People dig yoga for many reasons. People dig cannabis for many reasons. Stick with me, my story gets better.
A relatively new study has shown that up to two thirds of yoga students and 85% of yoga teachers find their reasons changing the longer they practice. Their reasons become more about compassion, selfreflection, growth, and awareness of oneself and others(1). The yoga sutras, written in Sanskrit before the time of Christ, 1 are considered the practice’s foundational text. The sutras list herbs as one of five methods to lift the veil of ignorance, or the barrier between the conscious and the unconscious.
Marijuana’s long track record of being used to increase awareness of oneself and the connections we make in this world and the next is difficult to argue with. It’s one of the five holy plants in the Atharvaveda, a sacred Indian text. The Scythians, used cannabis at funerals to pay respect to departed leaders. Ancient Chinese texts say that cannabis can lighten a person’s body and allow them to communicate with spirits. The Persian prophet Zoroaster (7 BCE) relied on the intoxicating effects of bhanga, a cannabis drink, to bridge heaven and earth(2).
Yoga is proven to help with stress management, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, and depression. From a medical perspective, many consume marijuana because it helps with their various conditions… such as stress, pain, digestive issues, anxiety, and depression.
Sound similar? Well, there’s a reason for that. And it’s one that really pisses off the antimarijuana legislators.
The Discovery of THC and Cannabinoid Receptors
In 1964, an Israeli organic chemist by the name of Dr. Raphael Mechoulam discovered and isolated the compound known as Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Nearly 25 years later while researching at St. Louis University Medical school, Dr. Allyn Howlett and Dr. William Devane discovered a receptor in the human brain that THC binds to “like a molecular key in a lock(3) .”
In 1990, a neuroscientist named Dr. Miles Herkenham and his team mapped the locations of a cannabinoid receptor system in several mammalian species, including humans. The receptors showed up all over the brain, cerebral cortex, hippocampus, the basal ganglia, and the amygdala. Interestingly enough, not as much in the brainstem controlling lung and heart functions.
Dr. Howlett also found receptors in the uterus, theorizing that it helped dull the pain of childbirth(4). Under the assumption that the brain evolving a special structure just for THC was unlikely, it was hypothesized that the brain evolved to make something strikingly similar to THC. Just two years later, Mechoulam and Devane discovered the brain’s very own endocannabinoid neurotransmitter. Mechoulam named it anandamide, which means “bliss” in Sanskrit.
Yoga and Cannabinoid Receptors
Research has shown that our brains react to anandamide in a remarkably similar fashion as to THC and CBD ( cannabidiol) . Yoga is often recommended for people suffering from anxiety and PTSD (PostTraumatic Stress Disorder) for the same reasons cannabis is recommended; both THC and anandamide target the receptors in the amygdala linked to anxiety. In fact, anandamide levels are often boosted by doing yoga.
Fun fact! The only other place anandamide exists is in chocolate.
Surprisingly, the movement behind combining cannabis and yoga is rife with controversy. Many yogis regard it as a “cheat” and that any “bliss” found isn’t real yoga induced bliss. This aside, it has been documented that people who would not usually be able to do yoga due to physical limitations have found a remarkable increase in overall health and mental well being when combining the two.
There are two well known cannabis enhanced yoga practioners.
Liz Mcdonald, runs a studio called Brazillian Yoga near Glendale, CA. She is someone who had severe scoliosis as a child, and with the help of cannabis and yoga is able to live comfortably in her body.
“Some devotees have literally dedicated their lives to yoga,” she said, “and as a result, they tend to see it as an ideal, beyond human flaws, capable of our salvation. I think that perfection is found by authentically being in the present moment, rather than as an outcome of enlightenment. So I’m not afraid to admit I’m not perfect and come out of the closet on these issues.(5)”
Dee Dussault of San Francisco California, who teaches a class called “Ganja Yoga.” “Tantric yoga says you use whatever tools are available to get to a place of transcendence,” she said, adding the caveat that marijuana must be used “mindfully.”
Ask A Stoner!
A: a former football player and current CEO in San Diego, CA, regularly smokes cannabis before going to yoga.
“It feels like less of a workout, and more of what I think yoga is. Being in the moment, feeling one with your body. When I played football, I felt the need to push myself; when they said ‘do ten reps’ I’d try to do eleven. But with yoga, I listen to my body and marijuana helps with that. It’s about feeling comfortable in your body.”
G, a licensed massage therapist in San Francisco, explained her experiences doing yoga while high versus while sober.
“ It’s very different. I feel calmer and less eyerolly [sic] about the other students coming in late and setting up too close to me. It makes it easier to hold a pose that is uncomfortable because you fall into that stonermoment where the discomfort is less important or immediate. And it’s more fun and easy to remember to make transitions with grace and flourish, because it feels awesome when you’re high to take a deep breath and open your arms out as wide as you can.”
After a moment, she added “It also makes it easier to laugh at yourself when you fall over.”
So Should I Smoke And Do Yoga, Then?
We’ll level with you.
We aren’t doctors. One of us went to school to study comparative religion and then ended up doing a nine month sustainable agriculture internship instead, because that’s totally a logical progression and makes perfect sense. Another one of us is actually a lawyer but prefers teaching. We are also not yogis.
What we are is a collective of people who see see and appreciate the value of engaging in anything that helps you to live a happy, healthy and unencumbered life, insofar as it’s possible.
“Well, who does it hurt?(6)” which is always a good question to ask yourself 6 before doing anything.
Just stay safe out there.
(1) Wei, M. (2015, December 8 ). Yoga For Stress Relief. Psychology Today.
(2) Russo, E.B. (2007). History of Cannabis and its Preparations in Saga, Science, and Sobriquet. Chemistry and Biodiversity, 4(8), 16141648
(3) Pollan, M. The Botany of Desire (2001) Random House. p. 153
(4) Discovery of the Cannabinoid Receptor System.” The 1995 Marijuana Rescheduling Petition. Drug Science.Org, 2006. Web. 01 Mar. 2016.
(5) Winer, Laurie. “A Yoga High With A Little Help.” The New York Times . N.p., 5 Dec. 2012. Web. 01 Mar. 2016.
(6) Every Jewish Mother Ever, The Dawn of Tim