Known as the primordial third eye and anatomical center of our spirituality and consciousness – the pineal gland has been a source of human mystery and fascination for centuries. The pineal gland is known to be highly receptive to psychoactive drugs, so what happens to it when we use cannabis?
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The Pineal Gland
The pineal gland, also known as the conarium or epiphysis cerebri, is a small endocrine gland found in the brains of most vertebrates. Functionally, the pineal gland is known for its production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates both circadian and seasonal sleep cycles. Spiritually, it’s known as the seat of the soul, the third eye, and the place where our thoughts are formed and manifest into the universe around us… but more on that a little bit later.
The name, Pineal gland, comes from its shape that strongly resembles a pinecone. It’s a midline brain structure, found in the epithalamus near the center of the brain, and it has no pair. It’s tucked into a groove between the two thalamus halves. The pineal gland is one of the neuroendocrine secretory circumventricular organs in which capillaries are mostly permeable to solutes in the blood.
Another feature that makes the pineal gland anatomically unique is that the pineal gland is not separated from the rest of the body by the blood-brain barrier. Meaning, pineal gland gets abundant blood flower directly from the posterior cerebral artery, making it more receptive to certain substances, such as psychoactive drugs like cannabis.
The Third Eye, from a scientific standpoint
The idea of the pineal gland being our primordial “third eye” obviously has some otherworldly connotations, but there is also some scientific basis to this description. The pineal gland is made up of pinealocytes, or neuron-like cells that synthesize melatonin and respond directly to light. Researchers have compared this to the retina of our eyes.
In some cases, scientists have even found holes in the pineal glands of certain fossil species. These holes look just like eye sockets in the rear part of the skull, and allow light to enter to enter directly to the brain. Even now, some modern reptile and fish species still have a fully functional third eye. Take the tuatara, a type of New Zealand lizard belonging to the Sphenodontidae family. The tuatara’s third eye even has its own lens, retina, and cornea!
In mammals, there is no evidence of a third eye that receives direct light and is fully functional in the same way as a reptile’s does. That said, a mammal’s pinealocytes are known to be directly connected to the retina, which helps regulate our sleep cycles by sending signals throughout the brain when light levels and patterns in the environment change. So, our pineal gland can be considered more of a metaphorical third eye, if you’re looking at it from a scientific standpoint.
The Seat of the Soul
Seventeenth-century philosopher and scientist René Descartes had an interest in anatomy and physiology, particularly the structure and function of the pineal gland. He discussed it in both of his books, in which he referred to it as “the principal seat of the soul and the place in which all our thoughts are formed.”
In the Treatise of Man (written in 1637 but not published until 1664), Descartes described these conceptual designs of man that only consisted of two principal parts: body and soul. He believed the pineal gland was solely responsible for connecting the two. In his book, he mention “a certain very small gland situated in the middle of the brain’s substance and suspended above the passage through which the spirits in the brain’s anterior cavities communicate with those in its posterior cavities”.
Descartes discovered that the pineal gland was one the only portions of the brain to exist as a single part rather than one half of a pair and this is one of the reasons he believed it to be so significant. Much of his research has been discredited as we continued to learn more about anatomy and physiology, but this statement still proves to be true.
Regardless, despite some errors in Descartes’ research, he was by far not alone in reaching these conclusions about the pineal gland. Many cultures throughout history are in tune with its spiritual importance, and activating the “third eye” is the basis for many ancient religious ceremonies, some of which continue to this day.
For example, Hindus place a third eye (bindi) on their foreheads to channel chakra energy. In ancient Egypt, the pineal gland was so highly regarded that it was preserved separately during mummification. Even esoteric tradition proclaimed the third eye as “the space between humans and God”, pushing us to maximize our ethereal energy and connect us to a higher dimension of consciousness, awareness, unity, and love in a universe that’s much larger than most of us realize.
According to Dr. Joe Dispenza – D.C. and best-selling author of Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind (2007) and Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One (2012), both of which detail the neuroscience of change and epigenetics – if one activates the pineal gland during meditation, spiritual awakening is soon to follow.
“By squeezing the air we breathe through the centers in our body and visualizing the energy to remain at the top of the head, the spinal fluid is pushed up the spine all the way to the pineal gland. This activates the pineal gland and the body and mind transform from survival mode to that of creation. Mystical moments come as an aftermath.”
Where does cannabis come into play?
Again, because the pineal gland is not hampered by the blood-brain barrier, it’s incredibly sensitive to psychoactive chemicals. Although mild, cannabis is a psychedelic drug by definition, or rather, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is a psychedelic substance within the cannabis plant.
Additionally, the reason cannabinoids even have such widespread effects on our bodies is because we come outfitted with an endocannabinoid system (ECS) – a series of cells and receptors that serve numerous different purposes for our overall health and wellness.
Research on rats has also shown that the pineal gland contains a functional endocannabinoid system of its own. This particular study found that the activity of the CB₁-receptors varied based on daily cycles, with lowest activity levels occurring at the end of the daylight period. It also showed that levels of NAPE-PLD, an enzyme responsible for synthesizing new endocannabinoid molecules, was reduced during the middle of the low activity period. And finally, the study discussed the presence of THC reduced the activity of another enzyme known as AANAT, and thus reduces the synthesis of melatonin itself.
This is not the first time that a link between AANAT and THC was discovered though. An earlier study on rats found that THC reduced the activity of AANAT via the following mechanism: “the neurotransmitter norepinephrine starts a cascade of reactions, the end result of which is the production of melatonin. THC disrupts this norepinephrine cascade and thereby reduces the production of melatonin.”
This would indicate that the pineal gland is very profoundly impacted by cannabis, but there is no available research that tells us the full extent of this yet.
Whether you believe in the spiritual functions of the pineal gland or not, we do know that this gland exists in most living creatures and it serves an incredibly important role in our physical and emotional wellbeing, the full extent of which is still not fully known.
We also know that the pineal gland is very responsive to psychoactive drugs, including cannabis, and more research is needed to uncover the therapeutic potential of these substances working with various parts of the brain and body, and the melatonin-producing pineal gland certainly seems to be an important part of the equation.
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