About five years ago, I was working at Herbalcure, one of the original therapeutic cannabis dispensaries in Los Angeles. Our marching orders from the director were clear: counsel patients, most of them military veterans, and recommend specific strains for their condition. Ask them to take it home, try it, and if it didn’t work for them, bring it back and we would swap it out for something else.
The reasons patients medicate, I discovered, ranged from anxiety, panic attacks, and PTSD, to problems with sleep, nausea, appetite, pain, depression, and more.
We carried dozens of varieties there, so the director encouraged us to conduct our own “product knowledge experiments,” trying each strain, comparing notes, asking questions of each other and our patients and collecting feedback, until we each had a working knowledge of the cannabis strains we carried and their likely therapeutic benefits and effects.
Of course this was not an exact science, but it was illuminating.
One observation that stood out for me was that different people often had different reactions to the same strain of cannabis. Also notable, men and women sometimes had different reactions to certain cannabis strains; other times it was people with different body shapes and sizes that had varied responses.
I became fascinated with this and started filtering these observations through my other lens, the lens of a yoga teacher.
During the six years prior to working in the dispensary, I had been teaching and studying yoga, meditation, and various healing modalities including the sister science of yogic healing, the Indian “science of life” known as Ayurveda.
Ayurveda teaches the art of living in harmony with nature.
During one of the yoga teacher training courses I took, we had a section on Ayurveda, and one of the things I learned is that in India, it is not uncommon for two patients to see a doctor complaining of the same symptoms, only to be sent away by the doctor with completely different prescriptions.
At first, I thought this made no sense at all, but upon further study and reflection, the wisdom in this unique approach to healing became clear. No two people are alike, and when a person is diseased, they need to become whole again in order to heal.
In other words, western medicine treats the symptom, while eastern medicine (in this case Ayurveda) treats the whole person in relation to their environment.
Using this lens, I developed a theory back at Herbalcure and I started talking about cannabis and recommending cannabis to patients using the ayurvedic perspective. It seemed to work, and I gained a reputation at the dispensary for recommending the optimal strains for their conditions.
Flash forward five years: I had long since left working at the dispensary, and I had just assumed my new role as California State Director for DOPE Magazine. One of the first things on my list, was to look for movers and shakers in the industry doing interesting things with cannabis, or talking about the plant in unique ways.
One day I noticed a flyer one of my friends had posted on Facebook for a talk she was going to be giving at Moksha Festival, a two-day event celebrating wellness, spiritual expansion and conscious living through Yoga, Ayurveda, Sacred Music and healthy food.
My friend, Dr. Seeta Narsai, was about to give a speech called “One Love: Marijuana, Sex, and God — An Ayurvedic Perspective of Cannabis”
Needless to say, I was intrigued. As a lay person who studied some Ayurveda in Yoga teacher training, I developed my theories about cannabis and Ayurveda, but here was an actual, credentialed Ayurvedic doctor saying the same things.
Was it possible that the theory I had cooked up about cannabis and Ayurveda could actually have some credence from the perspective of an Ayurvedic doctor?
I set out to answer this question by contacting Dr. Narsai, asking her to sit down and discuss cannabis, Ayurveda, and healing for this health themed issue of DOPE. She agreed, and we met several times to discuss this fascinating approach to healing and wellness.
Our first meeting was at Urth Caffe in Beverly Hills, and the topic was discussing Ayurveda general.
Evan Kopelson/DOPE: Dr. Narsai, would you walk me through a refresher course in Ayurveda? I’d like to help people who have never heard of Ayurveda to read this article and feel like they understand it. Can we do that?
Seeta Narsai: Why of course, according to Ayurveda there are three biological forces governing both our inner and outer environments. Known as doshas, they are referred to as Vata (air/ether), Pitta (fire/water), and Kapha (water/earth).
Every human being is a unique combination of these doshas and has a dominant dosha or mind-body type.
When the doshas are balanced, the body and mind are in harmony, and creative expression flows. However, if these doshas are not in sync, a person will often experience hampered creativity.
DOPE: Do the doshas correspond with what food we eat and other forms of nourishment?
SN: Absolutely, yes. Prana (life force) is obtained from the food we eat and the air we breathe. Food contains the pranic energy of the sun via photosynthesis, and through proper digestion, we feed divine solar energy to our body, mind, and creative spirit. The digestive system is a major channel, vital in providing optimum pranic energy to the body.
Knowing your dosha can help you access greater creative depths by allowing you to make better dietary and lifestyle choices which support you in actualizing the full potential of your unique mind-body type.
DOPE: How does one find their dosha?
SN: Well, there is a Dosha quiz you can take online to get a rough idea. You can search online and find them easily, but for more accurate reading one should schedule a consultation with a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner or doctor.
DOPE: Once someone knows their dosha, what do we do with that information to help us reach our full creative potential in life?
Seeta Narsai: That there is the question. Let’s talk a bit about the three doshas and what each of them brings to the table for an individual.
