Present moment awareness, the underpinning tenet of meditation and mindfulness, is not something one necessarily associates with cannabis.
While it’s true that sensations are sometimes heightened after smoking a joint, weed can also be a go-to tool to escape from the stresses of reality.
Meditation of the mindful variety, however, is all about cultivating the capacity to be with whatever is, no matter how uncomfortable it might feel.
But what about CBD oil, the hemp-based elixir touted for its ability to reduce anxiety, ease aching joints, and generally put a spring in our step? Could CBD actually support a mindfulness practice by enhancing some of the biochemical changes in the brain caused by regular meditation?
CBD: The Basics
Before jumping into the complex world of neurobiology, let’s take a whistle-stop tour of all things CBD.
CBD, otherwise known as cannabidiol, is a type of compound called a cannabinoid found in cannabis and hemp. Originally thought to be inactive due to a lack of any intoxicating effect, CBD is currently being studied for conditions as diverse as epilepsy, psychosis, chronic pain, anxiety, and autoimmune disease.
Compared to its cannabinoid cousin, THC (the bit that causes the high), CBD is considered safe, free from side effects, and with no risk of abuse. Consequently, there’s a global CBD boom going on with a dizzying array of CBD products available.
You’ll often see CBD termed as nonpsychoactive, because you’ll never get stoned from taking CBD oil. But this ignores the complex effects CBD creates in our brains. The fact that CBD has been found to reduce anxiety and psychotic episodes means that it does affect our minds, albeit positively, and some might argue that it does so in a similar way to meditation.
Meditation, CBD, and Brain Health
Meditation, and the cultivation of present moment awareness, is a practice dating back thousands of years, predating even the times of the Buddha. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and meditation has been recognised as an ancient antidote to our modern, stress-filled lives, giving us tools for improved mental well-being and protecting our brains against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
We know that regular meditation brings about neuroplasticity—the formation of new neural connections—in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with long-term memory and the regulation of emotions.
Meditation also increases serotonin production, which so often becomes depleted in depression and anxiety. And finally, meditation decreases cortisol in the body, the stress hormone produced in the adrenal glands, potentially explaining why we feel happier and less stressed after sitting on our meditation cushion.
Curiously enough, CBD shares many neurological benefits with meditation. Considered a neuroprotectant, CBD is currently being researched for its potential to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. CBD also shows therapeutic potential for depression and anxiety sufferers, thanks to its activation of the 5-HT1A serotonin receptors, creation of new brain cell growth in the hippocampus region (a sign of neuroplasticity), and reduction in cortisol levels.
Both CBD and mindfulness-based meditation have been found to lower pro-inflammatory markers in the body—the holy grail for preventative medicine. While inflammation is a necessary function of an effective immune system, we now know that chronic inflammation is a contributing factor to major health conditions such as depression, neurodegenerative illnesses, diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.
CBD Oil and Meditation, in Practice
We’ve seen how meditation and CBD create similar positive effects in the brain, but what about trying CBD oil with meditation?
This is where the evidence gets anecdotal. In reality, I can only talk from my experience and other meditators I know who have used CBD alongside their meditation practice.
As a rule, taking small doses of CBD oil (no more than 15 milligrams) about 20 minutes before meditating can help still the mind and improve concentration. However, it’s important to keep the dose low. CBD has a biphasic effect on the body, meaning that when taken in small amounts it creates a feeling of alertness, but upping the dose may get you all snoozy.
Remember though, CBD should never be used as a way of escaping your present moment reality. It’s just a helping hand to rein in the wild horses leaping around our minds, in order to get the most out of our daily meditation practice.