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.
While many people have tried cannabis recreationaly 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 is effective at calming symptoms and it can be overused to numb out or avoid life. However, we find that cannabis can be strategically used in the actual therapy session to make a deeper connection to greatly support therapeutic processing and progress.
Perhaps more so than any other medicine we’ve encountered, cannabis undergoes a radical change and exhibits very different properties when used for psychotherapy. It moves from being a recreational or calming 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 below). Client’s will enter a legitimate altered state of psychedelic consciousness. The Default Mode Network (I.e the flow of information and communication between brain regions) is temporarily disrupted which means there is less censorship and control from the conscious rational mind. Basically, your conscious mind gets out of its own way and allows more sensation, more repressed feeling, and more memory to arise from your subconscious mind in order to be 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.