What's the best way to experience cannabis without actually consuming it? Hypnotist Jen Wilding thinks her Mental Marijuana audio recordings fit the bill. These 22-minute recordings that you can buy on iTunes are intended to let you tap into the stress-relieving properties of the plant when you don't have access to it. Wilding says Mental Marijuana isn't about trying to replace cannabis as such, but to allow people to access the healing properties of the plant when they otherwise couldn't.

For the uninitiated, can you tell me just a little bit about hypnosis? What you do, how that works.

For the uninitiated... generally hypnosis is one word that describes both the state that you're in—a trance state—and also the process that gets you there. So it can get confusing when we talk about hypnosis generally because the word is used for both the process and the state. But for the most part it's something that we go in and out of on a regular basis, it's very natural. And it's mostly a heightened state of focus. A lot of people have perceptions of hypnosis that are Hollywood-influenced and they think it's scary mind control or they might think that it's for the gullible but it's actually quite the opposite in my view.

I would say that hypnosis, as a state, is something that some of the most intelligent people engage in on a regular basis as a resource, as a tool. When you think of a heightened state of focus and awareness where they have a high sensory acuity - for example, star athletes at their top performance state - they might be in the zone that's a hypnotic state. Whether or not they reference it as such, that's kind of the thing we're talking about. Or musicians who are really immersed in their music and they've really given over to that, that's a hypnotic state. So those are some examples that I might use.

For the average person it might be that they experience hypnosis when they're really immersed in a good book or a good movie.

Right, and you've sort of got that laser focus on one particular thing.

Yeah, and one way you can tell is that something is affecting you emotionally. It's a process of changing your perception to specific state dedicated to that heightened awareness around what you're engaged in. Much of the time it's a feel-good state. So when people ask me if, 'is everybody able to be hypnotized?' I say, the only way you wouldn't be able to be hypnotized is if you didn't have the mental capacity to concentrate at that level, really.

So most people have the ability but whether or not they could be hypnotized by someone who's a professional hypnotist, such as myself, would be based on whether they're open to that idea or not. Because we do have the ability to decide whether we're going to take some of these suggestions and be a part of that process.

Do you see a connection between that practice and state of mind and cannabis use?

Yeah, I think there are some commonalities. There are definitely some stigmas around both that are negative that can be bypassed. I think, for one, the idea of the motivation of people to want to get high some people may mistakenly think that it's about seeking a way to get out of control, but it could also be viewed as gaining a new sense of control over one's well-being by using a tool to facilitate a state change. 

Right, yeah, there's certainly lots of different reasons why people would engage in cannabis use or hypnosis. Are you comfortable and speaking about your own relationship with cannabis?

I am an advocate for the legalization of cannabis for both recreational and medicinal purposes. I have smoked it, vaped it and consumed edibles myself. I have friends that do that on a regular basis, as well, and I have some friends that are in the industry as growers. I'm definitely on the pro-side of the equation, similar to the way your magazine's mission is oriented, when I reviewed it. It's a great idea that you're opening people up to cannabis de-stigmatization - educating people about what's normal, that this is something we can actually have conversations about. And it's not just about a plant, it's about a lifestyle and why people do choose to use it, and how they use it.

I think that's a good angle. I grew up in the Midwest and I'm out now in California, in Los Angeles, so it's a very different vibe out here in relation to marijuana. I grew up in very conservative circles where it was somewhat frowned upon, it was put in a negative box. It was viewed as just a gateway to all sorts of other dangerous drugs and people getting into dangerous addictions as a result of its use. And what's interesting is for me, as a hypnotist, is that...one of the things that hypnotists are specifically known for is helping people to overcome addictions and one of the ways that we do that is by giving somebody back their power to create their own state and to really have an awareness of their choice in their state and having some internal resources to go to.  You hear about a hypnotist helping somebody to stop smoking effectively, or helping somebody to curb excessive food consumption, or to improve their weight from exercising more and getting motivated for that.

It's very much a mental game. So, I look at hypnosis as something that is helping people to get out of addictions. And one thing that I can relate to - as far as how I view cannabis - is that there are so many drugs that could have a negative impact on someone's life, but if they had access to cannabis, and used it responsibly, that they would perhaps avoid dangerous routes. It could be used responsibly, as it becomes more socially accepted. I think it's probably more prone to abuse in places where it's not yet socially accepted, as far as just people getting too excited about something that's forbidden, without proper education around it.

I think there is an element of that, certainly. What was your goal with the Mental Marijuana recordings? What were you trying to achieve with those specifically?

Well, the Mental Marijuana recording is for an audience that doesn't have access to marijuana plants but wants to have an experience of state change that they can enjoy. And to really open up that conversation around our ability to do this. In addition to marijuana use, we have the ability to use conscious processes to change our state, too.

The audios are about expanding the repertoire beyond the idea that it's necessary to go to a plant to have that. So, if I don't have access to it, I have another option, right? And not really trying to displace the plant in any way, but rather add another option.

Of course, yeah. And why decide to split that up into a two volume series of indica and sativa?

