Ayurveda’s Take on Weed

Getting stoned and doing yoga seems to be all the rage. But can we call using marijuana a spiritual practice? Here, the Ayurvedic perspective on the benefits of getting high.

In This Article

How Marijuana Impacts Your Nervous System

In states where marijuana is legal, “stoned yoga,” or basically doing yoga high, has become a lucrative business. It’s trendy, people love it, but like all things that seem too good to be true, doing yoga while high may be masking true feelings of physical and emotional pain—delaying true spiritual work and personal growth.

The high that people experience with marijuana is from THC’s affect on the nervous system. While not everyone has the same response, weed generally  increases feelings of calm by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. Marijuana simultaneously boosts the reward hormone dopamine, making the experience even more fulfilling. People who get high say they feel less anxious, more relaxed, more self-awareness, and more meditative and spiritual. Some say they feel more coordinated and are less injury prone when practicing yoga while stoned.

While cannabis can prompt dopamine hits and reward chemistry, research also shows that with continued use, dopamine levels decrease and the enhanced feeling of fulfillment declines. This effect encourages you to chase the reward with higher doses and more frequent experiences with weed.

See also The Connection Between Yoga, Ayurveda, and Dopamine

Ayurveda, Tamas, Rajas, Sattva, and Weed

According to Ayurveda, marijuana is a soma, or sacred, plant that can play a role in promoting a meditative state. Alcohol in small amounts has similar effects. But the potential benefits from both cannabis and alcohol are often outweighed by the risk of overuse, abuse, and a dulling of consciousness. Ayurveda describes cannabis as a tamasic, or inertia, drug, which suggests that is has ability to numb your senses.

Cannabis was initially sanctioned by Ayurveda for pain reduction (which was the primary reason it was legalized, too), and not for spirituality. Because it had a numbing and calming effect, it was also used to help seekers who were over-stimulated, over-thinkers, and had trouble settling down in meditation or yoga. It was not the plant to ultimately deliver higher states of consciousness because, as a tamasic drug, it blocked pain in the body and dulled the senses and the mind.

Excess tamas is a state of consciousness in which you’re withdrawn, stuck, introverted, and fearful. This can explain why, for some users, excess cannabis can cause anxiety, fear, and being overly self-conscious. In Ayurveda, tamasic behavior is most commonly caused by the overstimulation of rajas. Rajas, or aggression, is a state of consciousness that is fueled by stimulation, aggression, and action. In its imbalanced state, rajas can lead to excess sensory stimulation and addiction. Rajas also stimulates dopamine (think making money, shopping, movies, sex, food, and an endless number of stimulating activities that help you feel satisfied).

From the Ayurvedic and yogic perspectives, rajas and tamas are fleeting in nature and unable to bring lasting contentment and higher states of consciousness. Being in tamasic or rajasic states can often help motivate people to find more balance and lasting contentment, when they realize they are hard to please or too depressed to take action. A balanced and content state of consciousness is called sattva, or harmony.

Sattva is a state of natural self-awareness, rather than the illusion of self-awareness that you may experience while high. Sometimes you can find sattva with cannabis, which can help you turn down the noise of incessant mental chatter.

No doubt yoga, too, is better when the mind is quiet and the body is more relaxed from cannabis. But beware of the trap—the notion that cannabis itself is raising your consciousness.  A true sattvic state, which is the spiritual goal of Ayurveda, is lasting contentment, and is not brought on temporarily by a high that dulls your senses and feelings of pain (physically and mentally).

Determine the amount of sattva, rajas and tamas you have in our in all areas of your life with our Emotional Body Type Quiz.

Ayurveda, Pain, and Cannabis

Using a drug like cannabis, which was initially legalized to block pain, as a tool to increase self-awareness is a contradiction. Cannabis blocks pain and the awareness of that pain. In Ayurveda, pain is tool for getting your attention, so that you can go to the pain, work through it, and then experience bliss. This process helps you develop higher states of consciousness. In Ayurveda, blocking pain curbs spiritual progress.

Sadly, we have a culture that avoids pain and discomfort at all costs. When we feel depressed, we take antidepressants. When we’re in pain, we take pain killers. And when we’re sad, we seek sugar, shopping, or some other means of rajasic sensory stimulation.

