Science

Cannabis as a Psychedelic

Loren DeVito, PhD
Written by Loren DeVito, PhD

Opening the Doors of Perception

Psychedelics are making a big comeback. Due in part to tremendous advances in research and increased awareness in the healing powers of integrated medicines, the psychedelics of the 1960s have found their place in the hands of the modern apothecary.

Psychedelics Go Mainstream

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, is a non-profit organization that has pioneered a revolution in treatment through its studies on psychedelics. They are conducting Phase 3 trials on methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine (MDMA or “ecstasy”) as part of assisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, last year, the FDA granted this therapy Breakthrough status.

As scientists make additional headway into establishing psychedelic compounds as “legitimate” medicines, it begs the question of where cannabinoids fit in – is cannabis having its own revolution or can cannabis be considered part of this psychedelic class?

Finding a Place for Cannabis

While the term “psychedelic” may invoke images of swirling colors and lights, it actually refers to a mental state characterized by visual/auditory changes and altered states of consciousness. In fact, Aldous Huxley’s book published in 1954, The Doors of Perception, documented the first “study” or attempt to describe the effects of taking peyote and how it influences perception.1

The effects of cannabis are often explained in terms of its two main cannabinoids – CBD and THC – where THC is the “psychoactive” component and CBD is the non-psychoactive counterpart.2 But even that distinction is controversial. And, as any user knows, cannabis causes significant changes in perception.

Cannabis Effects on Perception

But there’s no need to rely on anecdotal stories to learn about the effects of cannabis on perception – we can turn to the literature. One study looking at brain activity by using electroencephalography, or EEG, found that THC shifted activity from low to higher frequencies. During performance of a motor task, this shift was also seen in sensory areas, indicating over-activation.It is important to note that, while cannabis has been associated with psychosis, its effects on perception can occur in the absence of psychosis.

Cannabis consumption is also associated with a distorted sense of time where time seems to pass more slowly. Several studies have shown that cannabis consumption can cause underestimation or overestimation of time intervals, which greatly affects memory formation.4 Brain imaging studies have found that cannabis increases activation of regions that support memory, suggesting that cannabis users may work harder to retain memories.5

So, can cannabis be considered a psychedelic? While certain cannabis effects are certainly similar to other psychoactive substances, it’s not clear if cannabis really opens the “doors to perception.”But regardless of its classification,cannabis research will continue to be vital in furthering our understanding of its medicinal uses, right along side the psychedelics.

References

  1. Huxley, A. The Doors of Perception. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1954. (impact factor: N/A; cited by: 82)
  2. Russo, E., Guy, G.W., “A Tale of Two Cannabinoids: The Therapeutic Rationale for Combining Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol”, Med Hypotheses, 2006, Volume 66, pg. 234-246. (impact factor: 1.066; cited by: 385)
  3. Nottage, J.F., Stone, J., Murray, R.M., et al., “Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, Neural Oscillations above 20 Hz and Induced Acute Psychosis”, Psychopharmacology, 2015, Volume 232, pg. 519-528. (impact factor: 3.875; cited by: 14)
  4. Atakan, Z., Morrison, P., Bossong, M.G., Martin-Santos, R., Crippa, J.A., “The Effect of Cannabis on Perception of Time: A Critical Review”, Current Pharmaceutical Design, 2012, Volume 18, pg. 1-8. (impact factor: 3.052; cited by: 9)
  5. Kanayama, G., Rogowska, J.,Pope, H.G.,Gruber, S.A., Yurgelun-Todd, D.A.,“Spatial Working Memory in Heavy Cannabis Users: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study”,Psychopharmacology, 2004, Volume 176, pg. 239-247. (impact factor: 3.875; cited by: 230)

About the author

Loren DeVito, PhD

Loren DeVito, PhD

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