Monday, June 5, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Retired Army Ranger Tim Ray sat on a yoga mat with his long legs crossed, inhaling from a double-barrel wooden mouthpiece with two marijuana joints sticking out.
Ray, whose 12 years in the military included stints in Afghanistan and Iraq, exhaled smoke from his mouth and nose — a combination of Stardawg indica and Jack Herer sativa strains — to help relax his mind for an upcoming hour of vinyasa yoga.
Only 37 years old, Ray suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, from wartime experiences he doesn’t care to talk about. Instead of taking prescription medications that treat hypertension, depression and other mood disorders, he’s joining a growing number of people in the Las Vegas Valley using weed-enhanced stretching and meditation to deal with the spectrum of pain.
“It works,” said the 6-foot-7 Ray, sitting in a circle with a dozen other Tuesday night yoga-goers at the Elevated Yoga studio in downtown Las Vegas. “I feel good, I’m exercising again and I’m happy.”
Mint-flavored chocolate cookies, granola and cereal bars were scattered on the floor in front of the participants, next to a family-size bag of tortilla chips, a tub of guacamole and pot paraphernalia like stickers and lanyards. More than two dozen joints from Las Vegas dispensary Medizin rested in a wooden tray with lighters and ashtrays. Ambient music floated through the 1,000-square-foot studio, and purple drapes blocked the light from the street outside.
Next to Ray, Las Vegans Devon Randall and Morgan Wishengrad held “upward dog” and “chair” poses between tokes of the Jack Herer strain. Randall, 23, and Wishengrad, 22, also took a dab of Sour Tangie wax in the studio before the yoga session started. They said they enjoyed the mental relief provided by marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, THC. Wishengrad added that she had been coming to the class since March because the plant’s combination with yoga helped her manage anxiety and back pain.
“It has been relaxing for me, and it’s all positive vibes,” Wishengrad said. “I used to do yoga when I was younger, but this is unique.”
Elevated Yoga founder Emily Wilson has hosted twice-weekly classes in Las Vegas since June 2016. She greets attendees with a hug as they walk in.
A survivor of multiple surgeries to repair inverted bones in her sternum that were collapsing on her heart, Wilson, 38, started using marijuana four years ago to ease her post-surgery pain. She swears by the plant’s healing power and says she started the yoga classes to help others experience similar relief.
“Yoga heals on its own and cannabis heals on its own, so put the two together and it’s perfect,” she said.
For $25, anyone over age 21 can participate in the class on Tuesday or Friday, and that fee includes weed, dabs and munchies. Zia Metric, a renowned bikram yoga teacher in the valley, is a weekly guest instructor.
As many as 25 students will fill the Elevated Yoga studio on these nights, Wilson said, up from one or two right after she launched the program. She saw the biggest spike between November’s election, when Nevada voters passed Ballot Question 2 to legalize the possession and use of recreational marijuana, and Jan. 1, when that law went into effect.
Wilson, whose program advertises a start time 45 minutes before the yoga actually begins and whose attendees stay 30 minutes to an hour after to socialize and eat munchies, expects another spike July 1, when legislation to make recreational marijuana more available to the public takes effect.
“It used to be just medical cardholders; now anyone can come,” Wilson said. “Even now, a lot of people still don’t realize they can do this.”
About 10 miles south of Wilson's downtown studio, Los Angeles residents Janet Osorio and Melina Dominguez held “tadpole” poses, alternating twists of their arms underneath their bodies in the 1,800-square-foot studio of CannaYoga, which specializes in yin yoga paired with weed. A light-rock soundtrack featuring Adele and Carlos Santana played quietly as instructor Irena Jacobson softly dictated poses during the hourlong class.
Osorio, a 34-year-old massage therapist, and Dominguez, a 30-year-old office worker, both said they used marijuana to ease joint pain in their knees and ankles and sought yoga as added physical therapy. The couple drove more than 270 miles from their hometown to Las Vegas to partake in Friday and Sunday classes, because they couldn’t find any weed-yoga programs closer than San Francisco.
“This was the highlight of the weekend; I loved it,” Osorio said. “Really peaceful, light and relaxing. It kept the energy flowing, and it was just pretty.”
Angie Edgington, 26, brought her mother to the studio’s Sunday class for Mother’s Day. Starting at 4:20 p.m., the yin routine offered simpler stretches than Elevated Yoga’s vinyasa class and also was lighter on the provided weed. Edgington and her mother — a Reno resident who asked not to be named — took turns puffing on Cheesecake indica and Goji Popcorn sativa strains from nearby Oasis Medical Cannabis dispensary as they stretched. Edgington said her family had a history of bipolar disorder, and she preferred using marijuana as treatment over pills.
“It’s an uplifting experience, and it helps you break down that anxiety,” Edgington said. “It’s just very calming.”
Jacobson and husband, Dr. Scott Jacobson, got involved with CannaYoga in August after the founders went their separate ways, leaving an opening for the 10-year Las Vegas residents. Their class, also for adults 21 and older for a price of $25, moved to its current location — a massive studio next door to the Jacobsons’ central valley home — in January. Like Wilson, Irena greets attendees with a hug.
“It’s about making people feel welcome,” she said. “Whether you have experience with cannabis or not, this is a community.”
Since she started teaching CannaYoga, attendance has doubled to about 10 attendees per class, and as many as 40 for partnered sessions with Las Vegas dispensaries and other local companies in the marijuana industry. The Jacobsons said they saw the same spike Wilson did around the legalization milestones.
“We don’t know for sure yet, but we’d love it if it spiked again,” Irena said. “It comes down to how interested people are in (recreational) marijuana. If interest is high, it’ll trickle over to us.”