Image courtesy of Joe Mattia.

Image courtesy of Joe Mattia.

Many spiritual traditions throughout history have used mind-altering substances as a central part of their spiritual practice. At the same time, other traditions strictly forbid consciousness-altering drugs or dismiss them as unhelpful. In India, for example, you have an incredibly ancient tradition of wandering mystics called sadhus who smoke or ingest hash frequently, yet you also have more modern spiritual figures like Yogananda and Ramana Maharshi who proclaimed that meditation without drugs is far more beneficial.

This is a fascinating dichotomy for those who are interested in the intersection of spirituality and psychedelics and a subject worth exploring more deeply. Joe Mattia, the founder of Psychedelic Times, is both an accomplished meditator through traditions such as Kriya yoga and an experienced psychonaut and psychedelic advocate. I spoke with Joe about his experiences with marijuana and meditation to address both the benefits and caveats behind this mindful practice.

The Psychonaut and the Yogi

I first asked Joe about his view on the traditional but still taboo practice of using psychedelics in spiritual practice. He explained that while some people think that meditating with marijuana is a crutch, he has a different perspective:

“Anything can be subject to abuse, and maybe that’s why some traditions say no to all substances. I think psychoactive plants are medicine and that using them in this way — which humans have done throughout history is part of human nature. It is all about intention. I respect where people come from who say not to use substances like marijuana at all in meditation, because sobriety is essential too [and] you can get there without the medicines. This is not for everybody, but based on my own experiences with plant medicines, which have been incredibly meaningful, I recommend it for those that feel called to it and can be responsible with it.”

 Image Source: Flickr User Carlos Garcia

For some, the stress-relieving benefits of marijuana make it a conducive addition to a mindful meditation practice. | Image Source: Flickr User Carlos Garcia

Many studies have shown that both meditation practice and marijuana use can be highly therapeutic, especially in reducing stress levels. When I asked Joe about the benefits he sees in using these two practices together, he explained that science currently doesn’t have the instruments to fully measure all of our reactions to smoking marijuana or to explain how the different cannabinoids interact with our body. “There are many benefits that we get that we don’t even know about yet, it could be very subtle,” Joe related. “The same goes for meditation. They say that even if you meditate for one minute every morning, you are giving the mind an important break.” Even if you have only a few seconds of complete stillness during that minute, the implications of that on brain patterns and chemistry are immense, but like marijuana, are hard to measure or quantify.

When I asked Joe about what his marijuana and meditation sessions looked like, he described a typical session:

“I have everything set up beforehand. I have my meditation pillow ready, my water, and my instruments. I center myself, smoke, and then go right into the meditation. There’s no fooling around or getting distracted by something, my phone is on silent, the door is closed, and everything is prepared. The best way to do it is set everything up for maximum immersion, focus on your breath, relax, and let go.”

There are many different kinds of meditation practice. Some involve unpacking thoughts as they arise to find their root, and others aim to allow all thoughts that appear to dissipate without any attachment. Joe practices the latter: “The idea is not to not have any thoughts (which is impossible), but to be aware of your thought tangents and focus on letting go. The goal is a still and peaceful mind.”

Meditation experience, much like psychedelic experiences, can range from difficult and anxiety-ridden to ecstatic and bliss-filled. Joe described what a common marijuana-assisted meditation session is like for him and how it relates to his other psychedelic experiences: “To me it becomes very visual. I really do believe that once you open the door with powerful psychedelics like ibogaine, ayahuasca, or DMT, that when you use marijuana that door gets reopened in a way. The place I go to could be very different than somebody who has never used those substances. I’ve found when I use pure THC oils, it can create a kind of mini-DMT trip.”

Words of Wisdom

While Joe was eager to share his enthusiasm for the benefits of marijuana-assisted meditation, he also cautioned against getting carried away using marijuana with meditation: “It’s good to have a solid practice of meditating without [marijuana], then every once in a while using marijuana to enhance the depth at which you go.”

When I asked Joe if he had any advice for someone who was interested in exploring the synthesis of marijuana and meditation for the first time, he said that the most important thing is the attitude you have going into it. “It’s all about your intention going into it, creating a nice atmosphere, being mindful of what you are doing, and creating a little ritual out of it.” He suggested building a small altar for precious stones or other meaningful artifacts. Ultimately, the meditation practice should provide a unique opportunity to explore the benefits of marijuana. “Acknowledge that this plant, this medicine, is an incredible being of its own with so much to offer even beyond its psychedelic effects. Just be humble and cultivate a sense of awe for how beneficial this plant is. Be intentional with what you are doing, and you will get a lot more out of it.”