What Ganja Yoga Taught Me About Cannabis and the Questionable Benefits of CBD

What Ganja Yoga Taught Me About Cannabis and the Questionable Benefits of CBD
Photo: Noel Cymone Walker. Design: Cierra Miller/STYLECASTER.

Rich moments are etched into my psyche from ventures with cannabis-enhanced yoga. I was first introduced to the trend at Tmrw.Tday—a part wellness retreat, part music and culture festival packaged as a week of relaxation on the 7-mile beach stretch in Negril Jamaica. The class, “ganja yoga,” stuck out on my itinerary essentially because I never imagined professionally intertwining the two. I haven’t delved into the activity in years, excluding a few puff-puff-passes that occasionally fall into my social orbit. “Why not?,” I initially thought.

Ironically, it’s the only yoga class I can recollect after a year, including the sound of the waves, the wind, and the mist of rain spotting my face. (There was a tropical storm hovering over Woodstock, the tiki beach bar where we practiced.)I can recall my senses heightening to great extents— the motion of movements from downward dog to warrior pose, much more graceful than ever before. The community force of oneness was at large and to this day, the only difference between this class and every other one I’d taken is well, of course, the ganja.

noel walker-ganga yoga review

Courtesy of Noel Cymone Walker.

Ganja Yoga, in particular, is a phrase coined by Dee Dussault, expert and author of Ganja Yoga: A Practical Guide to Conscious Relaxation, Soothing Pain Relief, and Enlightened Self-Discovery. “The generic is cannabis-enhanced yoga or cannabis yoga,” Dussault told me. “Ganja yoga is one of many types of cannabis-enhanced yoga that now exists. It started in 2009…We specifically focus on the clean-curated-cannabis, meaning pesticide-free, no harms. And then the yoga specifically is slow, mindful and safe.”

This year, Dussault embarked on a 10-year anniversary cross-country tour that gave yogis the opportunity to earn credit toward certification by the Yoga Alliance, the governing body of yoga. “[The Yoga Alliance] counts the Ganja Yoga teacher training as a real continuing education, meaning you don’t become a yoga teacher after taking the training, but we can use the credits towards your teacher training.” she explained. “After the training, if people want to become a certified Ganja Yoga teacher and join my brand, I have a certification and life speaking program.”

Intrigued, I decided to take a class in New York City, if only to possibly traverse my mind, body, and soul back to that beach in Negril. 

noel walker-ganga yoga review

Courtesy of Noel Cymone Walker.

The Experience

In September, I crashed a New York City course whereupon entrance, yogis were already socializing, pulling out their preferred method of consumption and sharing spliffs. After some pulls and a cup of green tea spiked with CBD oil, I assumed my position on a mat and started looking over the training manual.  As the euphoric-like effects began to kick in, I cherished feeling so at ease, just as I did back at Tmrw.Tday.

As time went on, all concern about whether or not I looked okay practicing—I’m not an experienced yogi— really went out the door. I’m very tall and not hard to miss, so my trajectory is usually a concern, but not here. Ganja allowed me to perform better, lingering in positions much longer than I’ve been able to in the past. The biomechanics section focusing on foot mobility, heel placement, arches, toes, and ankles were also a godsend for my flat feet. Ultimately, I was able to tune into my being and shut off the mind for quite some time. In fact, I still remember and practice the techniques from this one specific class—kind of ironic, right?

I also realized this was drastically more effective than CBD oil, the ingredient experiencing a high of sorts within the beauty. For years, we’ve been told that it’s a cure-all for dryness, inflammation, and other skin ailments, but can CBD make a real difference inside and out without the rest of the plant? Through my deep-dive into the cannabis yoga world, I learned that the whole thing is better than a single part. 

If you want to go full-on psychedelic with your CBD experience, here are the essential elements to keep in mind before investing in a cannabis yoga class on your own.

CBD Versus the ‘Entourage Effect’

Let’s break this down real quick. The cannabis plant is made of hundreds of compounds called flavonoids, aromatic terpenes, and cannabinoids. CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are cannabinoids and commonly found in both topical and ingestible products. CBD is the nonpsychoactive part of the plant that doesn’t get you high, as opposed to THC, which is psychoactive and creates euphoria-like effects. On its own, CBD tends to produce a feeling of calmness or relaxation, but its benefits apart from the rest of the plant are still up for debate. This partly explains the growing popularity of yoga classes that also infuse THC. 

“In a lot of instances, the mixture of THC and CBD has a synergistic effect rather than just CBD or THC,” said Carolyn Johnson, senior therapist and spa developer at Kiyara Spa in The Cliff Hotel in Negril. During Tmrw.Tday, I went to Kiyara for a cannabis-infused hot stone treatment and to talk about the weed-friendly wellness craze. “ We have a long history of herbal traditions in Jamaica and spas are about water, warmth, and herbs and that’s what Jamaica is bouncing in. I started integrating cannabis within the last year or so and this is full-spectrum cannabinoid, not CBD. CBD as an isolated compound is problematic because studies are showing that the whole plant with other cannabinoids present has more positive effects on health.”

