CANNABIS AND YOGA
Of the more than 50,000 species of plants with documented therapeutic properties, cannabis is one of the oldest recognized plant medicines. Ancient carvings and texts depict and describe the use of cannabis for medical, therapeutic and spiritual purposes in Asia beginning around 3000 years ago and subsequently spreading throughout the globe.
The practice of combining yoga and cannabis is also ancient. Humans have used both cannabis and yoga therapeutically for thousands of years, and it didn’t take long to recognize the natural symbiotic relationship of the plant and the practice. There are vague references to using psychoactive plants with yoga in ancient texts from millenia ago, and we have clear historical records indicating that the practice of the purposeful combination of cannabis and yoga was popular in India since at least the 7th century. While not all sects of the yogic tradition support the practice, the Sadhus (ascetics who are devoted to Lord Shiva, the god of yoga and cannabis) regularly combine cannabis and yoga in a ritualistic manner. Physiologically, cannabis and yoga demonstrate a natural synergy as some of the lasting positive effects of yoga have been attributed to it’s effect on the endocannabinoid system. Contemporary ganja yogis who regularly enhance their practice with cannabis comment on this synergy. They often note that adding cannabis helps to get more out of their yoga practice, it helps them drop in quicker and deeper. This highlights another potential widespread benefit of cannabis-enhanced yoga in western society today – unfortunately many people are living incredibly busy lives with limited time for self-care. If you’re coming out of an incredibly stressful day into a one hour yoga class, by the time your mind stops racing and you get settled in and present in the class, it’s over.
For those in this position, many report that cannabis-enhanced yoga helps them to maximize their practice, helping them to fully arrive and be present, to drop-in, and connect inward as soon as they arrive on their mat. In this way, cannabis-enhanced yoga can be an incredibly valuable tool for well-being in our modern society.
The practice of yoga itself has been linked with ample therapeutic benefits including improved emotional regulation, attention, memory, and quality of life, and decreases in rumination, anxiety, depression, sensory pain, medical symptoms, and inflammation. While yoga can be an incredibly beneficial practice for improving health and wellness, previous studies investigating barriers to participation cite health issues, joint pain, and attentional difficulties as major obstacles to participating in yoga. This is one area where we can look at how adding cannabis to yoga may help individuals to access this practice. One of the primary therapeutic uses of cannabis is for pain management. Participating in yoga can be therapeutic for functional pain, but if you’re in too much pain to engage in yoga, you can’t access the potential pain relief of the practice. Similarly, yoga can be therapeutic for individuals with attentional difficulties such as ADHD, but again the condition itself can act as a barrier if the attentional difficulties and hyperactivity present an obstacle to attending to the content of the yoga class. Cannabis is useful for some to reduce these barriers. These are just a couple examples of areas where enhancing yoga with cannabis may lower barriers to accessing the practice for populations which may stand to benefit the most.
Managing mental health and enhancing wellness is one of the most prominent motives for cannabis use. However, a recent meta-analysis indicated that cannabis use is repeatedly associated with both positive and negative impacts on mental health across a myriad of conditions. For example, cannabis use has been associated with decreased anxiety but also with increased anxiety. Cannabis use has been associated with improved mood but also with a higher risk of developing depression.
One potential explanation underlying the contradictory literature may be the role of set and setting. The term set and setting refers to the extra-pharmacological factors that can impact the effects of a psychoactive drug. Set refers to internal factors such as an individual’s mindset, personality, intention, and expectations. Setting refers to external factors such as the physical environment and social and cultural factors. The set and setting hypothesis proposes that these non-pharmacological factors are primarily responsible for the subjective effects of a psychoactive drug. While the term is relatively new, the importance of context when using psychoactive drugs has historically and traditionally been revered and strictly upheld. Historically, cannabis use was embedded within ceremonial and spiritual practices such as yoga, meditation, chanting, or prayer. In contrast, cannabis use in North America today often takes place in a set and setting where the practice is highly stigmatized. The traditional set and setting for therapeutic cannabis use, embedded in supportive spiritual or ceremonial practices, is in stark contrast to cannabis use today which for many occurs in an unsupportive sociocultural environment. One promising approach is to examine how we might better integrate the vast body of traditional knowledge with current therapeutic use. The flipside of cannabis-enhanced yoga is yoga-enhanced cannabis: can we maximize the therapeutic potential of cannabis by paying attention to set and setting – by coupling cannabis use with an intentional, mindful, supportive container such as yoga.
Cannabis use today in North America is inextricably a social justice issue. Although there is now a federal legal framework for cannabis in Canada, the consequences of decades of cannabis prohibition remain and disproportionately impact people who are Black, Indigenous, and other vulnerable members of our society. Today, we are faced with a reality in which thousands of individuals are incarcerated for activities which others can enjoy freely. For more information and ways you can help, visit:
The Last Prisoner Project
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© Elevate Yoga Okanagan 2020