Grief is not “one-size-all.” Grief is not a finite experience but an ever-changing, ongoing journey. Grief can be on the surface and so deeply rooted at a cellular level. Grief manifests from loss. Grief is the mourning and the processing, the analyzing and emotional excavating.
No matter why you are grieving or the form your grief is taking, turning to cannabis may seem counter-intuitive but could prove beneficial.
If you’ve ever experienced grief – whether the death of a pet or a loved one or loss or perceived loss of any kind – 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 not have thought of using cannabis or CBD at any stage of the grieving period. When you understand how they interact with the human body and brain, it makes sense that both could be useful in easing some of your emotional – and even physical – pain brought on or exacerbated by grief.
“It wasn’t a death, but a loss of a relationship that was very dear to me,” Stephanie Troiana explains. “Cannabis and Yoga helped me process the grief. My yoga mat was my safe place to feel ALL the feelings: love, hate, loss, happy, anger…. all feelings that consuming unveiled.”
Stephanie said she used those feelings to get to know herself better and to shed some of the pain so she could gain coping mechanisms for the heartache that was around every corner.
“I guess you have to be willing to trust in the Universe or God that whatever is unveiled to you when consuming (cannabis) in those conditions is for your growth and well being, not something that is bad.”
Years ago, Heather was going through a nasty break up.
“I couldn’t stop crying other than to go to work. As soon as I got home and I was alone I was consumed with grief. Wine seemed to only be exacerbating my tears,” Heather recalls. “Somehow a little pot came my way. I don’t use it normally, I have horrible side effects from it. But there it was. Me , my tears and this little bit of bud. I decided why not. Within minutes, like magic my tears were gone, and I was calm.”
Heather says she kept using it every night after work for about a week.
“It brought me the clarity I needed to book myself a vacation far away from the source of my grief. At that moment, it was exactly what I needed. I don’t use it at all normally, but that was perfect.”
Loss of a Loved One
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 the early stages of grief. 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 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 also a year into my cannabis business ventures and was 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 to calm my nerves and to get much-needed sleep.
I also provided CBD to my mother in the form of infused honey and by rubbing 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.
After her husband died, Sugar Jones said edibles were the only thing that brought her relief at night.
“Before I decided to take them every night, I was tossing and turning with nightmares and flashbacks of his death. I was starting to lose my mind from lack of sleep. That was only after one week,” Sugar says. “I don’t know why I didn’t take them sooner. My mind wasn’t quite functioning at the time. Once I did, I got back to eight hours (of sleep) a night. Some days, the same flashbacks threw me into panic attacks. For those moments, I smoked a small bowl, just to get my mind to stop racing.”
Linda Vollertsen remembers the time right before her mother died.
“My sister and I slept next to my mother for a week before she passed. She was very uncomfortable so we’d get up numerous times during the night to relieve her pain or anxiety by laying with her and/or administering morphine,” Linda recounts. “Her breathing at that time was very labored. So not much sleep, no deep sleep.”
After her mother passed, Linda couldn’t sleep through the night.
“I ate some edibles that were made with an indica strain. It took me about a week with the indica edibles to get me back on a good sleeping schedule,” says Linda.
Four years ago, Ashley Riley lost her mother. She credits cannabis with helping her cope with her grief.
“It helps tremendously when I’m at my super lows,” Ashley explains. “It’s not a quick fix at all, but cannabis helps dull the sharpness of grief when I have spiraled. It helps me step back and feel acceptance and connection to where I am now and has played a huge roll in how I’ve grown through this.”
Her mother was in tremendous pain from pancreatitis.
Says Ashley, “The last time I saw her, she asked if we could smoke together to help her get some food down. It was the last time I saw her. We passed a skull pipe in my kitchen while my siblings slept in the other room. It’s a very fond memory I can look back on.”
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, to get high 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.”
Cannabinoids and Grief
Grief is complex and different for every person, although some common effects of grief can include:
• The release of stress hormones.
• High anxiety and panic attacks.
• A rollercoaster of extreme emotions.
• Compromised immune system.
• Physical inflammation and pain.
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 and CBD can be beneficial in addressing the effects of grief.
The cannabinoid CBD (Cannabidiol) has been found to reduce physical pain and inflammation, reduce anxiety, and relieve panic attacks, and aid with sleep. The cannabinoid CBN (Cannabinol) can act like a sedative. At stressful times and when grieving, getting restful sleep can be one of the most powerful, healing things we can do.
The terpene Linalool, also found in lavender, can provide anxiety relief with a sedating quality as well as provide immune system support. The terpene Limonene relieves stress and elevates mood. Both Humulene and Myrcene reduce inflammation while the former relieves pain and the latter also promotes relaxation.
“Cannabis is definitely helpful for the management of many emotions,” says Dr. Shivangi Amin. “I have seen it benefit women with grief as it helps with easing anxiety and feelings of sadness. Sativas can help women gain energy during the day and add some movement to their routine, allowing for them to process the grief. Indicas can allow women to deal with insomnia and pain often seen with grief as well.”
Sally gravitates toward strains like Mother’s Milk or an indica hybrid like Tahoe OG. She says she would stay away from any sativas or sativa-heavy hybrids because they cause rumination, something she would not want to experience while grieving.
“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.”
Cannabis isn’t ever the cure-all, and its effects can be very individual to each person. Start low and go slow, and don’t use cannabis to mask your grief but to make it more manageable as part of your healing process.