"The third eye" appears as an iconic symbol in Ancient Egyptian art. The Hindus also symbolised a third human eye with a ceremonial red dot or “bindi” on the forehead. This is said to mark the location of the Ajna chakra, a centre of energy for the subconscious mind. It is said to be humanity's link to the spiritual realm, with philosopher René Descartes calling it "the seat of the soul". Wasn't much of Descartes' medical research roundly discredited even during his lifetime? In short, yes. However, the long answer allows for the nuance that chakras do appear to correspond to important physiological locations throughout the body.

In the case of the third eye, the pineal gland not only appears there as an important neurological organ; it is in fact a light-sensing organ structurally similar to the eye. Okay, maybe there is something going on here. The pineal gland is important to many disparate cultures for its spiritual significance. It is named for its pinecone shape, a symbol that appears throughout the art of Assyrian, Greek, and other cultures. Claims about its powers range from attuning one's mind with God or even telepathic communication. Let's look at what the science has to say about the powers of the pineal gland. If it does serve some important function, then it is also worth exploring how cannabis can impact this part of the brain.

THE PINEAL GLAND

The first thing to look at is this whole "third eye" thing. Is it actually that similar to the eyes we see with? Or could it be some vestige of an eye that was previously there? Or has yet to fully evolve? Slow down. Let us consider how the name "pineal" relates to the gland's pinealocytes. These are cells that respond to light. They are connected to the hypothalamus of the brain. This is where the governance of our circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle, comes from. The hypothalamus communicates the presence of darkness to the pinealocytes, forming part of human perception of day and night. So it does form an important component of human perception. In other animals, it is even directly connected to the eye.

Many vertebrates across the mammal, reptile, and fish kingdoms have evolved a pineal gland. Others have evolved not to have one. In the case of the New Zealand reptile the tuatara, the pineal gland is directly connected to a literal third eye! Technically, the parietal eye is the correct gland to call a third eye. This gland appears on the tuatara's head with a lens, retina, and cornea of its own. This connects to the pineal gland, as do the glowing third eyes of various deep-water fish. From an evolutionary standpoint, the pineal gland is clearly important to circadian rhythm, hormonal regulation, and things like that. But what else does it do for humans? And how would it be affected if said humans enjoyed some cannabis?

Pineal Gland Function

THE IMPACT OF CANNABIS ON THE PINEAL GLAND

The pineal gland receives blood flow directly from the rest of the body through the posterior cerebral artery. Since the blood is not processed through the blood-brain barrier, psychoactive chemicals hit the pineal gland much quicker. This makes it very sensitive to psychoactive chemicals such as DMT or cannabinoids. The pineal gland regulates healthy sleep through the production of melatonin. This is an important function to not mess up. Overconsumption of cannabis, as the definition of "excess" suggests, could have an adverse impact on this and other aspects of your health. It's safer to moderate your cannabis use. If you are using cannabis, what can you expect to happen to the pineal gland?

The pineal gland is connected to the endocrine system and the endocannabinoid system. So as part of the network of cannabis' influence, it helps the flow of cannabinoids to cannabinoid receptors. Perhaps your trippy dreams are the impact of cannabinoids regulating the depth and duration of your sleep. It has been suggested THC may reduce melatonin, which would adversely affect sleep. Yet so many people use cannabis to help get to sleep. Other effects of cannabis relieve worries and physical tensions that hamper sleep. The science around the relationship between cannabis and sleep requires further study.

SCIENCE AND SPIRITUALITY

Whether or not cannabis boosts some spiritually significant function of the pineal gland is down to perspective. An altered state of consciousness can be triggered by activity of the pineal gland during meditation. Meditative and psychedelic states are also known to arise through cannabis use. Cannabis has been used as a sacrament in far-flung religious ceremonies from Hinduism to Rastafari. There can be profound feelings of personal insight or connectedness with the world when taking cannabis. Does this sense of contentment come from the underestimated power of opening our third eye and stimulating the pineal gland? Or is this just the way one thinks when high? Stoners have a range of beliefs from the spiritual to the sceptical. Therefore, each person's experience will vary. One thing we can all agree on is our fascination with the power of cannabis.

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