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Cannabis and Managing Stress

By Tracy Howard

Combining cannabis with stress-management strategies can really help take the edge off

For years, to combat the chronic stress that’s part and parcel of 21st-century life, people have been downward-dogging it at yoga studios, getting their “om” on with meditation and lying prone on massage tables.

New to the mix, however, are the innovative ways people are using cannabis to complement their stress-management arsenals.

But does cannabis really help alleviate stress? Recent evidence suggests yes.

A 2017 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Chicago involving 42 healthy volunteers aged 18 to 40 found low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, reduces stress, but in a dose-dependent manner.

Participants who took low doses in pill form experienced less stress after doing demanding tasks compared to those taking a placebo. However, participants who took doses high enough to produce a “high” had increased anxiety.

Also in 2017, Dr. Carl Stevenson, a behavioural neuroscientist at the University of Nottingham, led a research review into the therapeutic potential of cannabidiol (CBD) and found evidence it may help treat anxiety. (CBD is a major non-psychotropic, or non-high-producing, compound found in cannabis.)

CBD is thought to work indirectly with several receptors in our bodies known to regulate fear and anxiety-related behaviours, such as CB1 in our endocannabinoid system, and also stimulates a serotonin receptor, conferring an anti-anxiety effect.

Check out some potent stress-busting strategies below. (For clinical anxiety, consult a health professional before trying these practices.)

Meditating woman in focus

Yoga with a twist

San Francisco-based yoga instructor Dee Dussault has said that combining cannabis with yoga helps students focus their minds and tune out bodily discomfort.

Dussault, the creator of Ganja Yoga classes (and author of a book of the same name), began offering public cannabis-enhanced yoga classes in 2009 in Toronto, her hometown.

While cannabis-inspired yoga is most prevalent in wellness-obsessed California, classes can also be found in diverse locales like Denver, New York City, Portland, Ore., Vancouver and Barrie, Ont.

While Dussault provides cannabis for her students; in other studios, depending on local legalities, you’ll need to bring your own.

Meditate on this

The goal of meditation is to go beyond the mind, and in doing so help calm it, but brain chatter can interfere with the process. Enter cannabis.

As discussed above, certain cannabinoids can produce relaxing effects, which can help promote a meditative state.

To “elevate” your meditation, find a cannabis-inspired class with an emphasis on mindfulness, or start with a conventional meditation class before trying a cannabis-enhanced practice at home.

Woman in beautiful magenta sunset

Photo by Mariam Soliman

Mellowed-out massage 

Whether it’s Swedish, Shiatsu or a back rub from your partner, who doesn’t love a massage? But some spas are offering cannabis-enhanced treatments to further elevate the relaxation benefits.

Denver’s LoDo Massage Studio’s popular Mile High Massage includes the option of adding a pain cream that includes CBD. Besides offering pain relief, topical cannabinoids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

For a DIY version, there are an array of cannabis topicals on the market in which they are legal including creams, oils and salves.

Note that some feature hemp-derived CBD, containing a tiny amount of THC, while others are cannabis-derived, which has much higher levels of THC. Both are absorbed via the skin, but the chance of intoxication via the cannabis-derived CBD is possible only with a very high potency and if used over a large surface area.

Guidelines for using cannabis for stress relief

  • Start with a small dose
  • Indica strains and CBD oil are more often used for stress relief than the most stimulating sativa strain.
  • Use in a safe environment

A writer, editor and content director, Tracy Howard specializes in lifestyle, wellness, profiles and travel. She’s contributed to Today’s Parent, Flare, mindbodygreen, the Toronto Star, and was the launch editor of CAA Magazine.

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