In today’s highly-strung, fast-moving world, it can be difficult to carve out time for relaxation, whether that’s accomplished through exercise, reading, or another activity. With an estimated 500 million people worldwide actively incorporating meditation into their lives, it’s clear that many consider this practice useful for centering the mind and body.
To complement meditation, some people also use cannabis to enhance the experience. What does science say about this combination, and what’s the best way to get started?
Why is meditation beneficial?
Meditation describes a variety of physical and mental practices from several different eras and cultures. Broadly, it involves a person using specific techniques to improve their awareness, well-being, and overall mental control.
Meditative practices were codified between 1500 and 500 BCE in the Vedas, an ancient Hinduism collection of texts. By this point, however, humans had been using these techniques for thousands of years, with wall paintings found on the Indian subcontinent documenting meditation as long ago as 5000 BCE. Over time, meditation as a particular practice has spread across the world, with its popularity increasing in recent years as people look for a way to calm and focus their minds in an accelerating world.
Depending on the specific techniques used and consistency of practice, meditation is thought to provide significant benefits. These include reductions in the symptoms of mental conditions such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD, as well as a decrease in certain physiological factors, including blood pressure and cortisol levels. This allows meditation to be helpful with dynamic functions such as sleep and stress, which can be affected by numerous factors.
How does cannabis affect the body?
Cannabis is a complex plant that contains over 125 different cannabinoids and hundreds of other phenols, terpenes, and flavonoids compounds. The two most prolific and well-characterized are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), while most of the other chemical constituents of cannabis are poorly understood. Knowledge of how these compounds interact with each other and the body is useful when consuming cannabis products, so we’ll use CBD and THC as an example.
The human body has a specific network designed for interacting with cannabinoids called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This vital system functions in everyone whether they use cannabis products or not, as it is affected by endocannabinoids (self-produced chemicals) as well as the exocannabinoids found in cannabis. The ECS influences a range of complex processes, including memory, appetite, motor control, sleep, and mood, making it one of the most dynamic systems in the body.
When cannabinoids are present, they interact with two types of receptors—CB1 (mainly found in the brain) and CB2 (mainly found on immune system cells and body tissues). The type of receptor and the way a particular compound interacts with it can cause disparate effects from different chemicals.
THC can bind to the brain-based CH1 receptor very strongly, causing its characteristic psychological effects of euphoria and intoxication as well as consciousness changes and altered memory processing. THC can also bind to CH2, which may result in side effects of anxiety and immune system suppression for some people.
CBD acts much more indirectly than THC. It can’t bind to either CH1 or CH2 completely, but it can physically prevent THC and other cannabinoids from interacting with the ECS. Some research has associated this blocking action with a reduction in nausea, inflammation, and pain, without the psychological effects of THC alone.
What profiles are the best to choose?
As meditation is all about focusing your awareness, mind, and body, the ideal profile is one that will help you to be relaxed and centered. With this in mind, a high-CBD strain is a good starting point. Studies have suggested it can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, which can make it easier to calm your mind in preparation for and during meditation. In addition, the range of compounds in a particular product can influence the specific effect.
Full-spectrum products contain all of the naturally occurring active elements of cannabis, including THC and CBD. THC is well-known for its psychoactive “high” effect and can infrequently increase anxiety, neither of which are ideal in the context of meditation. Therefore, full-spectrum products probably aren’t the best to reach for before beginning to meditate.
Broad-spectrum products include a wide range of active components, excluding THC. These can take advantage of the entourage effect, where the compounds interact with each other to cause the body’s response to cannabis. Depending on the combination of terpenes, flavonoids, and phenols, these products may cause a range of effects, so it can be useful to try different types and see what works best for you.
CBD isolate is what it says on the label—it contains CBD as its only cannabinoid. It’s a good starting point if you’re thinking of including a cannabis product in your meditation routine, as it should produce fairly consistent effects as a result of the single active ingredient. This allows you to see how a specific cannabinoid like CBD can improve or alter your practice, providing a baseline for trying broad- or full-spectrum products.
What are the potential benefits of combination?
It’s unclear exactly how far back cannabis and meditation go together, but the use of psychoactive substances and spiritual exploration have been entwined for thousands of years. Unfortunately, there is limited modern evidence as to how cannabis consumption can affect meditative practices beyond anecdotal trends. Nevertheless, there are theoretical pathways that can be drawn between them to provide a picture of the potential benefits.
A 2021 study indicated that a majority of participants felt “spiritual benefits” from using cannabis while meditating, which included reduced time to reach a meditative state and enhancement of the relaxation and calming effects than either practice alone. This was supported with a more anecdotal method in another study, although it identified differences in effect between people who only used cannabis for meditation and those who also used it recreationally.
Whether you’re completely new to meditation and cannabis or are looking for new experiences with both, this section can provide some guidance as to how you can combine them effectively.
If you’re new to meditation, you may be thinking of a person sitting cross-legged and repeating “ohm” as the only way to meditate. This could not be further from the truth, although that is still a legitimate way to practice it. There are hundreds of separate techniques, including guided meditations, movement-based mediation, and visual concentration. It’s worth looking into different types yourself, but this quick guide will only focus on the latter. For those looking for different methods or more complex practices, techniques such as mantra-based and affect-centered meditation may appeal to you.
Visual concentration meditation in three steps
Also known as gazing meditation, this technique focuses on a specific object such as a candle or running water. By doing so, it makes it easier to acknowledge and release unwanted thoughts, which increases focus and mental clarity.
Start by choosing your object and sitting comfortably in a place where you can easily see it. Begin to focus on the details of the object, such as its movement or features, without straining your gaze. Eventually, you may notice that your heart and breathing rate have slowed down and other thoughts have grown quiet.
What consumption method to choose
This comes down to the overall outcome you’re after. Many people want a mild, slow effect while meditating, making edible products perfect as the body requires time to digest them properly. However, if you’re keen to get meditating right away and want a strong effect, an inhalation or sublingual product with high bioavailability might be your go-to.
What time should you take cannabis?
Once you’ve chosen your product, it makes it easier to work out when to take it. CBD vapes take about 10 minutes to cause a noticeable effect, and it usually takes 5 minutes for you to get in the meditation “zone,” so your ideal time to use your vape is around 5 minutes before you start meditating. Again, this can vary significantly between individuals, and it may take a bit of trial and error to find the perfect time.
How much to take
Cannabis products can have very diverse impacts on different individuals—one person’s ideal dose may not affect another person at all. The key here is reflecting on your own experience, starting with a lower dose and increasing it gradually until it works well for you.
The bottom line
With numerous mental and physical health benefits backed with scientific evidence, meditation is an excellent thing to add to your relaxation routine.
Some theoretical and anecdotal reports have indicated that using cannabis while meditating can multiply the positive effects of each, although conclusive evidence to support the combination of practices is lacking. Nevertheless, it may be worth a try incorporating them into your routine.
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