Splish. Splish. Splish.
Salt-saturated water laps gently against the wall of a sensory deprivation pod, an artificial womb of warm, unending blackness in which I float naked, blind and weightless.
But for the idle sound, my mind is all but disconnected from my body – and that’s the point of float therapy, slipping into a deep, distraction-free meditative state. When I break focus, however, I become mildly aware of one remaining sensation: smell. Specifically, the misty alkalinity from the tepid Epsom stew, and the lingering trace of the joint I hit in the spa parking lot before the appointment.
For me – and a growing subset of women just like me – marijuana has become a major component of a balanced self-care regime. And while there’s nothing particularly innovative about using the gloriously versatile cannabis sativa plant as a medicine, where, when, how and moreover, why we use it is, in fact, evolving.
Cannabis and 'self-care'
Let’s first examine this notion of ‘self-care.’ The buzzed-about, oft-hashtagged term has seen something of a surge on social media in recent years, broadly defining the intentional practice of engaging in a host of activities, habits, hobbies and adopting a general perspective shift that’s both beneficial to the physical body and the mind. From yoga retreats, to splurging on that fancy day cream, to simply putting down one’s Smartphone an hour before bedtime, it’s the idea of engaging in general feel-goodery, for the sake of, well, feeling good.
While I’ve used cannabis recreationally for years, my consumption saw a major shift around mid-2014. In a span of 18 months, I was diagnosed with a handful of chronic – though, mercifully, cannabis-responsive – illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder and Crohn’s disease. After trying a few less-than-successful avenues of conventional treatment, I opted to explore the power and potential of marijuana as a medicine.
It’s that distinct intention, the pairing of specific strains with a particular practice to achieve a desirable outcome, which sets cannabis-fueled self-care apart from just getting high, says cannatherapy consultant Danielle Jackson.
“Cannabis is so unique in itself, because it’s what I consider an intuitive medicine. The beauty and the most amazing thing about it is that it helps us all individually in our own unique ways. It’s already benevolent. It’s already trying to help us. It’s about utilizing your intention and realizing what you’re looking to get from it and how to facilitate it.”
The Vancouver-based cannatherapy consultant, advocate and artist (affectionately dubbed “Miz D,” and “Doprah,” by the cannabis community) says that in her four decades of cannabis consumption, she’s come to realize that research combined with intentional use are key to maximizing its therapeutic potential of the plant. Increasingly, both new and established smokers head to her seeking advice on how to use pot to aid, enhance and support their own personal wellness.
“We do have to self-manage our health and wellness for the most part… people are beginning to recognize that not only is (cannabis) an intuitive medicine, but it’s a holistic medicine that helps us mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually,” Jackson says.
For me, cannabis-supplemented self-care includes meditation, sensory deprivation, regular exercise and topical skin treatment. For aerobic or strength training workouts, I reach for Girl Scout Cookies, a perfectly balanced strain from my organic licensed producer. The sativa-dominant hybrid is equal parts uplifting and euphoric, ideal for an energy boost, added focus and a little something to help push through the pain. If I’m feeling overly anxious or have trouble falling asleep, I opt for an indica-dominant blend. Paired with some pre-bedtime meditation, it’s my go-to for a quiet mind and a few extra Z’s.
And while I usually vape my flower, on this particular day, I toked pre-float on a CBD-heavy indica joint. Still recovering from a week-long bout of gastro upset, I’m eager to maximize the outer-body, pain vaporizing effect float therapy and CBD can yield in combination.
While Jackson too uses pot to supplement meditation, enhance creativity and concentration, today, she’s focusing on her body. She woke up with a cold and plans to pamper her aching muscles with some THC-infused chocolate and by lounging in a steamy tub punctuated by a cannabis-infused bath bomb.
“I look at cannabis like a therapeutic tool. If I combine it with other therapeutic tools, that enhances its quality to enhance my health and well-being. It’s that simple, really,” Jackson explains. “It’s important for us to understand our relationship with cannabis to be able to use it confidently and safely.”
