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Mindfulness in the Great Outdoors: Harness the power of Meditation with Nature & Cannabis

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One of the fastest-growing trends since 2012, mindfulness has more than tripled in popularity in recent years as populations move towards a heightened sense of personal awareness.1 This mindful state primarily relies on the practice of meditation, a regular examination of one’s self, as a way of working through the ups and downs of our daily lives.2 Regular meditation has been shown to offer a variety of benefits, such as helping to ease pain and anxiety.1,3 Cannabis and nature have also been known to offer a variety of similar benefits. This article will explore how the benefits of meditation can be influenced and enhanced with the incorporation of cannabis and nature.  

Since 1970, meditation has been shown to induce what is known as the “relaxation response.”4 This involuntary response causes a reduction in the sympathetic nervous system. Additionally, meditation has been shown to offer a variety of short-term benefits including helping to lower blood pressure and improve circulation, lower heart rate, reduce anxiety, improve feelings of well-being, and even help reduce pain.1,3,4,5,6,7 

Conventional pain-modulation treatments involve the prescription of powerful painkillers, particularly opioids, that are used to engage opioid receptors in the brain. These medications often carry serious risks, especially for chronic users, who are at an increased risk of abuse, addiction, and overdoses. Studies show that alternative pain relief therapies can offer similar benefits without the risks.3,5,6,7 Meditation is one such alternative therapy. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health released a study that found that patients who meditated during placebo administration had “significantly lower pain intensity and unpleasantness ratings compared to those who did not meditate.”3 The findings further suggest that meditation induces pain mitigation independent of opioid neurotransmitters, suggesting that meditation can also be used synergistically with conventional opioid treatments. 

The natural world forces us to acknowledge the elements of the world. At its core, the goal of meditation is to be more aware of both our own being as well as its interaction with the world around us. As we reach a greater state of personal awareness, our awareness projects outwards, tuning to the sounds, smells, sights, and sensations inside and around us. Many find it easier to achieve this heightened state when in nature as it is both free of materialistic controls and distractions as well as being an innate reminder of the present moment and all that characterizes it.8,9

How can cannabis help with meditation? Cannabis has been used in meditation and mindfulness practices dating back to early Buddhism.11 Cannabis was used to help facilitate meditation in the Himalayas, and early archeological evidence suggests that Central Asian invaders brought with them traditions of using cannabis vapors for ritualistic and euphoric purposes.11 According to Ed Rosenthal, some consumers are seeking out strains that are high in CBN, often as a result of extended curing periods, as they tend to offer a more introspective effect, great for meditating and inner vision.12

If you’ve never tried meditation, it may be helpful to keep it simple. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes and spend that time focused on one particular aspect, such as breathing. Try spending that time outdoors and in nature if possible. Titrating your particular meditation routine may take some time, trial and error, but doing so can provide a multitude of benefits to help improve pain relief and enhance your quality of life. 


REFERENCES

1. https://www.mindful.org/meditation-is-the-fastest-growing-
health-trend-in-america/
2. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mindfulness
3. https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/mindfulness-
meditation-pain Zeidan F,
4. https://www.gaiam.com/blogs/discover/meditation-101-
techniques-benefits-and-a-beginner-s-how-to
5. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-
meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967
6. https://nccih.nih.gov/research/blog/mindfulness-meditation-
pain
7. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/04/
treating-chronic-pain-with-meditation/28418/
8. https://www.yogajournal.com/meditation/natural-wonder
9. https://www.ehe.health/blog/outdoor-meditation
10. https://www.westword.com/marijuana/marijuana-and-
meditation-how-to-use-pot-during-deep-reflection-11304337
11. http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S1516-
44462006000200015&script=sci_arttext&tlng=pt
12. https://www.edrosenthal.com/the-guru-of-ganja-blog/
drying-and-curing-cannabis-the-art-of-enhancing-effect-
and-flavor 

Outdoors

Cannabis, Parkinson’s, + The Great Outdoors

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One of the most notable effects of Parkinson’s disease (PD) is its impact upon mobility and muscle control. Impeded mobility can make daily activities difficult, especially those involving physical activity and exertion. A lack of physical ability—or of confidence in one’s physical ability—can reduce the amount of time enjoyed in the great outdoors. Studies are showing that time spent training the body through cues and coaching can help to overcome mobility issues, resulting in more time outdoors. Studies are also showing time spent outdoors leads to a lower risk of Parkinson’s and can result in improved quality of life for those living with the disease. Programs such as ParkFit have been developed as part of research studies aimed at showing how treatment programs can help PD patients get outside and stay active. Cannabis has also been shown to help with symptom management, helping to ease patients who have been sedentary into a more active lifestyle, allowing for more outdoor activities.  

