Is Cannabis a Psychedelic?

High doses of cannabis can cause hallucinations and otherworldly experiences, but is cannabis a psychedelic?


Here are some facts

The short answer is, kind of. It depends on who you ask, and what definition of “psychedelic” you are using.


For such a simple question, there isn’t a simple answer. That’s because we don’t have a universally accepted definition for what exactly constitutes a psychedelic.




In short, there are two competing definitions, and the one you decide to use will determine whether it is a psychedelic.


First Theory

The first is more scientific. Simply put, you decide whether a compound is “psychedelic” by seeing which brain receptors the molecule binds with. If a drug binds with specific serotonin receptors in the brain, the 5-HT2A receptors, it is considered a psychedelic. If it does not, then it is not a psychedelic. So, based on this definition, it is not a psychedelic.


Based on the serotonin receptor definition of psychedelics, cannabis is not a psychedelic. cannabis, or more accurately the molecule THC, primarily binds with cannabinoid receptors in the brain, CB1 and CB2. That being said, there is at least one study in mice showing that the THC molecule may interact with the 5-HT2A receptors —leading to negative consequences such as memory impairment. So, perhaps with more study cannabis can be considered a psychedelic using this definition, but for the moment, using it, cannabis is not a psychedelic.





Second Theory

The second definition of what constitutes a psychedelic has more to do with the subjective effects

a person experiences. If a drug causes changes in your perceptions of reality —hallucinations— then it is a psychedelic.


It can be. Those who consume cannabis know that the drug certainly CAN cause intense hallucinations, but it doesn’t always, or even usually.


A lot of factors go into whether cannabis causes a hallucination, but one of the most decisive is how you consume cannabis. There are two main ways people take cannabis, either by smoking it, or ingesting it in the form of an edible —think cannabis brownies.


If you smoke it, chances are you will not experience an alteration to reality or a hallucination —and note, paranoia does not constitute a “hallucination.” That being said, you certainly CAN have a full-blown hallucination from smoking cannabis, especially if you are inexperienced with it.


The question of whether cannabis is a psychedelic becomes more interesting, however, when you look at its effects when you consume it in edible forms, such as a cannabis cookie. When taken as an edible, the effects of THC can be more similar to classical psychedelics like magic mushrooms and LSD than it is to cannabis when you smoke it.


Conclusion

Interestingly, we have known about the so-called psychedelic effects of edible cannabis for at least 165 years, when author and journalist Fitz Hugh Ludlow wrote about the effects of edibles in his autobiography, The Hasheesh Eater. In it, Ludlow describes his experimentation with his own consciousness using edible cannabis. At the end of the day, whether cannabis is a psychedelic or not essentially comes down to semantics and definitions. What matters is knowing that cannabis can sometimes cause hallucinations, especially if you eat it. Whether or not you want to define that as psychedelic, is somewhat immaterial. Given this, perhaps a better term to use is hallucinogenic. While we can’t agree on whether cannabis is a psychedelic, everyone can agree that sometimes it can be hallucinogenic

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