Study: Cannabis Elicits Psychedelic Effects in Specific Circumstances

Is cannabis a psychedelic? This study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology thinks so.

While we know that cannabis is psychoactive and psychotropic, affecting the mind and perception of users, could it be psychedelic? All drugs are psychoactive, but not all psychoactive drugs are psychedelic. And in the midst of the psychedelic renaissance, with substances like psilocybin and MDMA increasingly being used in therapeutic applications, could cannabis hold similar weight in a psychedelic therapy context?

Researchers behind a recent review of literature tackled the question of whether or not cannabis is a psychedelic substance or not, though the answer isn’t necessarily clear cut. Specifically, they found that cannabis does indeed have psychedelic effects, especially when it comes to high doses of THC. Though, unlike other psychedelics, cannabis may not always have psychedelic effects.

Cannabis and Psychedelic Classification

The study, “The psychedelic effects of cannabis: A review of the literature,” published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, notes that contemporary literature has generally not considered cannabis a psychedelic substance even though there are numerous examples of the use of cannabis alongside classic psychedelics to further attain altered states of consciousness.

The researchers note the relevance of the topic today, given that cannabis — both by itself and in tandem with classic psychedelics — could prove useful in a therapeutic setting. Specifically, cannabis could potentially act as a more legally accessible route for those unable to utilize emerging psychedelic therapies.

There are a number of definitions to “psychedelic” as it pertains to drugs, though it’s generally understood as holding a primary effect of triggering mental states that don’t exist in everyday life, or a trip, and often come with a broader expansion of consciousness. Even though cannabis can change cognition, thinking and mood, it doesn’t always lead to the same changes users can come to expect with drugs like LSD, psilocybin and others.

Literature on Psychedelic Cannabis Experiences

To further explore this classification, researchers examined past literature on cannabis and psychedelics in an effort to gather evidence supporting whether or not cannabis truly contains psychedelic properties. Researchers specifically looked at literature assessing the capacity of cannabis to yield perceptual changes, aversiveness and “mystical experiences” often associated with classic psychedelics.

The research largely included studies of participants who described cannabis-induced perceptual changes may veer a bit more toward those effects one would expect from classic psychedelics. Some of these effects included dissociative states, auditory and visual hallucinations and more. 

One survey of cannabis users included in the review examined the extent they had experienced minor perceptual effects (88% of participants had), like more intense colors, or major perceptual effects, like distortions and hallucinations (50%).

Some research also referenced that cannabis has the ability to alter the effects of other psychedelic substances.

The Future of Exploring Psychedelic Potential of Cannabis

“The available evidence suggests that high-THC cannabis may be able to elicit psychedelic effects, but that these effects may not have been observed in recent controlled research studies due to the doses, set, and settings commonly used,” researchers state.

They theorize that cannabis may have inconsistent psychedelic effects because of the way THC and CBD influence 5-HT2A receptors, serotonin receptors distributed throughout the central nervous system. At high doses, THC activates these receptors, while CBD appears to have the opposite effect.

Researchers also note that the amount of THC needed to evoke mystical experiences in users “may be much higher than those commonly used in casual settings,” recommending further research to determine what dose may fit this threshold, as existing research did not determine this.

Authors also recommend randomized, controlled trials in psychedelic-supportive settings to explore whether or not THC-dominant cannabis could be used to yield effects and experiences associated with psychedelics, despite the body of evidence supporting that assertion.

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