The list of the benefits of acupuncture is seemingly endless, from pain management to getting better sleep to anti-aging. It appears there’s nothing the traditional Chinese medicine practice can’t do—and that includes getting patients high. Okay, well, let us explain that last one.
There’s a phenomenon called “acu-stoned,” in which some patients feel extremely relaxed as a result of their acupuncture. The sort of body high one might feel after, say, consuming cannabis.
While it’s not an official term, by any means, acupuncturist Jane Gregorie, LAc, of Denver, explains that “acu-stoned” is simply slang for “feelings of deep relaxation, floating, heavy limbs, euphoria and spaciness” that some people experience during or after a session.
Los Angeles-based acupuncturist Russell Brown, L.Ac, MTOM, on the other hand, actually likes to refer to the feeling as “sublime disorientation.” He says that because acupuncture disengages the mind, “it can’t orient itself in time and space so you emerge forgetting where you are, perhaps thinking you are in your bedroom, and insisting there’s no way 30 minutes has just passed.”
So, how, exactly, does one feel the “high” or “sublime disorientation” that can accompany acupuncture? Philadelphia acupuncturist Eva Zeller, LAc, explains that when you get acupuncture, your body releases endorphins.
“My theory is that usually you get endorphins after exercise or injury…but during acupuncture you’re lying down and relaxing,” Zeller says, “so those endorphins are able to take you to a totally different level.” Zeller also points out that there’s “some pretty strong evidence that acupuncture has effects on the endocannabinoid system, just not nearly as intense as those elicited by THC.”
While different pressure points (if not all of them) may trigger this particular vibe, Zeller says it’s likely the GB21 point, “the ‘Vulcan nerve pinch’ point on the trapezius at the top of the shoulder,” that can lead to “a particularly robust endorphin release.” Boston-based acupuncturist Marisa Fanelli, LAc, also credits the points Heart 7, Pericardium 6, Kidney 1, and Spleen 6, which “seem to trigger this feeling more consistently.”
Though, as Brown notes, “ There are no universal rules that apply to everyone. It’s all so specific to the patient, so the points that may really work for you may not be the ones that work for me.” That’s because, just like getting stoned, the impacts of acupuncture affects everyone differently.
Fanelli says that she finds that the patients who are more likely to experience getting acu-stoned “are the ones who are committed to the enjoyment of the acupuncture experience.” These are the patients who “want to relax and downshift from their stress and anxiety,” she says; however, as Brown points out, there’s any number of reasons why a patient may or may not feel like they’re floating thanks to acupuncture. This can include, he explains, “the patient’s level of trust, [their] comfort and safety with the clinical experience and practitioner, the patient’s general level of anxiety around needles and bodywork…the patient’s caffeine intake prior to treatment and the time of day.”
Sometimes it takes a few visits for the acu-stoned feeling to kick in, probably because people are more alert during a new experience, Zeller says, adding that some people get very acu-stoned their very first time.
“The positive effects [of acupuncture] can last for hours,” Gregorie says. But that “zoned out” feelings usually fade a little bit sooner than that, she explains.
Still, even if your acu-stoned vibes only last a few minutes, Zeller recommends that patients sit in the waiting room after treatment until they feel grounded enough to drive or walk home. “Drinking a glass of water helps, too,” she says. And Gregorie adds that this is because some patients can feel a bit dizzy as a result of acupuncture. “So they need to be careful when getting up, and they need to take it slow,” she recommends.
The great thing is, no matter if you get acu-stoned or not, if you’re in trusted hands and you allow it to do what it does best, you’ll leave feeling better. As Gregorie points out, “Most people will feel relaxed from acupuncture, if not ‘acu-stoned,’ and also get relief from pain, better sleep, and improved digestion.” That’s because the practice of acupuncture, as Fanelli puts it, “brings your body into a state of balance, which affects every system in the body.”
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