In the summer of 2015, North Carolina-born Tigga* was studying massage therapy in New York, encouraged by her late grandmother who died earlier that year. An on and off cannabis consumer, Tigga smoked cannabis heavily after her grandmother’s death. “I noticed that when I was high, I not only was able to laugh, but I was able to better process my grandmother's passing,” she said.
But then only six months after her grandmother's death, Tigga's own mother died suddenly of a brain injury. “My mother and grandmother were the only people I had who understood who I was,” she said. “Losing them both so quickly broke me down emotionally and mentally.” She dropped out of school, and suffered from severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
Tigga could not afford to see a therapist or receive mental health treatment, which her friends had urged her to. Even cannabis offered little relief. “I could not get any high out of smoking, because I was so filled with negativity,” she said. “It’s like the universe was telling me I needed to figure out how to channel my energy to get my positivity back.”
Tigga would not be alive today unless an unlikely remedy saved her life, and helped her utilize cannabis in a new way. At the time, she worked at the New York Open Center, which offers holistic healing programs. She took an interest in meditation practices, and learned, to her surprise, that her supervisor actually used cannabis to assist in her meditation.
Tigga then began smoking in a new way — not just to get high, but to help her focus during meditation. “When I’m not high, everything goes through my mind at one time,” she said. “Meditation for me is about focusing on one thing. Cannabis helps me release more of my anger, my unhappiness, and my loneliness, and helps me better understand and deal with those feelings.”
“I still have my sad moments,” she continued. “But I know all I have to do is sit down, light up a spliff, calm my brain, deal with one emotion at a time, and once I’m able to let it go, I know it’s gonna work itself out and I’m gonna be alright.”
Kijana Rose, a "ganja yoga" teacher and founder of I & I Rose Garden, a yoga center in Boston, makes cannabis central to her lessons. “Cannabis and meditation is an ancient practice, going back thousands of years,” Rose said, referring to mentions of "herbs" in the Yoga Sutras, the founding documents of yoga and meditation practice (the exact meaning in the Sutras is a subject of debate among yoga scholars).
“Cannabis in meditation heightens your awareness and your ability to go deeper within yourself,” she said. “It can help us start to accept our traumas and unpack them. I’ve seen people with depression or social anxiety, or other illnesses, be able to express themselves more openly through this practice.”
Rose recommends indica strains, which could help heighten awareness of your body mind connection. She also encourages people to learn how to grow their own cannabis in order to create a special relationship between oneself and the plant.
“Anybody can meditate,” Rose said. “It’s an opportunity to bring you closer to your higher form of self. Just close your eyes, get in a comfortable seated position, smoke, eat an edible, whatever you like, feel your energy flowing, and let your intuition guide you.”
Tigga practices meditation with cannabis about once a week. When she is home alone, she smokes a spliff of cannabis and tobacco. She uses a lavender oil diffuser and candles, and places crystals around a vase containing some of her mother’s ashes.
“I sit in my bed and do my deep breathing,” Tigga said. “I let the bad thoughts come in and leave. It’s not fair to give my negativity to someone else. So I try to release them and give my mind the focus to be able to go back to work and interact with people.” To date, her longest session has been 90 minutes.
Tigga currently works at a storage facility in New York. The company performs random drug tests on its employees, which necessitated protecting her anonymity for this article. But she hopes she can enter the burgeoning local cannabis industry to help more people learn about and access the plant.
She also wants to reignite her passion for drawing, an art she practiced throughout her younger life. “I’ve only drawn one picture since my mother passed,” she said. “But the fact that I was able to complete it, given my perfectionism, was a sign that I could get my old dream back.
“I am living testimony that cannabis can save lives,” Tigga said. “When I was younger, my happiness was my defense mechanism so no one would see my sadness. But now my happiness is really becoming genuine on the inside instead of being just a shield for my anger.”
*Name changed to protect anonymity of source.