Cannabis: a Psychedelic + a Plant Medicine
Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy with Cannabis
By Donald Currie, RP + Jesse Hanson, PhD
For thousands of years, cannabis has been used for healing and for spiritual connection in ceremonial settings across many cultures. The use of this plant in religious ceremonies and medicinal practices has been documented around the world to cultivate altered states of consciousness and facilitate healings, as well as enhance deeper understandings of the universe as a whole. In the last 120 years, cannabis culture has developed relatively rapidly. When used with intention and in balance, cannabis bears many healing properties long known to humankind, yet which modern science has long neglected and undervalued.
The use of cannabis as a psychotherapeutic adjunct and as a legal plant medicine has gained traction in recent years. The cannabis plant is a classic psychedelic, despite its lack of popular perception as a psychedelic. Recreational use of cannabis differs greatly from therapeutic use. When used in conjunction with a psychotherapist who is trained in psychedelic assisted psychotherapy, the experience takes on an entirely different shape and form. As the conductor of the healing process, a psychedelic assisted psychotherapist helps create the right conditions for self-exploration and healing through safety, support, skill, and guidance. At Dimensions, our plant elders also hold ceremonial space to support our guests healing through the use of various ceremonial practices, music and song.
A recent study published in the journal of psychopharmacology suggests cannabis has properties similar to other psychedelics. Psilocybin, ayahuasca and LSD induce a state that is referred to as oceanic boundlessness, an experience of a feeling of oneness with the world and the universe and a sense of awe. Researchers found that cannabis can also produce the same state of oceanic boundlessness as other psychedelics. The state of oceanic boundlessness was also found to be associated with a decrease in depression in research studies. Cannabis may exhibit the same subjective effects as other plant medicines. An eye mask, psychological support, and music enhance the psychedelic effect of cannabis when used in a therapeutic setting. In a harmonized set and setting, cannabis allows us to go inwards and become more aware of our bodies. When it comes to psychedelics, cannabis can be a gentle introduction for those new to the field. In a therapeutic setting, it can mimic some of the somatic and visual effects of psilocybin, dmt, and ayahuasca. It differs from other psychedelics in that the user retains a sense of agency and has the option of pausing the experience at any time.
During a cannabis ceremony, people report a variety of subjective experiences. These experiences may include feeling more connected to their bodies, reprocessing past experiences or memories, releasing emotions, or spiritual experiences.
Among the effects of cannabis are altered perceptions, thoughts, and feelings, as well as dreamlike visual imagery. Cannabis can therefore be considered psychedelic in this regard. Mental and physical health symptoms can be managed with cannabis medically. It is possible to resolve symptoms when cannabis is used in a therapeutic context. The rational, thinking mind can be temporarily set aside. When the default mode network of the brain is temporarily interrupted, traumas can be accessed more easily in the body and nervous system. Cannabis can support the healing of trauma that is stored in the body.
Healing involves processing and reprogramming traumatic and painful memories so that in present day we can walk lighter and stronger – we are helping ourselves let go of past pain and how it has been held in our bodies. The correlation between trauma reprocessing work and the “letting go” that often takes place during cannabis ceremonies and other psychedelic plant medicines is explained by modern neuroscience. Both of these techniques allow trapped energy to be “sequenced” in the nervous system, especially when it comes to fight/flight/freeze reactions. And they both help to unwind deeply held tension that is stored in the physical body. During both of these processes, we can either surrender or fight the experience.
In a therapeutic setting, cannabis allows us to work directly with the body and subconscious mind without any interference from the controlling, rational mind. We store all of our emotions, long-term memories, habits, behaviours, and core programming in our subconscious mind. In addition, cannabis allows greater access to traumas stored in the body and nervous system. Trauma stored within the body may be experienced as tension, sensation, emotion and pain. With the guidance of a psychotherapist, these traumas can be reprocessed and resolved leading to resolution. This addresses the root cause of symptoms.
At Dimensions, we integrate neuroscience-based trauma therapies and ceremonial practices into our cannabis ceremony retreats. We offer psychoeducation on trauma, ceremony, embodiment, and psychedelics to our guests not just during ceremony but throughout the retreat as well. As a result, the mind is satisfied with understanding before moving into the ceremonial space to practice letting go. Moreover, our guests receive a healthy, nutritious meal before and after their ceremony, as well as a variety of wellness treatments and embodiment practices. Having all of these factors in place promotes a greater sense of safety within oneself, which is helpful in supporting the letting go during ceremony.
While there are many different blends of cannabis that can be explored, we find that blending thirds of Indica, Sativa and Hybrid strands of cannabis creates a mixture that helps stimulate the brain, while also relaxing the body, which is an ideal state for reprocessing trauma or exploring new realms of understanding and consciousness. An entourage effect occurs while being in deep nature, experiencing inspiring music, and attuned facilitators/guides. Every component helps to support our guests ceremony and to move deeply into the experience. “Set and setting” is the combination of these variables that create a sacred space for looking inward, being humble, and letting go.
At Dimensions, we are honoured to offer a new experience with cannabis. Our intention is to teach our guests how to connect with this sacred plant medicine in an entirely new, yet ancient, way. Cannabis can be an unexpected ally on the journey to letting go, inviting us to surrender into the wisdom of the body.