Parkinson’s Effect on Daily Life

Two of the most incapacitating symptoms of PD are gait and mobility problems, which are often difficult to treat.1 In spite of the potential benefits, many PD patients do not meet recommended levels of physical activity, largely as a result of these issues.2 “Higher age, being female, and lower physical capacity were the most important determinants of reduced daily physical activity.”3 Studies have also found a greater sense of autonomy as well as stronger physical performance was correlated with maintaining mobility as we age.4 It is then reasonable to surmise that impeded mobility in PD patients could create a cyclical situation in which mobility impedes autonomy and physical performance, further impeding mobility and thereby continuing to lower quality of life.  

The Science on Parkinson’s, Physical Activity, and the Great Outdoors

While more men are diagnosed with PD than women, and the fatality rate for males is higher, the working conditions in many male-dominated jobs can also prove beneficial to reducing the risk of PD.3,5,6 Due to the nature of the working conditions, these jobs also require men to work outdoors more, exposing them to more sunlight, which could help to lower their risk of Parkinson’s. Sunlight is the main contributor of vitamin D in humans, and “Inadequate levels of vitamin D have been linked to increased risks for neurodegenerative diseases.”6 In studying this relationship, researchers found that men who work outdoors are at a lower risk for PD, likely a result of increased exposure to vitamin D. 

Additionally, freezing of gait (FOG) is a common condition of PD, and when combined with complex transfers and movements such as walking through doorways, rising up out of a chair, or turning over, may be among the most limiting aspects of mobility.7 Researchers are finding aspects that trigger FOG or other mobility symptoms are not as impactful in natural environments, suggesting a biophilic reaction. Patients who experienced freezing when walking through man-made or “built” elements did not experience similar triggers or freezing when passing through natural openings and hedges, reiterating the necessity for a biophilic environment for people with PD.8

Talk with your physician about ways cannabis and the great outdoors mIGHT be able to help improve your physical fitness and increase the amount of time you spend enjoying outdoor activities.

Studies on cueing therapy, or the use of rhythmic stimuli to cue certain behavior actions, find cueing could help PD patients overcome FOG and mobility issues. One study examined a multimodal cueing device which allowed patients to choose a cue that was a desirable totem, and use it to navigate through situations where they would otherwise freeze, fall, or succumb to mobility issues. During treatment, patients saw an improvement in overall mobility but that improvement decreased over time once the cues ceased, suggesting that regular cueing could help patients overcome daily hindrances.1  

These types of ongoing treatments and studies on programmatic efforts to manage and delay symptom onset have also lent themselves to the idea of coaching as a way to overcome daily challenges to be active and get outdoors. ParkFit is one of the largest of such studies, observing nearly 600 patients over a two-year period.9 Daily physical activity was compared with a 30-minute activity guideline, and 92% of the sample spent 98% of their day on “sedentary to light-intensity” activities.2 ParkFit was developed using behavioral motivation techniques to encourage increased physical activity. Evaluations of the program found the program was effective in almost all subgroups at promoting physical fitness and led to more time spent on outdoor activities.10-12 

Cannabis, Parkinson’s, and The Great Outdoors

As has been discussed at length in this issue, cannabis has been shown to be effective at helping to manage the symptoms associated with PD, including spasticity, tremors, and muscle cramps that can lead to mobility issues, FOG, and decreased quality of life. Cannabis’ anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties make it a promising complementary option for programs such as ParkFit, helping to ease PD patients into new activities at new intensity levels. Cannabis can also help with the social anxiety that might accompany overcoming physical impediments. It is important to remain cautious when using cannabis in unfamiliar settings, especially if you’re new to the effects of cannabinoids like THC and CBD. Talk with your physician about ways cannabis and the great outdoors may be able to help improve your physical fitness and increase the amount of time you spend enjoying outdoor activities.


