The nature of cannabis completely changes when used in a therapy session. It becomes a powerful catalyst of therapeutic process, and perhaps more so than any other medicine, it cracks open dissociation which is a key part of treatment resistance.
Cannabis Assisted Somatic Processing
While many people have tried cannabis recreationally and some even use it to manage their mental health symptoms, neither of these applications reflect how useful it can be in a psychotherapy session. Cannabis is typically met with skepticism or concern in the mental health field because it interrupts insight, cognition, meaning making, executive decision making and it can be used to avoid or numb out from life. In other words, all the ways that typical talk therapy works is disrupted by cannabis. However, if the therapy model you are using values feeling emotions and body states deeply, if it values accessing the unconscious layer of programming, and an autonomic nervous system that comes online to process stress, anxiety, depression, ptsd and complex trauma- cannabis is an ideal medicine to support that. We find that cannabis can be strategically used in the actual therapy session to greatly support therapeutic processing and progress.
Psychedelics are what we call experience dependent for their outcomes. So the setting you take them in, your internal state and the modality being used determines their response. Take MDMA or what is more commonly known as ecstasy or molly, there are thousands of people that take that substance recreationally every weekend at a rave or party. In that situation, MDMA has little to no therapeutic benefit. Now take the same exact substance and put it in a psychotherapy setting specifically designed for it, we see that MDMA becomes an excellent medicine for processing trauma.
The same exact thing is true of cannabis. If you pair cannabis with a therapy modality, such as the PSIP model that was specifically designed to work within the altered state of consciousness cannabis creates, it becomes an incredibly useful therapeutic experience. Perhaps more so than any other medicine we’ve encountered, cannabis undergoes a radical change and exhibits very different properties when used during psychotherapy. It moves from being a recreational calming or uplifting tool to being a deeply excavating, therapeutically supportive experience. Even clients who are well acquainted with cannabis and use it on a daily basis are surprised at how different it feels in therapy, and what it can accomplish (see the first video listed above). Client’s will enter an altered state of psychedelic consciousness. The default mode network (I.e the organizer between brain regions) is temporarily disrupted which means there is much less censorship and control from the conscious rational mind. Basically, your conscious mind, identity and defense mechanisms get out of their own way, and allow more sensation, more repressed feeling, and more memory to arise from your unconscious mind to be seen, felt and processed. This is a very therapeutically useful response.
While we have limited data from our combat veteran pilot study and we are currently gathering outcome data on the effectiveness of cannabis assisted psychotherapy, we can anecdotally say that a cannabis therapy session looks virtually identical to an MDMA assisted therapy session. It is impossible to tell one from the other based on what the sessions look like and the type of material that emerges for clients. Our speculation is that the psychedelic response and the innate healing intelligence that this catalyzes is the key healing factor and less so the specifics of any particular psychedelic medicine. The consensus among our veteran participants who completed twelve 2 hour sessions of cannabis assisted psychotherapy was that roughly 75% of their PTSD had been resolved. (Note that this was a treatment resistant population with enormous amounts of adult war trauma along with high levels of childhood developmental trauma.)
The pathway cannabis takes through a person’s system is not rational, linear, insight focused, or even verbal. This is another reason why this plant is not welcomed in traditional talk therapy. It is not particularly helpful at giving more insight, understanding or telling a story in therapy. It is however very helpful at giving you much greater access to areas of your mind that you normally are not in touch with in your ordinary, everyday, waking consciousness. It shares this ability to dive into your subconscious mind with other psychedelic medicines. Going below the defenses of your ego structure allows you to see what has actually been running the show and driving your symptoms. Most importantly, cannabis assisted psychotherapy supports your body (your autonomic nervous system) to process the strong emotionality and revelations that come out of psychedelic experiences.