Meditating While High: Buddhism and Marijuana
We’ve been asked recently a few questions about meditating while high, the Buddhist stance on marijuana use and medical marijuana, and if smoking weed can be beneficial in our practice. This has been a recurring question we’ve received, and we have answered it on an individual basis. However, with the recent legalization of marijuana in our home state of California and an influx of questions about practicing while high, we thought we’d write a bit about this important topic.
Marijuana and the Precepts
This is perhaps the most important piece when considering the relationship between Buddhism and cannabis. The five precepts are training rules undertaken by Buddhists across the world, and have remained the same for thousands of years. Formed as a set of practices to protect the community and our personal practice, these are an important piece of the path.
The precepts are a foundational Buddhist teaching, and can help our practice greatly. The fifth precept is commonly translated as:
I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.
Marijuana pretty clearly falls in this category when used recreationally. It is both intoxicating and can lead to carelessness. This precept serves to help us stay clear-headed, practicing, and not breaking the other four precepts. The five precepts are often referred to as “training rules,” but they may also be understood as practices.
On the note of the five precepts, it brings into question the use of marijuna for recreational purposes. Often, those using cannabis for medicinal purposes are using much lower amounts. The science behind medical marijuana is surmounting, and we’re clearly seeing the dangers of other medicine like opioids and benzodiazepines.
Like marijuana, these medications which can help treat pain, epilepsy, and anxiety cause a change in mental state. In this case, is cannabis less wholesome than other medications we take as directed? It’s certainly not for me to decide for you, but something worth considering. Using medical marijuana is significantly different as far as the fifth precept goes than using cannabis recreationally.
Can Smoking Weed Help Meditation?
This is one of the most common questions we’re asked in relation to cannabis. Some people seem to find it to help, while some report it dulls the mind. A Reddit post shows quite the split in opinion and experience.
The use of marijuana has been linked to a decrease in grey matter, dificits of dopamine in the brain, and significatly decreases empathy with human emotions. Although cannabis may feel beneficial to one’s practice, the science suggests this may not be the case.
Often, people who meditate while high are practicing other forms of meditation, for which it may be beneficial. In regards to concentration, mindfulness, and cultivating compassion, it is likely not helpful in most cases. There are some who may indeed benefit from the right type of cannabis in the right dose. However, the general benefits of quitting cannabis include better cognitive function, greater memory function, and more motivation.
Dependence & Addiction
One thing to consider with cannabis use is the Buddhist idea of karma. When we smoke regularly we are cultivating a habit, the tendency to rely on the use, further craving, and eventually dependence. Yes, we know that it is often claimed that “marijuana is not addictive.” However, an individual can develop marijuana use disorder, and an addiction.
Contrary to popular belief, heavy users can go through physical symptoms of withdrawal such as physical anxiety, fatigue, and changes in appetite. There are treatment programs that work in depth with marijuana users, like our personal friends down south at Crownview Co-Occurring Institute. Of course, not everyone becomes dependent, but it is important to understand the possible consequences of our choices.
Just a note, there is a Buddhist-based recovery program called Refuge Recovery that may be of use to somebody wishing to investigate living without drugs or alcohol. There are many ways to quit smoking marijuana, as Addiction Rehab Blog points out, so you can find a way that works for you.
My Personal Experience & Take
I was introduced to meditation when I was in my teenage years, and I was not observing the fifth precept. When I decided myself to come back to meditation practice, it was during my years of heaviest use. The friends I had (who also smoked quite a bit) were into meditation, and it was cool in those circles to meditate.
This experience brought me back to meditation, and eventually helped lead to me stopping all drug use and getting sober. I meditated for a few years, often high, before getting sober and later finding the Refuge Recovery program. I do believe my practice then would have been more fruitful had I been clear-headed, but I also see that it was cannabis use that had brought me to these friends and to practice.
In my personal experience, cannabis was useful in helping bring me to practice. However, I needed to quit in order to continue progressing along the path. This isn’t to say that somebody who smokes marijuana is less progressed along any path; this is just my experience.
We have members of our sangha (online and/or in person) who have used cannabis both recreationally and medicinally, and I welcome them all. Our space is drug and alcohol-free, but it is my personal belief that all are welcome to the dharma regardless of choices they have made. The Buddha himself showed this repeatedly in the suttas, as he did in the famous story of Angulimala.
Although this is a dramatic example, it illustrates the potential for us to awaken. For me, the gradual awakening involved strictly observing the fifth precept. However, I am certainly not perfect with my conduct all the time, and do not think my conduct is “better” than anyone else’s because I don’t use cannabis. I do think this is a choice I have made because it has been beneficial in my life and practice, and I’ve observed the effects from both smoking and not smoking.
When a student asks me about cannabis use and dharma practice, I often encourage them to investigate for themselves what the experience is like. Try tuning into the mental clarity when high, the craving and clinging that surrounds your cannabis use, and the other changes you notice in the body and mind.
You may also try giving it up for a week or two, and tuning into the craving, clinging, and mental states you experience. In one of our favorite meditation books, A Path with Heart, the author Jack Kornfield says: “Undertake for one week or one month to refrain from all intoxicants and addictive substances (such as wine, liquor, marijuana, cigarettes, and caʃeine). Observe the impulses to use these, and become aware of what is going on in the heart and mind at the time of those impulses.”
We can use our experience as practice, and cannabis use as a jumping off point for further investigation. We can use discernment, and try to steer clear of unkind judgement toward ourselves. Finally, we can look at our fixed views around the subject and our experience.
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