REFERENCES:

1. Nieuwboer A., et al. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry 2007;78:134-140.
2. Dontje M. L., et al. Parkinsonism & Related Disorders. 2013 Oct;19(10):878-82. doi: 10.1016/j.parkreldis.2013.05.014.

3. Miller, I. N., & Cronin-Golomb, A. Movement disorders: official journal of the Movement Disorder Society. 2010; 25(16), 2695–2703. 

4. Portegijs, E. et al. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2014; 62: 615– 621.

5.  Devore, Chuck. https://www.forbes.com/sites/chuckdevore/2018/12/19/fatal-employment-men-10-times-more-likely-than-women-to-be-killed-at-work/#5fecf0df52e8

6. Kenborg, L., et al. Occupational and environmental medicine.2011; 68(4), 273–278. 

7. Danique L.M. et al. International Journal of Neuroscience, 2017; 127:10, 930-943, doi: 10.1080/00207454.2016.1275617. 

8. Ottosson, J.,et al. International journal of environmental research and public health. 2015; 12(7), 7274–7299. 

9. Bloem, B. R., Munneke, M. Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. 2011.

10. van Nimwegen M., et al. BMC Neurology. 2010;10:70. 

11. Speelman, A. D., et al. Physiotherapy. 2014; 100(2), 134–141. 

12. Kolk, N. et al. Parkinsonism & Related Disorders. 2014; 20. doi:10.1016/j.parkreldis.2014.10.004.

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6 Ways Seniors can benefit from introducing cannabis + outdoor recreation into their lifestyles

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For seniors, outdoor recreation may seem intimidating. Luckily, enjoying the outdoors isn’t limited to activities for the young and physically fit. There are plenty of ways for seniors to get outside, and by doing so: enjoy nature, socialize with others, and lower your overall risk of death.11, 3, 4

How can seniors benefit from Outdoor Recreation?

While studies have shown exposure to nature through windows and natural areas can have a positive effect upon well-being and recovery, outdoor recreation offers a variety of benefits that can only be experienced when you take that leap to go outdoors.1,3,4,6,8,9 Sunlight is an infinite source of Vitamin D, often prescribed to adults as they age, especially seniors, who often have low levels of this vitamin.5,6,8 Additionally, venturing outdoors can lend itself to diminished feelings of isolation by creating opportunities for social interactions with people of all ages and even animals.2,3 Activities such as feeding ducks or bird watching require minimal physical exertion while offering precious interactions with other living beings. Spending time outdoors has been shown to lower anxiety, depression, and stress. Additionally, people who spend an hour in a natural environment have been shown to experience a 20% improvement in attention span and short-term memory.3 Studies show time spent outdoors and in the presence of nature lowers our overall risk of death. 

How can cannabis play a role in your recreation?

Infused trail bars, other edibles, and even smokable cannabis products can be great in preparation for outdoor adventures. Thanks to their delayed onset, they gradually kick in once you’ve had some time to begin your activity. If you are prone to joint pain, for instance, you might not need immediate relief from the beginning of your walk, but halfway through, a gentle serving of THC could help relieve inflammation you’re feeling. Conversely, if you’re in need of an energy boost or already feeling some discomfort, a smokeable option could provide immediate effects with an uplifting, soothing kickstart. 

You can take advantage of the benefits of outdoor recreation at any age.

Cannabis products can be great during your recreation as well. Similar to taking advantage of a delayed onset with edibles, serving yourself appropriate amounts of cannabis during your activities can enhance smells, sights, and feelings of enjoyment. Cannabis can be incorporated during activities without needing to be consumed as well, including options like gardening and photography, where you’re tending to the plants rather than consuming them. 

After you’ve completed your recreation, cannabis can serve as a relaxing “dessert” to cap the activity off. Cannabis products can be used for recovery, such as infused topicals applied to aching areas; some products can be ingested orally or inhaled as a means of relaxing and cooling down. Or, it could simply be your reward for getting up and getting outside for an hour a day. As you participate in outdoor recreation more frequently, you’ll begin to titrate your cannabis regimen until it’s no longer a foreign aspect but as natural as taking a vitamin before heading out for your morning walk. 


