The Zen Of Cannabis
The Science of Meditation, Cannabis, and Happiness
What is it about meditation that is so beneficial? And why is it simultaneously so difficult to incorporate into our routines? Is there a way to make meditation easier?
Maybe you’ve never tried meditation, and aren’t sure what the benefits may be. Maybe you’ve tried meditating, but you still find it difficult to do regularly. If we look at the research around meditation and happiness, we can clearly see the benefits, but also the roadblocks that our own brains present.
With the aid of cannabis, the transition between our daily lives and that 5-30-minute meditation session can be much smoother, and the motivation to continue the practice much stronger.
In his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt, asks us to imagine a pill you take once a day to improve memory, reduce stress, and increase self-esteem, empathy, trust, and contentment; it’s free and completely natural. If such a pill existed, wouldn’t we all take it? Fortunately, it does exist in the form of meditation.
The goal of meditation is to change our automatic thought processes and break free from attachments. Attachments, like constantly seeking more money, more influence, or more respect, force our thoughts into distorted feedback loops.
If you’re constantly seeking respect from others, for example, you're constantly on the lookout for signs of disrespect, and when you find it, the pain of disrespect impacts you more strongly than the elation of respect ever will. The only way to stop this is to step away from it.
Meditation is the voluntary focusing of attention, or the open, non-reactive monitoring of your thoughts. It allows you to develop an awareness of your own mental processes; that autobiographical sense of identity that projects into the past and the future. This awareness can transform your cognitive and emotional habits, improve your sensitivity to your own body and environment, and decrease the reactive nature of your mind that causes mental stress. In short, meditation makes you happier.
Within the psychological study of happiness, called positive psychology, researchers developed a happiness formula: H = S+C+V. Happiness (H) is determined by your “biological set-point” (S),which is your personal peak level of happiness; plus your conditions (C), which represent the quality of your relationships, the amount of control you feel you have in life, the amount of shame you feel, or the volume and frequency of noise around you; plus the voluntary activities (V) you participate in that cultivate acceptance and weaken emotional attachments.
Meditation constitutes a voluntary activity; something that may not be pleasurable in the moment, but which provides rewards in your daily life. So with all of its benefits, why is meditation so difficult?
Meditation does not seem to stimulate dopamine or oxytocin production in the brain. Dopamine is our “reward” chemical. It’s the neurotransmitter that gives us the great feeling that we have succeeded at our needs. Oxytocin is the “trust” chemical. It gives us the feeling of comfort and reduces stress and anxiety.
Many great meditators who follow the Zen tradition or Buddhism would argue that meditation is supposed to be hard, it’s breaking through those mental roadblocks and failures (and continuing to meditate anyway) that teach humility and patience. But the difficulty and lack of “reward” that most people find when beginning meditation can lead to infrequent and unproductive practice and that can turn many people off from meditation completely.
Speaking with my patients who use cannabis to aid in their meditation practice, and understanding the positive effects cannabis can have, it’s easy to see how it may be the perfect tool for learning meditation and finding the motivation to do it.
The cannabinoids in cannabis, most prominently THC (Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol), have profound effects on our brain function.
THC acts as a “brake” in our brain, preventing neurons from excessive firing, essentially slowing down our thoughts. It also promotes relaxation and relieves pain. It produces a good feeling by activating our “reward” system, inducing dopamine release in the brain, which is the euphoria or “high” normally associated with cannabis.
CBD reduces anxiety, stress and inflammation. It promotes focus, a good mood, and has been shown to help with memory and learning. It may induce oxytocin production in the brain, giving us a feeling of comfort, and reducing the stress hormone, cortisol.
It’s these features of cannabis that make it an extremely useful tool for those learning meditation or trying to stay motivated to do it. Because of its effects on our reward system, cannabis can help motivate us by allowing our brains to actually look forward to practicing, rather than seeing it as a chore. And because cannabis reduces anxiety, slows down our thoughts, and gives a happy relaxed feeling, it can help transition us into the focused, relaxed state of mind meditation requires. Also, its potential effects on memory and learning may enable us to develop our meditative practice more quickly.
Importantly, THC and CBD both have positive effects and so should be used together in this context. Also, smoking cannabis has increasingly been proven to be unhealthy for a variety of reasons, and so vapourizing or eating cannabis instead is highly recommended. And the most important point here is that the effects mentioned above are associated with small doses of cannabis, as higher doses can actually promote stress and panic, and be counterproductive in many aspects.
It seems counterintuitive that sitting still for 5-30 minutes would be difficult. If you’ve tried meditation and couldn’t do it, or have trouble doing it as regularly as you’d like, occasionally using cannabis to aid in your motivation and promoting a relaxed, focused mind is a powerful way to make this healthy habit a part of your daily routine and greatly improve your quality of life. As Buddha said, “When one knows the solitude of silence and feels the joy of quietness, they are then free from fear.”
Michael Murchison is a Cannabis Counsellor working out of Canadian Cannabis clinics throughout the GTA, offering free knowledge and guidance to hundreds of medical cannabis patients every day. Canvasrx.com, firstname.lastname@example.org