Opening your third eye: Cannabis and the Pineal gland
Most of the important parts of our body come in twos: eyes, hands, halves of heart, sides of brain, testis, ovaries, kidneys, lungs et al... but we only have one pineal gland which is why many cultures spanning different millennia and parts of the globe believe it represents unity of our dual spiritual and humanistic states.
It is often referred to as our 'third eye' and some believe that cannabis can help open it.
Is there any truth in this or is it all hokum...
A brief history of our 'third eye'
Descartes, The father of modern western philosophy regarded the pineal gland as the “principal seat of the soul and the place in which all our thoughts are formed”.
Much of Descartes contribution to biology has long been discredited due to it being based on 16th Century knowledge however, throughout history different cultures have independently reached a similar conclusion.
For example, in religious ceremonies, Hindus place a third eye (bindi) on their forehead to channel chakra or spiritual energy. The Third Eye is also a constant theme in ancient Egyptian art and was celebrated so much it was even preserved separately during mummification.
The common theme linking all interpretations of the pineal gland or third eye is that it is the focal point of our spiritual guidance system, tuned into a higher dimension of consciousness and awareness of our unity with the wider universe.
In short, the link between our ego-driven humanity and spirituality.
What does the science say?
Disappointingly, there does not appear to be any actual modern science that demonstrates that the pineal gland possesses any mystical or spiritual properties.
However, science does support the concept that the pineal gland is our ‘third eye’. The pineal gland contains cells that react to light and subconsciously regulate our cardiac rhythms and sleep/wake cycle.
Biologists describe the pineal gland as our internal clock or calendar. There is a rhythm to a healthy pineal gland that syncs with the naturally occurring lengths of days and seasons.
Some scientists hypothesise that the pineal gland is an evolutionary relic and it may have played a larger role in our lives hundreds of thousands of years ago. It plays a bigger role in some mammals and reptiles today. In some frogs and lizards, it is actually connected to the eye and contains a lens!
Also, there is some science that suggests the pineal gland plays a role in our well being and sense of self.
One example of the importance of the pineal gland in terms of mental health is its relationship with the “Winter Blues” illness, seasonally affective disorder (often abbreviated to SAD). The fact that bright light is a common treatment for SAD suggests that the pineal gland and its associated light-sensitive hormone, melatonin is essential to maintaining a healthy, positive mental state, and is deeply concerned with emotional states in general.
Cannabis and its effect on the pineal gland.
Unlike other organs near the brain, the pineal gland is not hampered by the blood-brain barrier. As a result, it is ultra sensitive to psychoactive chemicals and is affected almost immediately upon ingestion.
Research on rats has also shown that the pineal gland contains a functional endocannabinoid system. We know that cannabis can affect the endocannabinoid system and various other regulatory systems to control our subjective daily experience of mood, wakefulness and sleepiness.
This suggests quite strongly that the pineal gland is affected by cannabis but there is no available research to show exactly how. In any case, we know that multiple different regions of the brain are involved in the subjective experience of being high and that cannabis affects different people in different ways based on size, tolerance and DNA. The pineal gland is just one tiny link in an extremely long and complicated chain that shapes our experience when vaping.
The science around the relationship between cannabis and the pineal gland definitely, requires further study. Until then at least, I'm sticking with the spiritual and mythological theories!