Vata is the wind force in nature that is responsible for all movements in the body. If a person is Vata dominant, he or she tends to be thin, light, energetic, lively and changeable—just like the wind. When Vata is in balance, a person is expansive, enthusiastic and creative. However, if vata is aggravated, he or she can suffer from anxiety, fear, constipation, and may have trouble focusing his or her attention. Anxiety or nervousness can easily be remedied with grounding foods and lifestyle adjustments.
Pitta is compared to the hot fire energy or the sun. If Pitta is the dominant force, a person tends to be intelligent, driven, goal-oriented, and fiery. When Pitta is functioning normally a person will have healthy digestion, the firm ability to lead, speak and make decisions. But if Pitta is out of balance, this person can be argumentative, irritable, short-tempered, and may suffer from indigestion or hyperacidity.
Kapha is the cool earth energy or moon in nature. If Kapha is the most dominant force, a person tends to be nurturing, supportive, caring, relaxed, easy-going, and affectionate. If Kapha balanced, a person will be calm, strong, sweet, grounded, stable, and supportive. However, when kapha is imbalanced, a person may suffer from depression, lethargy, weight gain, and sluggish digestion.
DOPE: So these three doshas then in essence make up a person’s energetic constitution?
SN: Exactly, and then we can balance these qualities by the choices we make in our diet and lifestyle. This is Ayurvedic healing in a nutshell. Just as the three doshas are represented in individuals, every food has a dominant dosha. Vata foods (light, cold, dry, bitter) like popcorn, expand our cognitive function, but can be ungrounding. Pitta foods (spicy, salty) like bell peppers, stimulate blood flow but can be overheating and anger provoking; Kapha foods (sweet, heavy) like meat, dairy, and bananas, are grounding, but in excess can cause lethargy and stagnation.
A proper intake of food based on your unique mind-body type is important to leading a balanced creative life.
A couple weeks later we met at Seeta’s office so we could talk more about the ayurveda and cannabis connection, and I could recieve a brief ayurvedic assessment.
On a beautiful street in a residential section of Los Angeles, Dr. Narsai’s office is in a house that has been fully converted to office space by her business partner. I noticed the space was conducive to healing immediately upon entering; soft yoga music played in the background, and there was a relaxing scent in the air that reminded me of incense, only without the smoke.
Before we began, Seeta asked if we could do some mantra together. This means sitting down and chanting an invocation. We chose a Ganesha mantra to remove obstacles (in Yoga, it is common to start all spiritual practice by invoking the elephant faced deity Ganesha to remove obstacles) and a few other choice yoga chants. This helped us relax and feel grounded before starting to talk.
When the conversation turned to cannabis and ayurveda, Dr. Narsai became energized and I could tell she has authentic passion for this subject matter.
DOPE: Are you encountering any resistance from others in your field when you talk about cannabis and Ayurveda?
SN: Actually, I was quite nervous about this when I started, but I have found that for the most part people are very supportive, especially the more they learn about the unique place that cannabis has in the world of plants.
You may not know this but roughly 9% of the American population uses cannabis medically or recreationally, and over 100 million people in the United States admit to having tried cannabis.
Yet there is still a negative stigma surrounding cannabis, and I would like to see that change. Instead of fearing a plant, we can learn to respect and revere the plant for the healing properties that it offers.
DOPE: Can you talk more about the specific place that cannabis has in the world of Ayurveda?
SN: Sure. You know the ancient sages of India had reverence for all plants, including cannabis, and came up with over fourty names for the plant to describe its many healing properties.
One of the names for cannabis is VIJAYA, which means “victorious” and another is SIDDHI which means “success giver, unusual skill or faculty.” Other names attributed to the cannabis plant reference laughter, bliss, movement, joy, knowledge, and strength… all qualities that people may experience when taking the plant.
DOPE: Why do you think that cannabis has a special place in the world of Ayurvedic healing?
SN: You know, all the sister sciences of yoga, tantra, ayurveda, jyotish (vedic astrology), and all the vedas share a common goal of self-realization.
It is said that the spiritual paths to enlightenment vary, but the goal remains the same. Cannabis, when used properly, can absolutely help open the doors to self-realization.
We talked a lot about the connection between cannabis and self-realization, and Seeta brought up Rastafarianism, and how the Rastafarians have always used cannabis as part of a religious sacrament.
SN: The Rastafarians hold the belief that the cannabis plant possesses the power to revitalize and invigorate all life on earth. Rastas have a great reverence for plants, life, and mother nature. Before lighting a chalice, a prayer is offered up. In Yoga, we call this “Bhava” or acting with a sacred intention from the heart.
DOPE: Is that what one would do when taking cannabis ayurvedically, offer up a prayer?
SN: Certainly, this will help unlock the gifts that the plant has to offer. I see cannabis as a medicine to help you become aware of yourself. If you take cannabis medicinally and with spiritual intent, it can really help you figure out who you are on a very dynamic level, in conjunction with other Ayurvedic practices.
