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Unveiling the Potential of Cannabis in Wellness Practices

The world of cannabis has long been shrouded in secrecy and negative stereotypes. As a wellness practitioner, venturing into this territory can feel like challenging the status quo. However, a closer look reveals a fascinating history of cannabis use for both health and spiritual purposes. Let's delve into the ancient use of cannabis in India and explore how challenging the status quo can pave the way for a more inclusive future within the yoga and wellness landscape.

A Journey Through History and Stigma

My research into cannabis cultivation, yoga, and natural remedies unearthed surprising revelations about India's historical and spiritual use of cannabis. Fueled by this newfound knowledge, I anticipated widespread integration of cannabis into yoga and meditation following Minnesota's legalization.

However, I was surprised to find it still viewed as a taboo subject within the yoga community.

Why the resistance? Decades of misinformation have conditioned us to believe cannabis is a dangerous drug akin to heroin or cocaine. This perception directly contradicts the reasons many enter yoga practice: physical, spiritual, and mental well-being.

Breaking the Taboo: Education and Exploration

Breaking a taboo requires exploration and knowledge. Finding reliable information on cannabis remains challenging. Many resources (search engines, social media platforms, event sites) still restrict cannabis-related content. Additionally, the 27 states where cannabis remains illegal and businesses with the right to refuse cannabis education further limit public access to knowledge. This creates a situation where individuals seeking information resort to unreliable sources or avoid the topic altogether.

Lifting the Veil: A Legacy of Wellness

Can 3,000 years of documented history convince you that cannabis use can be part of a healthy and spiritually-based lifestyle? Cannabis ruderalis, originating in Central Asia over 12,000 years ago, finds mention in ancient Indian and Chinese health texts like the Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita. The Anandakanda dedicates a chapter to the herb, detailing its properties, purification, cultivation, preparation, and use. Historical Chinese medical texts record the use of all cannabis plant parts for over 1,800 years.

The Atharvaveda texts revere cannabis as a sacred plant for consumption and meditation.

India's connection to cannabis was so strong that it initially refused to sign international drug bans (led by the US and Europe) in the 1960s. They only agreed in 1985 after negotiating a classification system for different parts of the plant:

  • Ganja (bud/flower/fruit): Illegal

  • Bhang (mature leaves, seeds, excluding flower): Legal for religious purposes

  • Charas (resin or hashish): Illegal

Since the 1980s, cannabis has faced similar stigmatization in India as it has in the US and Europe since the early 1900s. The message has been clear: "Drugs are bad." "Cannabis fries your brain." This pointed international scrutiny has obscured the plant's historical and global uses.

Challenging Biases: Reframing Cannabis

Overcoming the "cannabis as a drug" bias is akin to dismantling any deeply held belief. Our experiences shape our perceptions, and challenging these requires seeking knowledge and introspection. Breaking free from this international stigma requires a collective effort.

The Role of Entheogens in Shamanic Practices

The past decade has seen increased discussion around shamanic practices and entheogens (substances used for spiritual growth). These practices, originating with indigenous communities in North and South America, are often unfamiliar to us due to repression and limited exposure. Commonly referenced entheogens include ayahuasca, psilocybin, peyote, and, to a lesser extent, cannabis. Cannabis is considered an entry-level entheogen and a potential starting point for spiritual journeys.

Cannabis may be used in tipi ceremonies, vision quests, or meditation. Often supervised by a shaman, these ceremonies may incorporate drumming, fire, singing, or dancing to enhance the spiritual experience (creating an "entourage effect") and facilitate a state of vision or enlightenment. Today, several Native American churches can legally utilize these entheogens within their religious ceremonies.

Western Medicine and the Endocannabinoid System

I personally have experience with peyote, psilocybin, and cannabis. Like many, I have also utilized medical cannabis for years to manage muscle spasms, chronic inflammation, and sleep disorders. Cannabis use for medicinal and religious purposes dates back approximately 5,000 years. Early pharmacopeias documented its use for fatigue, malaria, rheumatism, and eczema. In the 19th century, cannabis was recognized for its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsant, and anti-emetic properties.

Interestingly, yoga offers similar physical and mental benefits to those I experience with cannabis. My own observation led me to recognize how the gentle movements of vinyasa yoga activate my endocannabinoid system, the bodily system responsible for maintaining homeostasis and regulating functions like pain, stress, and sleep. Every mammal possesses this system, capable of producing its own cannabinoids and also utilizing those from external sources. Discovered only in the 1990s, the endocannabinoid system remains a relatively new frontier in medical research. This system is implicated in stress response pathways, pain, obesity, mood, the sleep-wake cycle, hunger, and has other functional activities in organ systems including the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, skeletal muscle, hepatic, reproductive, and urologic systems.

Exploring Cannabis Responsibly

The effects of cannabis vary greatly from person to person. Dosage, metabolism, and individual biochemistry all play a role. It's crucial to approach cannabis with caution and start low, especially for first-time users. Seek guidance from knowledgeable friends or professionals (many millennials use cannabis, so chances are you know someone with experience). Additionally, local cannabis wellness centers often offer classes and have staff who can help navigate the various products and their potential benefits.

While cannabis can be addictive, it's important to consider the relative risk. Cannabis use disorder makes up a significantly smaller portion of the global burden of disease compared to other substances.  For example, of “two million total disability adjusted life-years lost to substance use disorders (not including tobacco),” individual substance use disorders were 47% for alcohol, 24.3% for opioids, and 5.5% for cannabis.


**For Yoga Teachers: Re-examining Biases

I challenge you to look at your own biases towards cannabis use.  Even those of us who are pro-cannabis still have beliefs that keep cannabis in the shadow realm.  Sometimes words we use like “pot-head” or “hippie” can have a negative connotation and create a class of person.  We think that “smoking weed” even in small amounts can’t be healthy, even if cannabis, beer and amphetamines are consistently found at archaeological ritual sites around the world.  And we may still hide our use of cannabis from others in avoidance of retaliation or judgment from students and peers in the wellness community.

I encourage you to explore your own practice first with cannabis before crafting high yoga classes for others.  Learn how you experience the asanas and breathwork as your balance and stability can be compromised in this state, as well as feeling an intense presence of the mind and body. Take time in developing how to guide someone else into this practice through self study and peer feedback. Since that first yoga class, I have actively sought out my own practice, and committed to yoga as a means of aging gracefully.  I don’t always do yoga (asanas) when I use cannabis, and I don’t always use cannabis when I practice yoga; but combining the two things allows for a deeper state of meditation and presence.

I hope to see you at a future class, and accompany you in an experience for yourself in what Shiva did eons ago.

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