Project CBD, a California based non-profit promoting and publicizing research into the medical uses of CBD and all the components of the cannabis plant confirms the “entourage effect” or “ensemble effect”—the therapeutic impact of the plant as a whole— is greater than the sum of its single-molecule parts. However, Dussault suggests that marketing CBD as a single compound is a route that wellness companies choose because “it’s really hard to sell a plant with variability between crop to crop” she insisted. “But that isolated compound is not good medicine. Isolated compounds are easy to market, easy to sell, easy to regulate. Capitalism loves isolated compounds. But having a little THC present, even too small to feel just a little bit is really where the medicine shines. It needs the symbiotic relationship of all of the plant compounds to have a minimum adverse effect.”

Legalities

There’s also the issue of where you can enjoy cannabis yoga or cannabis, period. According to Disa Global Solutions, as of October 2019, cannabis is legal in 11 states and the District of Columbia. It’s medicinally allowed in 23 states with many other states engaging in mixed laws dealing with infused products and reduced criminalization.

However, if you are looking to train or practice cannabis yoga, you should consult with a certified Ganja Yoga instructor to know the specifics in your region. “[In training] we discuss federal law, state law, municipal law, and ways to find out what the law is because it’s often ambiguous,” explained Dussault. 

noel walker-ganga yoga review

Courtesy of Noel Cymone Walker.

Dosage & Strains

Cannabis isn’t for everyone. Many claim paranoia, anxiety or even grogginess when partaking. (I can attest to this as well). Much of the aforementioned has to do with the strain of cannabis and the amount of CBD, the non-psychoactive compound of the plant, and THC, the psychoactive compound, in each strain. “In the older days, you didn’t know what you needed and what you got, but you knew it was healthy,” explained Balram “Bali” Vaswani, Chairman Chief Ganja Officer of Kaya Herb House. After my first successful ganja yoga class, I sought the opportunity to visit Kaya, the first medicinal Ganja Herb House in the Caribbean during SPF Weekend at their annual I-Rise event held by Solid Agency, to educate myself on strains, dosage, and methods.  

“There are qualities and different things that can define a strain,” Bali shared. “In the ganja industry, just by looking at a leaf formation, a fatter leaf would be an Indica leaf and that will be for muscle relaxing and sleep. A thinner fine leaf would be a Sativa dominant which is euphoric and better for depression and creativity. If you think of testing, just in the last 5-7 years, we have really good research in terms of THC and CBD. A first time user might want to start with a much lower dose of THC between 8-11%, which is the lower practices from the early 80s,” and this is true.

If you are new to cannabis yoga, the idea is to start low and go slow. Since THC is the compound that creates euphoric effects, beginners need to take a deeper look at what they are using. “You have to know the dosage and you have to be able to calculate how to increase the dosage. If you don’t understand those mechanics and those tests are not available, it makes it difficult to cure symptoms because at the end of the day that’s what we are trying to do— have a resolve for anything that we have.” One way to do this is by checking out Leafly, the world’s largest cannabis website that breaks down the amount of THC and CBD in each strain of cannabis available at any dispensary in your desired area and focuses on customer experience.

Working with a ganja yoga instructor, medicinal facility, and physician is the best way to steer clear of disadvantageous reactions when considering this practice. Dussault admits that “oftentimes people take way too much cannabis— hypothetically too strong of strain, too much THC in a strain— in their early exploration. So if people take more of a one-to-one ratio of equal parts CBD and THC, a hardcore cannabis user wouldn’t get that high because the THC will be too little, but for a beginner that’s a good amount of THC to mitigate any potential of paranoia.”

Nevertheless, it’s important to note that there is no set dosage for handling cannabis because it’s personal to everyone— a dose that alleviates one person’s symptoms might do very little for someone else. Also, note that there is no consumption limit in Ganja Yoga classes. “If someone has a high tolerance and they bring four joints and they smoked all of them and that works for them, there is no judgment because it’s a medicine and we all have a different relationship with it” clarifies Dussault. “People I know who have extraordinary high tolerances, I wouldn’t want them to feel like they are going to get in trouble if they are smoking too much. At the same token, I do advocate for the minimum effective dose— how little of the medicine do you need before you feel the positive effects you are looking for. There is no need to go beyond that with your consumption.”

Keep in mind that the method of ingestion— smoking, vaping, eating edibles or applying topical ointments or gels— is also personal to each user. For instance, my preferred methods are smoking and vaping. I have not figured out what strain of cannabis and what levels of THC and CBD operate best for me, but I’ll be working on it. 

Yoga Safety

In 2019, yoga is still considered a marriage between the body and mind that mostly concerns itself with spiritual development. However, there’s also a growing emphasis on the aerobic benefits that build strength, build muscle mass, and increase flexibility. With that being said, the type of yoga you combine with cannabis use is an important choice that can make or break your practice. 

Yoga magazines and Instagram accounts favor postures that are inaccessible and truly only designed for the athletic elites but that’s not really what yoga is. “Yoga is not even really about postures or final destinations,” Dussault said. “It’s about the journey so we want people who are older, who are larger bodies, who are inexperienced with yoga to feel that this is a practice.”

A way to do this is to focus on slow mindful Hatha with a bit of restorative or Yin, an ideal type of yoga practice to integrate cannabis because it’s the easiest and most mindful kind of all levels. “With the power of really slow mindful easy yoga and cannabis together, that gives a lot of opportunities to cultivate physical relaxation and mental relaxation” continues Dussault.  

All in all, if you’re hellbent on experiencing the benefits, beauty or otherwise, of the CBD craze, a high-flying workout may just be your best bet.

share