DOPE: Is cannabis is a mindfulness tool?
SN: Well that is an interesting question, because many people feel the two cannot co-exist. Now on the ultimate realm, all you need is meditation. The great yogi saints who have achieved self-realization will not use cannabis, but for many people who are on the spiritual path or just getting started (where we can feel very much trapped in the rhythms and cycles of modern society and all its distractions), cannabis can really be a gateway to higher consciousness.
DOPE: So is cannabis really a gateway drug then?
SN: Yes, but not a gateway drug to other drugs…a gateway drug to higher consciousness.
DOPE: I have never heard Ayurveda compared before to Rastafarianism.
SN: Jamaica was heavily influenced by Vedic culture. In Rasta culture they call the very best cannabis flowers Kali. Kali is one of the feminine aspects of Shiva, the God of destruction (of ego).
Often until one takes cannabis, one can not become aware of some of their own idiosyncrasies and the root causes. That is why cannabis can be such a powerful herb for those who are practicing the spiritual path of self-realization. There are definitely connections between these spiritual practices as healing modalities, especially if you pray before every hit.
Cannabis, like every plant, is the embodiment of light energy. Ayurveda and Rastafarianism share the idea that in order to fully unlock the secrets of healing that the cannabis plant has to offer, it is important to have total communion with the herb. In making the prayer, we are speaking to the plant, and then listening deeply for the answers to unveil themselves.
When we make a prayer and set an intention, we are showing reverence for the plant. Our ancestors had a deep reverence for plants and all living beings.
We can tap into the hidden source of information and power within the plant through prayer and mantra. This is something Ayurveda shares with Rastafarianism that I have discovered in my research into these topics.
DOPE: What about people who do not consider themselves to be religious or even spiritually minded. Can they take away anything from this discussion that can help them?
SN: Absolutely. One does not have to be spiritual or religious to benefit from knowledge. Have you heard about the Japanese scientist who did experiments on water molecules?
DOPE: Are you talking about Masaru Emoto’s book “Messages from Water” where he published microscopic images of water molecules after pasting different messages on cups of water?
SN: Yes, exactly. Dr. Emoto photographed water molecules after pasting notes on them, and what he discovered was astounding. The water molecules changed shape dramatically when different messages were attached to the cups of water. The message “Thank you” resulted in a beautiful molecular shape, whereas the message “You make me sick, I will kill you” resulted in a horribly deformed molecule.
What can we take from this? The human body is over 80% water. How do you think it affects us when we have positive or negative messages running through our minds 24/7?
The takeaway is simple: give thanks before you eat, and before you take cannabis, and allow the energy of your gratitude to penetrate the food and the plant before you take it into your body. The result will be palatable.
DOPE: It is widely said that sativa works on the mind, and indica works on the body. What about the different varieties of cannabis, and the many different strains of each variety?
SN: The energetics of a plant vary from plant to plant, and also according to what part of the plant is used, and how it is used. Sativa is more Vata from an Ayurvedic perspective, with thinner leaf structure, while indica has more robust leaves and has more Kapha qualities, so that assessment makes sense.
To cap off our adventures in Ayurveda, we went out for a bite to eat; I wanted to look at a menu and see if I could apply any of this new knowledge. I asked Seeta what type of food she would recommend, and she said her first thought was Ethiopian food because they use a lot of great spices. However, she just had Ethiopian for lunch, so she suggested Thai food because it was mostly vegetarian and also used great spices. I had just had Thai food the night before, so we opted for the third choice: vegan.
We ended up at a fancy vegan place on Melrose called Crossroads, by famous vegan chef Tal Ronnen. The appetizers looked delicious, including a crisp watermelon salad that caught my eye, as well as a tomato watermelon gazpacho. I pointed those out and said how much I would like to try them.
Dr Narsai quashed both of these, and told me to order the Housemade Pickled Vegetables instead. “The pickled vegetables are gonna be really good for digestion,” she said.
For similar reasons, Seeta had me order the Spicy Fennel Kimchi Pancakes as a main course. “Fennel is good for digestion, reduces heat in the body, makes you smell good, and is a natural fat burner,” she says.
The food tasted great, and I quickly realized there is more to this Ayurveda stuff than meets the eye. I would never have chosen the items Dr Narsai picked out for me, but they did leave me feeling satisfied and not overly stuffed.
We ended the night by taking a walk, discussing everything we had covered during our prior meetings. What I take away from this experience is that Ayurveda is a science rich with wisdom about how we can live more mindfully, more in balance with our surroundings, and thus achieve a better state of health and fulfillment.
From the food we eat, to the lifestyle choices we make, to the type of cannabis we choose for our condition and our constitution, taking the time to commune with the plant by offering a prayer and setting an intention can make a big difference in the way we feel.
And as the saying goes, “If you can feel it, you can heal it.”