Ayurveda describes the process of emotional numbing as a pull from sattvic, loving, compassionate behavior to rajasic forms of sensory stimulation. When your senses become overstimulated and your nervous system is depleted, your mind cannot settle down and it naturally seeks a tamasic drug like cannabis. A tamasic experience can feel very peaceful, even spiritual, but it is really just a numbing experience. For a tamasic person to find their spiritual path, they have to find the courage to leave their tamasic cocoon and re-enter reality, even when it is painful.

See also Soma Nectar: The Vedic Fountain of Youth

Weed and Spirituality

The Vedic use of cannabis, in the context of spirituality, was, yes, to facilitate transcendence, but with the understanding that use of this drug could easily be abused and mask some of the deeper work that needed to happen.

The medical benefits of cannabis are well-studied. Dialing down mental stress and giving the nervous system a break to heal is one of the great gifts cannabis has given to the medical community. But like all medicines, weed should be used sparingly for specific reasons—with great respect and moderation. The downsides and addictive nature of chronic cannabis use are now becomes well understood.

When I was studying Ayurveda in India in the 1980s, I would go to many temples and ashrams. The most striking thing about these spiritual places was always their impeccable cleanliness. The floors were always swept, there were fresh flowers, and there was no trash to be seen—even the dirt around the temple was regularly swept and manicured. I visited two temples in India that were known for their cannabis practices. One was the Janaki temple in Varanasi and the other was an ashram and temple north of Haldwani in the Himalayan foothills. The Janaki temple was overgrown with weeds, dirty, upswept and the most unclean temple I have ever been to. The temple in Haldwani was better but still noticeably unkempt compared to the standard of most every other temple I had visited. This lack of cleanliness, organization,  and attention to detail is a classic sign of tamas. A tamasic state of being is withdrawn. Tamasic states help you retreat from the world. What often follows is a lack of self-care, cleanliness, and organization.

So is stoned yoga bad? For some, it may provide initial benefit to those who need help turning off their minds, settling down, or handling the physical strain of a yoga class. But just remember, the traditional use of cannabis was primarily to help block pain, or, in a spiritual sense, it was used as a temporary tool to help train the mind to be able to silence itself. My suggestion is that if you must use cannabis, use it as a tool to become the master of your own nervous system. I recommend finding your spiritual path on your own, without the aid of cannabis, or any other drug that promises spiritual awakening.

See also Alcohol, Ayurvedic Herbs, and Your Liver

5 thoughts on “Ayurveda’s Take on Weed”

  1. Thank you, this was so helpful for me. I was using THC for anxiety and I got lost in it and had to do more and more. I felt cut off from the world and numb, so I recently stopped using it and all my emotions have come flooding back and have created a very painful experience. This teaching helped me understand what was happening to me and how to navigate this experience. Also, when using THC, I can not remember my dreams and it was such a loss, glad to have them back. Thank you, Dr. John. Your teachings have brought a lot of wisdom and value to me over the years.

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  2. I think this is a great article. I consume cannibas for chronic pain and personal pleasure. I’m 43 and have been puffing since I was 15. Now I tend to stick with edibles or concentrates. I am a vegetarian and a meditator, and for me, I know my limits. I also prefer to practice yoga as clear headed as I can. So, like everything, there is certainly a time and a place for it 😊 I’m also thinking to convert to just CBD. The marijuana plant is wonderful. All of our plants are! But this one is definitely a super plant 😉