From vaping for relaxation, to micro-dosing oil for extended pain relief, to using cannabis suppositories for menstrual discomfort, the ideal strain and administration method comes down to personal research and experimentation says Holistic Cannabis Network co-founder and integrative clinical nutritionist Laura Lagano.
“Marijuana is a highly personalized medicine,” Lagano explains. “What works for one person might not necessarily work for another.”
Lagano’s group focuses on educating practitioners and patients on maximizing the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. The Network’s Holistic Cannabis Academy offers a range of courses, including terpene aromatherapy, integrating yoga and meditation with cannabis and modulating women’s wellness with the plant.
“(Cannabis) has a tremendous role to play… we already see people wanting to heal themselves with nutrition, food and herbs. It’s a natural progression,” Lagano says, citing insomnia, mood disorders and menstrual pain as the top reasons women seek cannabis as a medicine.
“People have to take responsibility for their health. The way our system has been set up is that people take no responsibility for their health… I think, however, that we’re moving away from that. People are realizing that ‘hey, wait a minute – I don’t want to do that. I need to be responsible,’ ” Lagano says.
With an ever-growing online catalogue of new research into strains, terpenes, cannabinoids and their impacts on the body, an increasing number of women are becoming educated on how to use cannabis, beyond the stress-busting, mood-enhancing, pain-numbing benefits of THC and CBD, Jackson says.
Lesser-known cannabinoids, including the appetite-suppressing THCV and the insomnia-killing CBN, are steadily becoming more explored and sought within the cannabis community.
And as an increasing number of states hop on the legalization train, so to do the consumer offerings related to cannabis wellness and pampering; from weed-friendly gyms like San Francisco’s Power Plant Fitness, to female-focused topical lines like Whoopi & Maya, to perfectly pretty pre-rolls and high-end, weed-concealing handbags.
In Denver, group of weed-powered yogis gather twice-weekly at cannabis co-working space, Cultivated Synergy, for a laid-back hour of stretching and smoking. The aptly dubbed Bend & Blaze has become popular in the Mile High region, offering participants of all skills levels a judgment-free space to find a little zen.
The hour-long classes start with a pretty serious session. Joints, dab rigs, tinctures and teas are passed around, often supplied by that week’s particular sponsor. It’s a slow, steady traditional hatha class, designed to help pain sufferers ease into increased mobility and for all to reap the combined benefits of cannabis and yoga.
Studies show health benefits of THC
Aside from anecdotal evidence that pot can help motivate and keep athletes relaxed, studies suggest a strong link between the suspected benefits and effects of cannabis and exercise. A 2015 study by German neuro-researchers suggests the body’s endocannabinoid system may play a significant role in producing the euphoric, pain-busting “runner’s high.”
In 2013, an Australian study revealed that burning THC-saturated fat cells through aerobic exercise can actually release THC back into the bloodstream – whether the subject has toked up that day or not. And as it happens, cannabis may play a significant role in regulating metabolism. Studies suggest the prevalence of obesity is lower in cannabis users than non-users and that stoners have lower “fasting insulin,” thereby, reducing their susceptibility to diabetes.
Though, at first glance, marijuana may not seem the ideal supplement to physical activity, Bend & Blaze instructor Amanda Hintz says the evidence of its power is undeniable in the class. Many of her students suffer from mobility-restricting illnesses, like scoliosis and fibromyalgia. Without cannabis, some can barely get out of bed, let alone practice yoga, Hintz says.
“It helps people achieve a new level of relaxation,” Hintz explains. “(Marijuana) allows you to focus more on the little things. It allows you to go that much farther inward.”
Victoria Dekker is an award-winning print and online journalist, covering culture, life and business in the cannabis sphere and beyond. Connect with her on Twitter @deadtowrite.
Banner image: Bend & Blaze yoga is held twice-weekly in a Denver cannabis co-working space, Cultivated Synergy. (photo by Fox & Nug)