Being aware of the breath and regulating it can harness the transformative power of mindful breathing. For some, pairing breathwork with cannabis can lead to a deep awareness of the body, while for others it can kickstart a journey akin to a DMT trip.
“Breath work by itself is therapeutic for many of the same reasons people consume cannabis—PTSD, anxiety, insomnia or pain and inflammation,” said Dr. Simi Kaur Burns PharmD, cannabis pharmacist and yoga teacher. “Cannabis helps some people slow down, stay present in the moment, and experience heightened sensory or emotional awareness—all of which support breathwork.”
Learn more below about the similarities between practicing breathwork and consuming cannabis, and how the two can work together to create beneficial effects for individuals.
What is breathwork?
Breathwork encompasses practices that regulate or control the breath in a conscious way.
There are diverse ways to practice breathwork. Popular techniques include:
- Yogic pranayama practices (like nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing)
- Holotropic breathing
- 4-7-8 breathing
- Wim Hof Method breathing
- Box breathing
- Diaphragmatic breathing
- Equal breathing
- Pursed lip breathing
- Resonant breathing
While the details of each practice vary, all share common elements: focus on the length of inhales and exhales, pauses between breaths, and suspended breath holds.
“My intentional breathwork practice is almost always centered around improving my body’s tolerance to carbon dioxide, which includes breath hold practices, reducing breathing volume, and/or lengthening the breath cycle,” explained Coombs.
The benefits of breathwork
There are only a handful of studies on breathwork, but they show the practice’s versatility in boosting diverse aspects of health and well-being.
For some, breathwork can even help you “get high on your own supply” and lead to altered states of consciousness.
People often turn to breathwork when seeking a wellness practice that is free, can be done anywhere, anytime, and is sustainable and self-driven. While the immediate benefits are a sense of calm and presence in the mind and body, other long-term benefits (like those listed above) can become apparent with continued practice.
“Mindful breathing is fundamental to nervous system regulation and endocannabinoid balance,” said Burns. “When we practice mindful breathing, it’s like picking up the oars and rowing—with breath practice, you can generate momentum more effectively.”
How can cannabis influence breathing?
The influence of cannabis on breathing and the respiratory system can be complex. Cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, usage, and delivery methods can all play a part.
THC can dilate airways by activating cannabinoid receptors in the lungs, which in turn relax bronchial muscles. This action most likely accounts for weed being used as a treatment for asthma in the early 20th century, with famed French novelist Marcel Prost smoking cannabis to ease his symptoms.
Modern day research also suggests that smoking weed can temporarily widen the bronchial tubes of both healthy subjects and those with asthma.
However, long-term use can actually do the opposite and ultimately restrict bronchial passages. Smoking weed regularly can lead to coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and other respiratory issues.
According to Burns, THC and CBD may combine with breathwork and overall well-being in multifaceted ways. For example, THC may reduce back pain, creating enough relief to allow long controlled breathing instead of shallow upper chest breathing, further reducing pain.
Similarly, CBD’s anxiety-easing properties may help people relax and immerse themselves more deeply in breathwork practice, leading to a more profound experience.
What happens when you combine cannabis and breathwork?
Anecdotally, experiences can be wide-ranging. We want to stress that experiences mentioned here are subjective and not based on medical research. Every person experiences cannabis and breathwork differently.
“In my experience, cannabis affects breathwork by quieting inhibitory anxious thoughts and allowing me to become more present in my body,” said Coombs. “This tends to lead to few distractions during breathwork and a more deeply somatic experience.”
For others, cannabis breathwork can induce a mind-altering trip similar to a psychedelic journey.
According to the Center for Medicinal Mindfulness, when cannabis is used skillfully with breathwork and within the right set and setting, it can shapeshift into a psychedelic. The Center holds that participants sometimes liken their cannabis breathwork sessions to a DMT experience. The session may be similar in intensity to a DMT trip, but last longer with the individual enjoying a greater sense of control over what’s happening.
Combining these elements—cannabis, breathwork, set and setting—can lead to an experience far more intense than each by itself, and balancing them and having an intense experience can take practice and experience.
Reddit forums exploring the effects of Wim Hof breathing on weed also share stories of how the herb can accentuate the practice. Those who combine the two sometimes experience powerful shifts in consciousness, bodily shaking, and visual imagery.
However Winston Peki, founder and editor of Herbonaut, who’s been practicing Wim Hof breathing for five years, believes cannabis can have a mixed effect on the practice. While he agrees that weed can hone focus and enhance the visual aspect of the breathwork, he personally prefers to practice without weed.
“Even though the qualitative experience of the Wim Hof breathwork changes when I’m under the influence of cannabis, I still prefer to do it sober,” he reflected. “It’s a bit hard to explain why, but it feels like the benefits you get from breathing are more profound when done sober.”
Tips for cannabis breathwork
If you’re thinking about experimenting with weed and breathwork, Peki and Burns both recommend steering clear of smoking.
“I would avoid smoking at all times,” said Peki. “If you want to use cannabis for its airway-dilating properties, then using a dry herb vaporizer would be the most sensible approach.”
Burns recommends trying out tinctures or edibles, and only using a little weed to begin with.
“Breathwork alone causes major shifts in physiology which balance the endocannabinoid system, so you might find you don’t need as much cannabis to feel an effect,” she said.
“The physiological effects of breathwork are sometimes surprising, like dizziness, lightheadedness, sleepiness, or excitability. Combining this with too much cannabis—especially THC—could be intense, so start low and go slow,” she said.