6 Easy Outdoor Activities To Get You Outside

1. Go for a walk or hike. 

2. Take a bike ride. 

3. Go for a swim. 

4. Spend time fishing. 

5. Pick up gardening.7 

6. Enjoy birdwatching or photography. 


No matter how mobile, active, or energetic you’re feeling, you can take advantage of the benefits of outdoor recreation at any age.10 As a senior, it’s especially important to spend time outdoors as well as enjoying social interactions and natural environments. Encourage the elderly around you and in your family to join you on an outdoor adventure, whether it’s a long walk or simply a short jaunt around the farmer’s market.


References:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/262224648_Recreational_Activities_for_Senior_Citizens/

 1 Singh, Bhawana & Kiran, UV. (2014). Recreational Activities for Senior Citizens. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science.
19. 2279-837. 10.9790/0837-19472430.

https://www.livestrong.com/article/493323-physical-social-emotional-intellectual-benefits-of-outdoor-recreation/

 2 Pashley, Tina. “Physical, Social, Emotional and Intellectual Benefits of Outdoor Recreation.” Livestrong.com. June 19, 2019.

 3 Andrews, Candice. “Seniors and the Outdoors.” Good Nature. September 11, 2018.

 4 Kane, Esther. “Benefits Of Outdoor Activities For The Elderly.” Senior Safety Advice. 

 5 “THE BENEFITS OF THE OUTDOORS FOR SENIORS.” Landmark Senior Living. June 4, 2019.

 6 “The Benefits Of The Outdoors For Seniors.” Trekology. September 2, 2018.

7 “Benefit of outdoor activities for seniors.” Cedarhurst Living. May 30, 2017.

 8 “7 Benefits of Being Outdoors for Seniors.” The Overlook. March 7, 2016.

 9. “Seniors Can Reap Benefits from Spending Time Outdoors.” Elder Care Alliance. February 1, 2017. 

https://www.elderindependence.com/10-outdoor-activities-perfect-for-seniors

 10 Johnston, Lori. “Outdoor Activities Perfect for Seniors.” Elder Independence. May 7, 2018.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2566234/

11 Maas J, Verheij RA, Groenewegen PP, de Vries S, Spreeuwenberg P. Green space, urbanity, and health: how strong is the relation?.
J Epidemiol Community Health. 2006;60(7):587–592. doi:10.1136/jech.2005.043125

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Family Outdoor Adventures

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Thanks to cannabis, many children are able to experience the proven benefits that nature can have. Try these tips out on your adventures and avoid some of the most common mistakes. 

As a child, I was all but groomed for outdoor adventures. I spent hours building forts out of dead logs, going camping in a tent with my entire family, and hiking endless trails throughout the Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest. I only attempt to adequately convey the sense of satisfaction, wonder, and awe that is found after a long day’s hike, watching a sunset from the summit of the trail, or getting up early to catch a sun rise while boiling breakfast on a tiny, backpacking stove. Unfortunately, not every child is able to experience the wonders that outdoor adventures offer due to conditions beyond their control. Some are unable to carry heavy items, exert physical energy for sustained periods of time, or even interact with their friends and family due to incapacitating symptoms such as uncontrollable seizures or chronic pain. 

Cannabis has allowed these families, and these children, to live “normal” lives, enjoying “normal” activities without the restrictions that come with handfuls of pharmaceuticals. Many treatments can all but sedate children. Cannabis allows them to enjoy a better quality of life and take advantage of outdoor adventures such as hiking, camping and backpacking. This article will discuss the impact that nature can have on a young life, the benefits of encouraging adventures with children, and some tips for avoiding those typical “first timer” mistakes while enjoying the great outdoors. 

Impact that Nature can have on a young life

Once you become accustomed to your child’s cannabis treatments, regulating appropriate dosages, and accounting for differences in effects, introducing them to the outdoors can be an eye-opening experience. It may instill a deeper appreciation for nature and the world around them, especially if they’ve never gotten the chance to enjoy a hike through the woods or a campfire on the beach. Studies1 have shown that outdoor environments have a positive impact on our health and may influence how physically active an individual is or becomes. The health benefits of doing so are greater among those who previously did not participate in outdoor or physical activities. Studies have also shown that spending time in nature can help with stress reduction and social cohesion,1 helping your child bond with others in a relaxing environment. Hiking and time spent in nature has also been shown to stop negative, obsessive thoughts,2 which children may have if they feel negatively affected by their conditions or their need for medical cannabis.  

