Cannabis is a complex plant that researchers are still trying to figure out. Some are now saying there’s an element of a psychedelic experience involved with consuming the plant, but are not entirely sure how and why that happens.
With all of its cannabinoid compounds, some with opposing effects, not all of the possible interactions are understood. As a result, cannabis consumption affects people in different ways depending on these interactions, THC content and the genes and personality characteristics of the consumer.
Many cannabis consumers have a story about someone who tried weed for the first time and literally thought they were losing their minds, perhaps seeing things that weren’t there, getting dizzy or even vomiting. Yes, they were tripping on cannabis.
When someone consumes cannabis, it interacts with a neurotransmitter receptor in the brain that creates the (mostly pleasant) effects. But because that neurotransmitter interacts with other neurotransmitter systems in the brain, this can result in unexpected pharmacological effects, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology.
Most cannabis that is available for both medical and recreational consumption contains a combination of THC and CBD, although the psychedelic experience seems to be more related to the THC.
Researchers found that THC caused transient psychotic symptoms and increased the levels of anxiety, intoxication and sedation of a consumer, whereas CBD had no significant effect on those behaviours.
A 2018 study published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research reported that cannabis has been historically classified as a hallucinogen, but that subjective cannabis effects do not typically include hallucinogen-like effects. “Empirical reports of hallucinogen-like effects produced by cannabis in controlled settings, particularly among healthy research volunteers, are rare and have mostly occurred after administration of purified THC rather than whole plant cannabis,” it adds.
The study went on to discuss the case of a healthy 30-year-old male who had auditory and visual hallucinations in a controlled laboratory study after inhaling vaporized cannabis that contained 25 milligrams of THC. The “trip” lasted about 90 minutes, and the volunteer was “functionally incapacitated.”
The hallucinatory experience in this case was different than the effects of classic psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin, notes the study, suggesting hallucinatory effects of cannabis may have a unique pharmacological mechanism of action.
Advocates, such as author Stephen Gray, describe cannabis as a “spiritual ally” that can create “ego dissolution,” which is a major effect of psychedelics that contributes to a sense of peace and connectedness. Gray leads cannabis meditation sessions to explore that relationship.
Some cannabis consumers report that LSD is like “weed times a million.” Consumers cite a more “psychedelic-like” reaction to smoking the flower from certain strains with generally higher levels of THC, but even more so with concentrates and edibles that can have as much as 70 to 90 per cent THC content (oils, sugars, live resins and waxes).
As the cannabis industry grew and became more accessible to first-timers, people experiencing an edible often consumed much more than the suggested amount, leading to trip-like experiences and sometimes emergency room visits. That has led to a common refrain from cannabis concentrate makers: Go low (THC level), go slow (eat the suggested amount).
So there is a difference about the experience between LSD and cannabis, and both can be called psychedelic. But there exists a more fine-tuned term.
“The term ‘psychedelic’ itself is not related to a chemical structure of a compound,” Brad Burge, director of strategic communications for Santa Cruz-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), notes in an article on its website.
When it comes to psychedelic drugs, “most of them have little, if anything, in common chemically,” Burge writes. What they do all have in common is their ability to “bring up the contents of the mind,” whether that’s subconscious thoughts or repressed traumatic memories, he notes.
While cannabis can be used in related ways, such as augmenting a meditation practice or sparking creativity, Burge points out that the plant is mostly used in ways similar to alcohol or nicotine: It “smooths over symptoms that people are having.”
Another important distinction between cannabis and psychedelics is the way in which the two are used in therapy. Whereas psilocybin, the chemical in magic mushrooms, is used to enhance therapy, it’s not the treatment in and of itself. “The goal is getting at the root of people’s problems,” Burge writes. Cannabis, on the other hand, mostly treats symptoms.
So cannabis can be a trippy experience, depending on one’s definition of trippy. But like with many things related to how cannabis operates inside the human endocannabinoid system — which has been implicated in a growing number of physiological functions, both in the central and peripheral nervous systems and in peripheral organs — the jury is still out.
The FreshToast.com, a U.S. lifestyle site that contributes lifestyle content and, with their partnership with 600,000 physicians via Skipta, medical marijuana information to The GrowthOp.
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