Well, one of the main intentions with the audio is to give the best experience to the listener that is as personalized as possible, because the effectiveness of hypnosis, for achieving a certain goal, is very much influenced by how well the language matches what the person is trying to achieve.

So, having more than one option gives me a greater ability to hone in on—even though it's a general audience—on what they seek to get out of the experience. Whether it's primarily for relaxation and unwinding at the end of the day, or whether they're wanting to relieve stress and increase their creative focus going into a project, but they're not needing to wind down. The different language, specific to those desired results, impacts the experience.

Have you gotten much feedback from cannabis consumers about how they feel about these recordings?

Most of my friends who consume cannabis have given feedback such as, 'why why would I go to the meditations if I could just smoke the plant?' Or vape the plant, or whatever. And my response is, 'well, to be honest, you're not my audience.' My audience is the person who doesn't have access who wants an experience, but may be prohibited from having it legally or just actually having physical access to the product. It could certainly be an add-on. If somebody already has access to marijuana, and is smoking it on a regular basis, they might be curious and try it for variety's sake.

For the most part, the difference is that you can multitask while you're smoking a joint whereas for this experience you'd need to dedicate 22 minutes of your time to just kind of closing your eyes and engaging in the experience. So not everybody is going to choose that—it's hard enough to find 22 minutes in a day, so that's a difference. If somebody's already able to do that quickly and they have a means to, I expect they'd just go for the plant. But, one reason they may try the audio is to satisfy their personal curiosity. Still, again, they're not really the audience that I'm going for.

Yeah, it's more somebody who is looking to have that sort of time to unwind and go through the process.

Yeah, I mean I have some people connected to me who come from very conservative backgrounds, religious backgrounds, actually welcome the audios. I didn't know that's how they would respond, but they were excited about the recording. And that gave me a sense of, 'okay, so maybe there is some progress in the conversation to be gained from people who would like the experience but they would, right now, never go for the plant.' They just have a curiosity in the experience, and perhaps once they have the experience, it can be something that opens them up to, 'oh, well that wasn't so scary,' and even, 'that felt really nice.'

I think it's possibly another way into the conversation around the idea: what if we do take control of our state changes with intentional rituals and resources? Is that such a bad thing? And I think if communities who don't have access to marijuana were more open to using tools, then that could eventually open the door for cannabis use in places where it's not available right now.

Cool. Is replicating the feeling or experience of drug use something that you encounter often in your practice?

It's not something people come to me purposefully to do. The audios were inspired by a client but she didn't specifically say, 'I want a drug experience.' She specifically said, 'I have insomnia and I've been using a marijuana to get that under control, can you help me?' And I knew that we are able to use hypnosis to replicate a drug experience. You can also replicate alcohol intoxication if you want to.

Basically any experience that we have an internal model of that we're accessing, we have a mental and physical sense of.  We have a model if we can imagine and experience it and perhaps put it into come kind of language. For example, a cannabis user who can say they whether or not   they actually liked the particular product they smoked, can say if it actually did something for them. That person is measuring their experience against some internal comparison, a mental model. They have a model for what high is for them, as an individual, and that model is stored in their subconscious mind. It matches some physiological and emotional state that they have some internal awareness of, or they wouldn't be pursuing it. So, because that model exists, it can be accessed in a hypnotic state if and when someone allows themselves to engage in a hypnotic process that prompts them to emotionally and physically generate that feeling.

And it may vary from person to person, as far as how open they are to generating that feeling. I'm sure, with the audio recordings, there will be some people who say, 'eh, didn't do anything for me,' or, 'it was okay, but I'm going to go back to weed,' or, 'it was okay, but it wasn't what I was looking for.' And then there are people that would say, 'wow, that was really interesting' or 'that was an amazing, euphoric experience for me'.

I've had clients who, when I take them through—mostly it would be not somebody asking to experience a high or a drug state, but they'd be asking me to help them experience relief from intense stress. And so that's what they experienced. And sometimes the feedback is that they felt very centered and grounded and in connection with everything, and then sometimes the feeling is they felt disembodied, but in a freeing way. And, to me, that is very similar to language we might use to describe what we what people may seek for in a drug-induced state.

So the recordings could actually make you feel like you're on a marijuana high if you are focusing yourself towards that?

If you are actually allowing your mind to engage in the instructions. I'm guiding someone through a meditation process and asking them to focus on different sensations in the body that they have an internal model for. And from there just, sort of taking them on a journey. As long as they're willing to participate at just that level, and use their imagination, their subconscious will help complete the feeling of what high means for them. If they have a reference for a marijuana high, that then that's perhaps the experience they may have. I try not to get too specific in the exact way a person should feel around it, because I want to maintain a space for people to have the experience they are looking for.

Right, so as long as we're willing to put in the work, they can lead themselves one way or another depending on what it is they're trying to get out of this?

Yeah. And the work is about as labor-intensive as listening to an audio book and following along mentally with the story. Allowing your mind to take the journey. So you really have to have is a dedicated physical space for that, without distractions. The audios are designed to be used with headphones or ear buds, which is recommended for the full impact, specifically with the low levels of background music used that helps to create that nice trancey-state.