me. Even when I’m not feeling anxious, my thoughts can go at a million miles a minute, so I’m always on the lookout for things that can help me slow down and settle into my practice—and that includes cannabis.
Pairing cannabis and meditation, in many ways, makes sense. Many people (myself included) use meditation as a way to manage stress—and cannabis has been shown to reduce stress reactivity. Many cannabis users also report that weed gives them a heightened awareness of their mind and body—and that parallel between the feeling of taking a few hits of weed and settling into meditation can make it easier to “drop in” and focus on the practice. “There’s this moment where I sort of drop into myself…You take up your first puff and…It’s kind of like, ‘Ah, I’m home,’” says Jaene Leonard, founder of The Compassionate Budtender and a meditation teacher who has been teaching cannabis-centric meditation classes (aptly titled Medicate & Meditate) in the Bay Area for several years. “I noticed that that’s the same feeling that I have in meditation.”
But how, exactly, can cannabis help deepen your meditation practice? In what ways does cannabis interact with your brain and body to help you get into “the zone” during meditation? And what are some of the ways you can use cannabis to meditate?
Why you should meditate…
In terms of stress reduction, you’d be hard-pressed to find a practice more effective than meditation. One study found that participants who completed an eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program showed a decrease in stress, anxiety, and related symptoms as well as improvement in overall psychological functioning. But it doesn’t take eight weeks to see results from meditation—according to a recent study, even a single 60-minute meditation session can significantly reduce anxiety.
Bottom line? When it comes to managing stress—and improving your overall well-being—you’d be hard pressed to find a practice more impactful than meditation.
…and why you should meditate with cannabis
But for a lot of people, meditation is difficult. Perhaps they’re too stressed out to settle into their practice. Maybe they struggle with chronic pain. Or maybe their anxiety makes the thought of sitting down and observing their thoughts feel completely overwhelming. Whatever the case, meditation just doesn’t come easily for a lot of would-be meditators.
But, for some, cannabis can make it easier to settle into a meditation practice. Tillie Eze, a meditation teacher and the founder of Moon Me, a series of women’s wellness retreats that incorporate both cannabis and meditation practice, started using cannabis as a way to treat her anxiety—and, eventually, found it helped her go deeper into her meditations. “So those meditations where I know that there’s something there but [thinking] ‘What is hindering me from allowing myself to go deeper? Is it fear, what is it?,’” says Eze. “Certain strains help you stay in those modes of meditation—but it also allows you to explore further.”
There’s science behind the idea that cannabis can help you relax into the experience of meditation. “The cannabinoid receptors most densely populated in our brain, our CB1 receptors, are responsible for our brains inhibition and excitation response that just allows the optimal kind of functioning of brain chemistry,” says Emma Chasen, cannabis educator and co-founder of Eminent Consulting. “And so our CB1 receptors, being part of the endocannabinoid system, promotes balance in this arena. And really we’re looking at three primary neurotransmitters—GABA, dopamine and glutamate.”
Each of these neurotransmitters serves a different function. Glutamate (one of the brain’s most prevalent neurotransmitters) promotes optimal brain health while dopamine helps to control mood and GABA modulates stress. And when you introduce cannabis into the system, it has a direct impact on all three of these neurotransmitters—which can make it easier to relax, focus, and settle into the experience of meditation.
“When we introduce what we call exogenous agonists…such as THC that are really good at binding to our CB1 receptors, then this modulates our GABA and our dopamine and our glutamate,” says Chasen. “At the…unique optimal dose for each person, this can promote a healthier level of GABA, dopamine and glutamate to help to further modulate stress and anxiety, promote focus and promote a calm feeling.”
Weed may also be able to help meditators who struggle with pain. “We…have a class of receptors called the TRPV receptors found throughout our body that modulate sensation of pain and heat and inflammation,” says Chasen. “Both THC and CBD—as well as many terpenes—can interact with these receptor families to help promote a decrease in pain.”
“Internally, it can help to promote relaxation, the reduction of muscle tension, inflammation and really allow you to get a delicious and relaxing body high where you can almost—again, at the optimal dose and concentration for you—can almost feel like having a good disassociation from your body,” Chasen continues. “Where instead of being hyper focused on a pain point…that pain will go away and you’re able to drop deeper into practice in the context of meditation”
And even if cannabis doesn’t take away your pain completely, it may make it easier to manage during meditation—new research has found that THC may actually make the experience of pain more bearable.
Clearly, cannabis has some serious meditative potential. But what are the best ways to work weed into your practice?
Tips for incorporating cannabis into your meditation practice
Every person is different, and every person has a different experience when they meditate—so when it comes to incorporating cannabis into your meditation practice, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. The best way to combine weed and meditation is going to depend on your practice, your tolerance, and what you’re trying to get from the experience.
There are, however, different strategies you might want to try. Here are a few tips for getting started with incorporating cannabis into your meditation practice:
Use the right terpenes
When it comes to meditating, not all weed is created equal—and if you want to get the biggest meditation benefit, you need to look for specific terpenes to support you practice.
So, what terpenes should you look for?
- If you struggle with pain or discomfort, try beta-caryophyllene. “Beta-caryophyllene…is a CB2 receptor agonist—meaning, it can bind to those receptors and help to facilitate the relief of pain, reduction of muscle tension and inflammation,” says Chasen.
- If you find it hard to relax, try linalool. “Linalool, which is the terpene found in lavender is a really good option, as it…helps to promote bodily relaxation as well as to decrease stress,” says Chasen.
- If you can’t focus, try limonene. “Limonene..is a great one to help improve focus,” says Chasen. “[It can also help to] decrease stress and improve mood.”
Go easy on the THC
Using THC in meditation is tricky. One hit might help you focus during your meditation—but one too many hits and focusing could be impossible.
“I personally can’t do a lot of cannabis [with THC] to meditate because I just get too spacey,” says Leonard. “So I would say start with a microdose.”
If you want to incorporate cannabis into your meditation practice, go easy on the THC—especially if you’re just getting started. Try a strain with a lower concentration of THC or a high CBD to THC ratio. Or, if you’re set on using high-THC cannabis, consume slowly. For example, if you’re using flower, take one hit, see how it impacts your meditation, and wait 15 minutes before adding more THC into the mix (if necessary).
In Leonard’s experience, when you find the right dose of THC, it can seriously enhance the meditation experience. “There is just this feeling of joy that happens with a little THC bliss,” says Leonard. “With just that little bit of cannabis, a little bit of THC…everything looks so much more vibrant and alive and you feel so much more connected. And I love that about medicating and meditating together.”
Experiment with different types of meditation—and different types of cannabis
The truth is, not every form of meditation is going to be the right fit for every person. And if the more traditional sit-and-be-quiet type of meditation doesn’t feel like the right fit for you, that’s totally ok!
If you struggle to sit in meditation, try something more movement-based, like a walking meditation, Qigong, or ecstatic dance. “People think meditation is all about sitting down and quieting the noise,” says Eze. “Meditation is also being active in your body.”
And, while you’re experimenting with new types of meditation, you can experiment with different types of cannabis. While you might want a more relaxing strain for sitting meditation, something more energizing could be a better fit for more movement-based explorations.
Meditation has some serious stress-busting benefits—and cannabis has some serious potential to help you deepen your meditation practice. And now that you know how to use the two together, all that’s left to do is take a hit, relax, and get meditating.