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Research On Cannabis, Yoga Suggests That Setting Influences Mental Health Benefits

In a recent study from the University of British Columbia, researchers have unveiled new insights into the relationship between cannabis consumption and yoga. The study indicates that individuals who practice yoga after using cannabis may experience enhanced mindfulness and a heightened sense of mysticality.

The research, which originated as a psychology dissertation, examined “the impact of contextual factors during cannabis use on well-being outcomes.” The paper’s author, Sarah Elizabeth Ann Daniels, highlights a significant disparity: While research into psychedelic therapy often emphasizes the importance of setting and intention, this emphasis is notably less prevalent in studies related to cannabis. While cannabis connoisseurs understand that the plant, like shrooms, is indeed psychedelic, the stoner community doesn’t always place the same weight on integrating set and setting into cannabis use. Yoga, which often utilizes intention-setting, could offer one modality to change that. 

“When researchers explore the use of other psychoactive drugs for mental health treatment, there’s a strong focus on factors outside the direct effects of the drug, like mindset, environment, and behavior,” Daniels says. “This is because evidence suggests that these elements can dramatically influence therapeutic outcomes.” 

The study underscores the importance of the context in which people enjoy cannabis. Its conclusions suggest that the environment and activities, aka the set and setting, invoked while under the influence of cannabis may play a pivotal role in shaping the user’s experience. Drawing a parallel with the world of psychedelics, the research supports the psychedelic-approved conviction that the setting and mindset during cannabis consumption can significantly affect its therapeutic benefits. While the cannabis community is often discussed in terms of a potential model for psychedelics to follow, as weed first gained mainstream societal approval, perhaps it’s time to reverse this relationship and see what marijuana can learn from psilocybin, ketamine, and other substances which therapeutically endorse set and setting. 

To investigate the role of context within a cannabis experience, a weed trip, if you will, Daniels orchestrated the experiment involving 47 participants. She instructed them to self-administer cannabis on two occasions, spaced one week apart. In one session, participants engaged in yoga, while in the subsequent session, they just did whatever they usually enjoyed doing while high. The most common activities cited included eating, viewing TV or films, performing household tasks, socializing, and other hobbies.

The research evaluated participants based on several criteria, such as “state mindfulness,” “mysticality of experience,” and “state affect.”

Regarding “state mindfulness,” Daniels sought to gauge levels rooted in “both traditional Buddhist and contemporary psychology models of mindfulnesses.” This measure illuminated participants’ awareness of their mental states and bodily sensations. On the other hand, the “mystical experience” metric looked at more profound moments – such as experiencing deep peace and tranquility and perceiving a distorted sense of time, a common occurrence for cannabis trips. 

In her research, Daniels identified a marked enhancement in participants’ reported mindfulness when they combined cannabis use with yoga practice. Additionally, their “mysticality of experience” saw a notable uptick. Despite mysticality traditionally being more aligned with psychedelic substances, Daniels points out, “While cannabis is not considered a traditional psychedelic,” it has been observed that “recent evidence indicates that it shares many commonalities with psychedelic-induced altered states.”

When it comes to “state affect,” which essentially gauges an individual’s emotional and mood state, Daniels found no significant variance between sessions with yoga and those without.

Pairing cannabis and yoga is nothing new. Ancient yogis in India touted the benefits of hashish, and classes such as the LA-based Ganja Yoga invite people to partake to enhance their yoga experience. 

Of those participating in the study, six were newcomers to yoga. Thirty individuals claimed to engage in yoga sporadically or occasionally, with the remaining 11 being regular or frequent practitioners. 72% of the participants, or 34 individuals, expressed interest in blending cannabis and yoga in the future. In a symbiotic relationship, yoga not only amplified their cannabis experience, but the inclusion of cannabis also heightened their appreciation for yoga. Daniels notes:

“The most frequently reported theme was enhanced physical awareness, where 15 participants articulated a heightened cognizance of their body, its movements, and sensory experiences. Many described feeling more ‘in touch’ or ‘in tune’ with their bodily sensations and expressed that their awareness of movement and physical sensations was at a ‘deeper’ level than usual. Importantly, they emphasized that this was distinct from their regular (non-cannabis influenced) yoga or physical activity sessions.”

Reflecting on her findings, Daniels suggests, “These results underscore the importance of considering context and offering guidance to those using cannabis for therapeutic purposes, with the aim of enhancing its positive impacts on mental health and well-being.”

The primary takeaway from the study is that going forward when prescribing cannabis (although you don’t need a doctor to implement this information), physicians should consider set and setting as part of cannabis consumption. 

“Physicians have long identified a lack of clarity on the optimal approach to prescribe cannabis for therapeutic use,” the study reads. “Offering precise behavioral guidance and educating about the influence of environment and mindset can potentially optimize the benefits and reduce the downsides of therapeutic cannabis use. Given the favorable response to the yoga component, recommending yoga or similar mindful exercises might be highly beneficial.”

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