If you’ve ever experienced grief—whether the death of a pet or a loved one, the end of a relationship or any other perceived loss—you know how devastating it can be to your brain, body and spirit. Grief is a wrecking ball that can demolish the foundations of your world and send you into a tailspin of anger, depression, insomnia, physical pain and illness.
You may have never thought of taking cannabis during any stage of the grieving process. But when you understand how marijuana—and specifically the various cannabinoids and terpenes in the plant—interacts with the human body and brain, it makes sense that it could be useful in easing some of the emotional—and even physical—pain brought on by or exacerbated by grief.
I lost both of my parents in the last few years. While I was witnessing my father’s rapid decline after a botched outpatient treatment for liver cancer, I was in shock and in the early stages of grief. The stress hormone cortisol rushed through my veins, sending me into a continuous flight or fight response, wreaking havoc on my mental state and even my immune system.
At the time, I had not yet learned what I now know about cannabis and cannabidiol (CBD), so they weren’t even on my radar. The grief I experienced was unlike any emotional trauma I’d ever endured, and it left me with post-traumatic stress.
My mother’s death was emotionally draining, but far less traumatic than my father’s. I was a year into my cannabis business ventures and much more familiar with the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and CBD. I consumed and vaped CBD as I cared for my mother in the last weeks of her life. CBD helped me calm my nerves and get much-needed sleep.
I also gave my mother CBD in the form of infused honey and rubbed her feet with CBD-rich cream. I’d like to think that both brought her some comfort and calm. Personally, I felt more balanced and centered during a deeply stressful time.
The death of a loved one isn’t the only circumstance when we experience grief. Sally, a cannabis professional in California, experienced emotional anguish over an estrangement with her teenage son and a breast cancer diagnosis. At first, Sally used cannabis to numb herself and fall asleep.
Then at one point, while waiting for a medical scan, she ate a cannabis-infused gummy and had a different experience.
“While high, I was able to separate myself from my grief,” Sally explains. “I realized that, yes, terrible things had happened to me, but I was in the process of surviving them. Cannabis was allowing me to take a mental breath, and for a brief moment, see what was really going on.”
Grief is complex and different for every person, although some common effects of grief can include:
Cannabis contains chemical compounds—namely cannabinoids and terpenes—that interact with our bodies and brains in specific ways. If you look closely at the therapeutic effects of certain cannabinoids and terpenes, you can begin to understand how and why cannabis can be beneficial in addressing the effects of grief.
Looking at cannabinoids, CBD has been found to:
The cannabinoid cannabinol (CBN) can act like a sedative. During stressful times and when grieving, getting restful sleep can be one of the most powerful, healing things we can do.
Terpenes are oils found in many plants and fruits. It’s the terpenes that give the plants their taste and smell. There may be several terpenes in cannabis that can help with grief symptoms:
“Cannabis is definitely helpful for the management of many emotions,” says Dr. Shivangi Amin, a registered cannabis physician for the state of Maryland. “I have seen it benefit people with grief, as it helps with easing anxiety and feelings of sadness. Sativas can help folks gain energy during the day and add some movement to their routine, allowing for them to process the grief. Indicas can allow people to deal with insomnia and pain often seen with grief as well.”
Sally gravitates toward indica strains like Mother's Milk or an indica hybrid like Tahoe OG. She personally stays away from any sativas or sativa-heavy hybrids, because they cause rumination, something she doesn’t want to experience while grieving.
Cannabis isn’t always a cure-all, and its effects can be very individual to each person.
“Cannabis for grief? It doesn't make it go away, but, as with physical pain, it makes it manageable,” says Sally. “With cannabis, I am able to see some light through the darkness. It reminds me that the light is always there, even if we can't see it.”
Photo credit: Sameel Hassen