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I took a CBD bong hit before a yoga class to see if it helps with anxiety

OCTAVIO JONES | Times Tampa Bay Times reporter Sara DiNatalie, right, participates in the yoga class held at the Chillum CBD Dispensary in Ybor City on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. CBD comes from the hemp plant, but has low (or no) THC within it. It is legal in Florida and the U.S. to sell and consume CBD with below .3 percent of THC present.
Published Apr. 19

TAMPA — I inspected the long glass pipe as the man behind the counter wiped the end of the tube with an alcohol pad.

I had just watched a 21-year-old inhale vaporized smoke. He kept it deep in his lungs, coughing as he finally let it escape between his lips.

We were in clear sight behind the glass windows facing the main drag of Ybor City. Shop owner Carlos Hermida was flash-vaporizing a waxy hemp substance inside the high-tech bong.

It looked like it was made from marijuana, the kind you'd need a medical card to purchase in Florida. But it was extracted from a hemp plant, a member of the cannabis family. Unlike its THC-laden cousin, hemp is bred to contain only traces of tetrahydrocannabinol. That means it can't get you high. But the plant is still rich in cannabidiol, or CBD.

Avid users say the CBD compound can help with insomnia, chronic pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety or to relax. The relaxation and anxiety bit is what got me inside the Chillum CBD Dispensary on a recent Tuesday morning: The shop was hosting a CBD yoga class.

After my CBD hit, I found myself getting into the yoga mood with ease. I less actively had to combat random thoughts from penetrating my practice: no worrying about the day of work ahead, no berating myself because I forgot to return my grandma's phone call or pick up the dog's allergy medication.

Once we started moving through downward dogs and cat-cows, I wasn't thinking in terms of difficult or easy, good or bad.

I went in with the appropriate amount of journalistic skepticism. I was pleasantly surprised I noticed a calming sensation.

But to really explain my first experience dabbing, the slang term for inhaling the concentrated CBD through that glass pipe as smoke, I need to first explain my year-and-a-half-long relationship with yoga and my much longer relationship with anxiety.

I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression in 2014. As a result, I've spent much of my young adulthood avoiding anything at which I didn't immediately excel.

My first yoga class came as a challenge from my therapist. She wanted me to try something that made me uncomfortable. She also hoped yoga might help me as a method of meditation.

With an anxious brain that requires the aid of antidepressants, I found the idea of participating in something I knew I'd be bad at panic-inducing. But after so much progress beating my anxieties, I couldn't let lingering self-doubt keep me from doing something as simple as a yoga class.

My therapist asked me to take one class and accept what it would be like. I would probably bumble through poses, struggle to keep up and take too many water breaks. And I did. But it wasn't about doing yoga; it was about overcoming this absurd restriction I put on myself to be good at everything.

I survived the first class, and the second. I decided to keep going because it was the first kind of exercise I actually enjoyed. It wasn't like I was instantly cured of my perfectionism problem the moment I signed up for a yearlong membership. There was still toxic self-talk — times it felt like everyone around me was an Instagram yogi and I was a garbage person.

But with each class, the self-hate got less and less. Around the same time, I joined a coed softball league with friends. I embraced sucking at things I enjoyed. I felt triumphant just showing up because I proved to myself that anxiety did not own my life. I did.

When Hermida invited me to partake in CBD yoga, I knew I had to say yes. I arrived at the store in yoga pants and with a blue mat, ready to dab.

I listened to Hermida carefully as he told me when to breathe in and let the CBD vapors sting and tickle my throat. I tried to hold the smoke inside briefly before letting it escape my lungs. I coughed a little, and tried again. And again. At one point, I exclaimed, "How can there still be more left?" which attracted a few laughs.

Hermida said he offers the dabs before the monthly in-shop yoga classes because the method is more potent, allowing users to feel CBD's reported relaxing effects instantly.

Often, to clear my head during yoga poses I need to actively tell myself to breathe "in" and "out." With the CBD, it seemed like I didn't have to think so hard to stay focused on my breathing. I didn't, however, feel some brush with ecstasy, and I wasn't supposed to. It might look and smell like weed, but it's not going to get you high.

The substance itself is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, meaning products containing it cannot be marketed to cure or mitigate any disorders, such as generalized anxiety. A drug containing a purified form of CBD has been approved to treat seizures, something advocates see as progress.

I have met users who said CBD rids them of chronic pain from aging, surgeries or surviving cancer. I don't have experience with those conditions. But I do know anxiety and depression.

I have no interest — nor do I think it would be advisable — to switch from the meds my physician prescribed to drops of CBD oil. Responsible shop owners encourage customers to talk to their doctors before going off medication or adding CBD to their medication regimen.

If nothing else, I like that the popularity of CBD is encouraging people to talk more openly about dealing with anxiety.

So take a CBD hit, or don't. Ultimately, I think it's finding the space and ability to be kind to yourself and relax that's life-changing.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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