Sometimes our thoughts can overwhelm us, as they constantly scroll through our minds like Chyron text across the bottom of the TV screen. One reason I consume cannabis is to slow down that stream of thoughts so I can have peace and quiet inside my head.
But cannabis can affect our thoughts in complex ways. Some marijuana consumers complain that sativa strains create anxious or even paranoid thoughts, while others claim that indica and Kush strains slow down or erase their thoughts altogether.
It’s useful to examine how thoughts arise, what effects they have on us, and how cannabis can affect our thinking.
Thoughts Can Be Like Lawyers Arguing In Your Head
Thoughts arise and disappear — and it’s not like you have a lot of control over them. Thoughts come in the form of words, ideas and memories. It can feel like there’s an invisible newscaster inside your head generating words, topics and imagery at random. Sometimes your thoughts can feel like a couple of phantom lawyers arguing, creating a subversive dialogue of analysis, point and counterpoint.
For many of us, thoughts come from or produce fear, worry, anger, anxiety, sadness or loss. We find our thoughts too often troubling and unwelcome, as if someone is playing bad music painfully loud and you’re forced to listen to it.
Indeed, one reason people use intoxicants is to blot out the stream of thoughts, slow it down, or at least change the thought tone so the inner announcer isn’t always yammering on about sadness, anxiety or fear.
Using Meditation To Escape The Tyranny Of Thinking
For thousands of years, humans have used meditation to escape the tyranny of thinking. Meditation is a skill you learn through practice and self-discipline, and when you master it, you acquire the ability to turn off your thoughts, go into a place of refreshing conscious stillness, and enjoy the universe as an aware being rather than as a large-brained mammal plagued by an endless stream of bullshit.
Meditation arose from spiritual traditions such as those practiced by Buddhists and Jains, but it’s now widely used as a self-help tool not grounded in any religion or spiritual path. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a sub-agency of the US federal government’s National Institutes of Health, offers an impressive list of studies showing meditation’s benefits.
These include meditation’s ability to reduce such stress-related problems as insomnia, depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal disorders and ulcers, as well as its ability to improve cognitive abilities, memory retention and creativity.
Meditation can make you kinder, healthier and happier; it can slow down the aging process and help control disease. Yet, despite the proven benefits of meditation — and the fact that all you need are a quiet, private place and a meditation cushion — few people formally meditate on a daily basis, if at all.
The lack of meditation practitioners is likely due to meditation being a contemplative practice of inner cultivation, which is at odds with our modern world that emphasizes constant distractions like thinking, talking, texting and entertainment.
At any given moment, most people are plugged into an electronic device and being fed thoughts and other stimuli via earbuds and whatever is on the screen. When they want to escape their own inner dialogue, instead of meditating, they fill their minds with the thoughts of others.
It’s becoming rare to see someone who isn’t texting or absorbing information or entertainment from an electronic device. Many people are afraid of finding the quiet place within themselves; they want to always be engrossed in their own thoughts, or in the thoughts of others via socializing and electronics. Sadly, they’re missing out on the proven benefits of meditation, as explained here by Dr. Oz, who walks us through a five-minute practice:
How To Meditate
Before we discuss using ganja to meditate, let’s first understand the mechanics of meditation. There are two main types of meditation that are popular today. The first is called mindfulness meditation, which is intended to quiet the mind, relieve stress, and promote relaxation and well-being. It’s also relatively simple to do: In a quiet, peaceful place where you won’t be interrupted, you direct your conscious attention to your breathing and body, and away from thoughts.
This technique doesn’t automatically stop or reduce the flow of thoughts. Instead, it moves attention away from them. Rather than the words in your head stealing your attention, your breathing and physical feelings take center stage.
As your awareness of body and breath increase, you may begin to notice that your breathing is habitually shallow and impaired. Many people subconsciously tense up their diaphragm and take shallow breaths, or even hold their breath altogether. If you meditate, you quickly unearth these issues.
If you ever experience racing thoughts, anxiety and thought overload, tune in to your breath and you’ll likely discover you’re not breathing much, if at all. Shallow breathing and holding your breath produce a feedback loop that stimulates fearful, racing thoughts and more breath restriction.
Many novice meditators may also discover when they get into the zone that their bodies are injured, hurting or otherwise dysfunctional. During meditation, when the brain’s thought carnival is dimmed and the body’s voice can be heard, we notice tension, numbness, pain, tingling or body issues that were buried underneath the constant barrage of thinking that typically steals our attention.
