The combination of cannabis and meditation is not a new trend. There is a long history of cannabis being used for meditation, spiritual rituals, and healing going back thousands of years.
In some Hindu sects in India and Nepal, holy men consume cannabis to aid in meditation and many lay people consume it for holidays and rituals. It is even believed to be used by the Hindu god Shiva, who some say gifted the plant to humans on earth. Cannabis use was also an important aspect of practice for some Tantric Buddhists in Tibet and the greater Himalyan region, who used cannabis as part of meditative rituals to both facilitate meditation and heighten awareness of all aspects of their ceremonies.
Today this tradition continues, and has spread to other areas. In the contemporary western world, both meditation and cannabis have become popular and there are a host of retreats, books, services and teachers aimed at using cannabis to help augment the meditative process.
Still, there is controversy as to whether cannabis is helpful or harmful when it comes to meditation.
Some champion the combination, pointing to the history of its use for meditation and saying that cannabis makes them more mindful, calm, and aware. Some even credit cannabis with opening their eyes to meditation practice and making the meditative journey possible.
Others discourage using cannabis for meditation saying that it takes away your ability to focus, scatters your mind, and dissociates you from your real experience. They also worry that using cannabis regularly for meditation may leave you dependent on an illusion of relaxation and calm created by cannabis — rather than help you build resilience to the reality of the world.
So does marijuana help or harm a meditation practice? The question remains extremely controversial in the meditation community, but perhaps the best answer is that it can do both — and may be beneficial for some and not for others. As we’ll see, this is actually what our best science predicts.
How cannabis can aid meditation
Meditation and mindfulness practices are undertaken for so many different reasons and in today’s world, many use meditation to improve their health and reduce stress. In fact, the science shows that meditation can be a big help in this regard, reducing pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia and boosting the immune system.
But for some, meditation can be hard to start. In some cases, meditation can cause them to relive trauma or have intense panic attacks — but this is usually not the case. For those who have a hard time meditating, cannabis may be particularly helpful. Many cannabis users, this author included, report anecdotally that cannabis helps to put them into a more mindful headspace — relaxing and calming their anxious response to meditation and allowing them to sink into the practice. While the simple act of being with their mind was just too much without the plant, with it they are able to get in better touch with their inner world in a way that feels manageable.
This makes sense with the science because cannabis is able to reduce stress reactions, lessening both a subjective sense of anxiety and its chemical markers like cortisol. For those who find meditation extremely stressful or retraumatizing, this can help bridge the gap, easing them into meditation until they are comfortable with the practice on its own.
Cannabis may also help people with chronic pain to meditate. Because cannabis can lessen chronic pain, it can help take away a big distraction to practice and make sitting for long periods more comfortable. While some meditation is aimed at getting in touch with our pain, others are not, and it can help those in chronic pain to be able to focus on other aspects of experience as well.
Others report cannabis expands their awareness and makes them more mindful as they meditate or simply go through their day. Some say it makes them more aware that things are not as they are, and have an illusory nature. Still others say it helps them to be more kind and compassionate to themselves and others. Or, some find that improves creativity or insight during meditation.
These are all reasons why people use cannabis for meditation. But it may not work well for everyone.
How Cannabis can hurt meditation
On the other side of this conversation we have those who say cannabis should be avoided in meditation. Often, this comes from past cannabis users who report that cannabis made their meditation experience more difficult, scattering the mind, reducing focus, and negatively impacting emotional balance.
Or on the other hand, some say that cannabis felt so good that they were using it to dissociate from their real experience. That might create a cloud of illusion that everything was fine, instead of letting them do the hard work of being with things as they really are — the work that is said to bring about enlightenment.
Why cannabis meditation experiences differ
The diverse opinions about cannabis and meditation make sense considering that marijuana affects different people very differently. Cannabis interacts with our bodies’ endocannabinoid system, which regulates aspects of our experience like mood, pain, energy, focus and memory. When that system is balanced and functioning well, adding cannabis to the equation can cause imbalances which may lead to effects like increased anxiety and depression, lack of focus, or excessive euphoria.
But many have deficiencies in this system, which might be responsible for problems like increased anxiety, depression, pain, or focusing issues. For those who already have these imbalances, adding cannabis can sometimes help — reducing these issues and leaving them feeling “normal.” In fact, research shows those who use cannabis medicinally tend to have improved cognitive skills while using cannabis.
So it’s likely, given cannabis’ diverse effects, that marijuana can help some with meditation — particularly those with conditions that cause added stress, depression, pain, or focusing issues.
But for others, particularly those who are healthy and find meditation manageable on its own, cannabis could cause problems. Thus, those using cannabis for meditation should do so mindfully — noticing it how it impacts their personal meditative experience and avoiding use if it causes problems like dissociating, losing focus, or getting distracted by the euphoria.
Most importantly, remember that your experiences with cannabis and meditation are your own, and we know there are many different ways cannabis impacts people. The way cannabis impacts your meditation might not be how it impacts meditation for the person sitting next to you, so listen to your own wisdom and do what is right for you.
This reinforces our understanding that experience with cannabis is very individual and based on a variety of factors, including the person taking it, strain, concentration, and a host of other factors.