Make Adventures A Family Outing

When I was growing up, we spent countless weekends setting up tents, cooking hot dogs over the fire, and going for long hikes.  We often set out with no destination in mind—simply to enjoy the breeze, trees, ocean or escape the busy bustle of school, sports, and activities. One of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors is to do so with people who you enjoy. Whether you’re a parent, family member, best friend, scout leader, or any other adult role model, sharing the activities that you enjoy with children in your life helps make that energy contagious. If you love the outdoors, share that love with a child in your life.  

Now, not everyone is a huge fan of the great outdoors. My dad, for instance, was not a fan of camping. My mom grew up loving everything about it. Eventually, her enthusiasm for everything outdoorsy caught on, first with my dad and eventually with my sister and I. Since, we’ve spent the last 20+ years camping every year for Thanksgiving. I’ve been to Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan, driven up and down the east coast exploring The Outer Banks and the shores of Maine, backpacked for almost two weeks in the backcountry of the Southwest, and explored scallop diving and natural springs in the panhandle of Florida. Every memory that I’ve made has been that much more memorable because I shared it with others. Making time to take a child, teenager, or young adult with you and share your passions—whether it’s a day of disc golf or a week in a tent—will offer them years of memories to look back on and share with others when the time comes. 


Tips for Your First Family Adventure

Now that I’ve convinced you to take a child on an outdoor adventure, it’s only responsible of me to pass on a few pieces of wisdom to help you and yours enjoy that adventure without running into typical “first time” issues.  

Bring extra water. One of the first mistakes many people make on their adventures is assuming that they’ve brought enough water. Always bring extra. Best case scenario is that you end up bringing an extra water bottle home. 

Start slow. Pick a short, easy adventure for your first outing. If you’re going hiking, keep it under a couple miles. If you’re camping, try a single overnight and see how that goes. You can always decide to go a little further up the trail or stay one more night at the campground. 

Take your time. One of my biggest weaknesses is a blind focus on the end result: the summit, the peak, the final camp destination. I’m regularly working on focusing more on the journey and taking in all that I can. Your adventures don’t have to be races; the destination will still be there whether it takes you an hour or four. Take time to rest, breathe, drink water, take pictures, touch, smell, and feel the world around you. Showing appreciation for these aspects of your adventure will teach the children in your group to do the same. 

Keep track of how far you’ve gone. Make sure someone knows how long you’ve been out and how far you’ve gone. Getting lost can be scary, stressful and even traumatizing. Many people who had a bad experience in nature as a child will steer clear of outdoor adventures as adults. Avoid the potential for this issue by bringing a map, setting a stopwatch, using a GPS, or some combination of the above.  

Bring a first aid kit. Even if it’s a small cut or a thorn that won’t come out of a finger, discomfort leads to unhappiness. Having a small pack of common first aid items such as bandaids, antiseptic, and tweezers can save you quite the headache.


The great outdoors offers an almost unlimited amount of potential adventures for you and the young ones in your life. Thanks to cannabis, many parents and children are now able to take advantage of natural areas, hikes, campouts, and even mild outings such as picnics or beach days. Just be sure to familiarize yourself with how cannabis is affecting those using it and how it is impacting their experiences. To learn more about outdoor adventures and how cannabis can empower and enhance your outings, be sure to follow this column in each issue. 

P.S. Don’t forget to take a few pictures or keep notes from your outings! My mother has journaled about every camp-out our family has taken, and I absolutely treasure these memories, many of which I was too young to remember first-hand.


References:

https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-032013-182443 (1) “Nature and Health.” Terry Hartig, Richard Mitchell, Sjerp de Vries, Howard Frumkin. Annual Review of Public Health 2014 35:1, 207-228. – https://www.collective-evolution.com/2016/04/08/doctors-explain-how-hiking-actually-changes-our-brains/ (2) “Doctors Explain How Hiking Actually Changes Our Brains.” Collective Evolution. April 8, 2016.

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