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  3. This is an excellent discussion and a topic that is triggering for me. I have several points to summarize, and I do not care to get into debates with people about this.
    1. I smoked a lot of pot as a young person, and I know first hand how destructive it was to my life. Yes, most people become the dirty, unkept temple where pot is worshipped and obsessed over (i.e., where can I get more and focus my time and energy on smoking it and being stoned). Most other productivity is abandoned. I drove vehicles impaired. People could have been injured or killed. Many hard lessons learned.
    2. There is a very real and demonstrable danger for pot as a gateway drug. Dr. Douillard describes Mr. Brownstone. I have lost family members to this and it started with pot.
    3. I am the pot calling the kettle black when I say that as human beings, we have disconnected from finding bliss in the miracle of life and this world just as it is. And we have allowed technology to dull our ability for the mental discipline to meditate and find spirituality and bliss without using a substance. The substance is like paying a cab to get you to your destination instead of exerting to walk and experience the ups, downs, and benefits of the journey.
    4. I never see or hear of someone using this plant objectively for medicinal purposes. If it’s used for “medicinal”, it’s always overboard, without discretion, without the consideration of what is best for the body’s cells and the individual’s mental constitution at that particular time and circumstance. Muscle testing is either not known or intentionally dismissed in the name of getting numb.
    5. If we are to consider pot for medicinal use, then shouldn’t we discuss the body and what chemically happens with pot? How do cells work? Cells are literally electrical and they communicate with one another through electrical charges and releases of chemicals. What conducts electricity? Water. Clean, clear hydration in clean, clear cells conducts the electrical charges for cells to readily communicate with each other so they can function as they were meant to with minimal stress. Clean, strong, well-fed cells work like an athlete at peak performance or a perfectly tuned performance car. Now, bring THC into the picture. (You could bring sugar or other toxic chemicals into the picture, as well.) THC is sticky, tar-like, and as mentioned in the article, it slows everything down. If a person gets stoned, they are getting their cells stoned. The electrical charges between cells become impaired and, in turn, their chemical functions are impaired. THC builds up in the system. It becomes like an unmaintained car. The filters and spark plugs eventually gum up and clog. The oil becomes viscous. The vehicle strains to start and accelerate. Eventually, it won’t start, anymore. People can argue that pot “prevents” or “cures” cancer. That might be so, but the chemical effect of a pot plant is entirely different from the chemical effect of RoundUp or that of an adaptogenic herb and will cause an entirely different set of issues. I think about that on a detailed level and what that means to the function of cells. Does that mean that pot could never be used in the process of healing or medicating? No. Functionally, it could be used on a temporary basis to get a portion of a malady in hand. It wouldn’t be my first choice considering other adaptogenic herbs, but that’s an individual’s choice. And, again, most people don’t muscle test. And most people are not considering what the real end goal is…clean, clear cells that are firing off at optimal strength like a well-tuned performance engine. Could pot become a hinderance in preventing or curing cancer? I believe so, if it gets in the way of optimizing cell function. On a different note, if a person knows they are exiting this world, and are resolved to that, and the body is in pain, is pot a useful pain medication? I believe it is so. It wouldn’t be my first choice because I no longer like the effects of being stoned. But that’s an individual’s choice. Just don’t drive or attempt to interact as a parent when you’re under the influence. There’s very little that is wholesome about it as people would like to dilute themselves into believing because it is “of nature”. There are many plants that are “of nature” that will kill you. Every individual, species, plant, short and long-term circumstance ought to be considered in selecting any type of medicine. I feel confident in saying that pot is an over and mis-prescribed substance that is not only sets individuals back but sets society as a whole back. When I hear people strongly advocating for the use of pot, I hear myself as the young person who was the addicted pot user. It’s not the person talking; it’s the pot talking. Please know that it’s a choice to no longer be the poison and quit at any time. You just make the decision and start hanging out with people who don’t use it.

    Dr. Douillard, I’m interested to know Ayurveda’s perspective on medicinal mushrooms. My understanding is that mushrooms have a completely different set of intelligence, properties, and effects than pot. I would also like to hear from people who are experienced with using mushrooms and have an objective perspective. Thank you.

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  4. Perfect timing on publishing this article as I am currently detoxing from long time use of THC to treat restless leg syndrome. Well, medicinal use turned into recreational use and addiction. Detoxing is uncomfortable but my dreams have returned and I feel more vibrant everyday. I had quit before but it wasn’t lasting, until I watched a Youtube video of a doctor who explained the effects of THC on the heart. You could say I was scared straight. I have, however, been using a CBD gummy and magnesium at bedtime and would like your opinion and ayurvedic perspective of CBD. Thank you for all your work and prolific writing, you have my deepest respect.

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  5. Thank you Dr. Douiliard for putting this in perspective.

    One thing I’ve experienced (after decades of meditation and guidance from ayurvedic healers) is that I am more and more intolerant of any cannibas smoke. Even exposure as brief as driving by a house and smelling the smoke makes me feel sick and very detached from the world. The experience is profoundly anti-spiritual.

    A very orthodox ayurvedic view can be found here.
    https://www.somamatha.org/ayurvedic-view-of-marijuana.html

    Really appreciate these daily articles!

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