The second main type of meditation is insight meditation, also known as Vipassana meditation. Sanskrit for “insight,” Vipassana combines the goal of mindfulness meditation with quieting your mind so as to allow you to observe your inner self and enact changes in your thoughts, behavior and character.
Insight meditation starts just like mindfulness meditation, with the meditator sitting on a cushion in a cross-legged lotus posture, head erect off the shoulders and the back straight, focusing on breathing and the body.
Thoughts scud across the meditator’s consciousness like clouds across a blue sky, but the meditator observes them dispassionately, instead looking for the dominant thought themes that autoplay in their head.
Common thought themes involve loneliness, anger, regrets, cravings, greed, fear and general unpleasantness. But the meditator has distanced themselves from thoughts and is merely observing them as they randomly arise and pass by. The observation leads to insight into one’s character, thinking and existence.
Buddhism offers a special type of meditation called metta meditation that can be quite wonderful. It involves getting into a very quiet state of mind, and then focusing on the quality of metta, which is defined as “unconditional loving-kindness toward all beings.”
You might wonder if it is even possible to feel loving-kindness toward all beings, given that our modern world is rife with crime, interpersonal strife, and the human war against the earth and animals. Despite all that, metta meditation produces a genuine high that puts a smile on your face and warms your heart. It feels, and is, transformative.
Consuming Marijuana To Achieve Meditative Blis
Now that you understand what meditation is and how to do it, let’s look at how marijuana interacts with meditation.
Remember that cannabis affects everyone differently, and different types of weed and modes of consumption also affect you differently. Generally speaking, indica and Kush strains slow down or erase the flow of thoughts, whereas sativa increases that thought flow. Whatever strains and cannabis products you use to meditate, look for strains that erase the surface noise in your head.
I first got into meditation to keep myself sane after I was busted for growing weed and found my mind plagued with angry, vengeful, fearful thoughts. I was sober way too much, because I was on bail and had to submit to random drug tests.
A Buddhist meditation teacher told me that the mind is a “mischievous monkey jumping around looking for trouble,” and when I first started meditating, I endured many a battle with that monkey. You’d think it would be easy to sit in a nice, quiet place on a comfortable meditation cushion and focus on the breath and let go of all cares and troubles. But to sit there without falling asleep, while getting lost in thought, shifting my body posture, opening my eyes, worrying about things or otherwise being distracted proved more difficult than running a marathon.
Indica cannabis usually puts me into a no-thought state of mind. As soon as the cannabinoids and terpenoids hit my endocannabinoid system, I make sure I’m inhaling and exhaling deeply. Gradually, I find myself in what meditators call “bare awareness,” a form of being awake and aware.
Being in this pure meditative state is a blissful, beautiful refuge. It can become transcendental, where I feel I no longer have a body and am nothing more than an ethereal spirit floating in the universe, exhilarated, liberated, free of all troubles.
On the other hand, I made the mistake of using sativa cannabis before I meditated and it created such an uncontrollable rush of thoughts that I felt like I was in a wrestling match with my mind. The sativa took over my head, made me frustrated and gave me a headache.
My Buddhist meditation teacher explained that his religion advises avoidance of intoxicants because they interfere with meditation and warp the mind so that it becomes an even more annoying monkey than it already was. However, he also acknowledged that cannabis, when properly consumed, can help some people conquer compulsive thinking and achieve quietude.
Meditation is a powerful tool that has spiritual benefits, and you may well find as I did that certain types of cannabis drop you into the zone faster and deeper. I’ve had magical experiences using cannabis for meditation. I’ve had sensations of flying, weightlessness, body dissolution, timelessness and freedom from pain.
Meditating while stoned, I’ve ended up in trances or had visions. I discovered emotional issues that were obscured by my way of thinking. Several times, I’ve had a major visionary shift in awareness that showed me I needed to enact major life changes.
Until I read Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment, which explains how Buddhist ideas are scientifically accurate when it comes to describing the nature of existence and what we really are, I thought meditation visions were partially due to cannabinoid hallucinations. But now I realize that once the tyranny of thought recedes, I experience reality without the overlay of ideas, memories and words. I see things as they truly are, not as my thoughts tell me they are. It’s a radical shift in perception.
To kick-start your meditation, check out the instructional meditation lessons from Audio Dharma, one of North America’s most revered Buddhist Vipassana centers, and read The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation. As you experiment with different types of cannabis and learning meditation techniques, I’m hopeful you too will find the magic and benefits that come from escaping the tyranny of thoughts.