Does Cannabis Cause Hallucinations?
Cannabis offers a chilled out and pleasant effect. But pushing the boat out with extracts and edibles can make this casual experience a lot more intense. If you’ve ever delved into these modalities, you’ve probably had an experience more akin to psychedelics than a standard cannabis high. But can we really call the herb hallucinogenic?
Explore one of the most common debates among psychonauts: Is cannabis hallucinogenic?
When discussing psychedelic experiences, LSD, mushrooms, DMT, and mescaline are often the main talking points. Compared to these classic psychedelics, cannabis acts via an entirely different biochemical pathway, and tends to produce much milder effects. Despite the clear differences between chewing a few grams of mushrooms and hitting a big dab, scientific literature has historically categorised cannabis as a hallucinogenic drug.
Advances in our understanding of psychedelics have driven a firm wedge between the psychoactive effects of cannabis and “true” psychedelics. However, research also suggests that cannabis can indeed induce hallucinations under some circumstances. But are these truly psychedelic visions, or a telltale sign of underlying mental conditions? Continue reading as we break it all down.
Hallucinations: An Altered State Defined
The word “hallucination” derives from the Latin “alucinari”, meaning to “wander in mind”. From a clinical perspective, a hallucination encompasses any sensory phenomena that occur solely inside of the mind, lacking any external source. While often associated with visual disturbances—such as fractal and geometric patterns—hallucinations can occur via different sensory hubs in the brain. These experiences fall into the following categories:
- Olfactory (smell)
- Tactile (touch)
- Gustatory (taste)
Having visions, hearing colours, seeing sounds, and experiencing sensory distortion are all common events induced by hallucinogenic compounds. Users also report profound experiences such as entering other dimensions and communicating with conscious entities.
Some indigenous belief systems—as well as modern researchers and scholars—regard these events as “real” in their own way, suggesting these altered states allow us to perceive other aspects of our universe. In contrast, other modern psychonauts and scientists believe such phenomena stem from the mere alteration of brain chemistry alone.
Some individuals undergo hallucinations while entirely sober. These experiences can arise from multiple factors, such as:
- Mental illness
- Neurological conditions
- Sleep conditions
Although these experiences are still regarded as hallucinations, they appear different from the quintessential psychedelic experience, and tend not to involve the ingestion of mind-altering chemicals.
Mechanism of Action of Classic Hallucinogens
The classic psychedelics include LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin. Numerous cultures around the world have utilised these substances for thousands of years to induce mystical experiences and communicate with the divine. Modern Western users tend to ingest these substances for recreation, although many still associate the experience with spirituality.
Although the classic hallucinogens produce varied experiences, they all share something in common: each binds to and antagonises the serotonin 2A receptor.
The serotonergic system plays a fundamental role in the nervous system and neuron signalling. Serotonin—the signalling molecule within this network—regulates mood, emotion, memory, reward, and cognition. The disruption of this system underpins the hallucinogenic experiences imparted by these substances.
How Cannabis Compares
Most recreational cannabis strains contain the psychotropic molecule THC. Upon inhalation, this cannabinoid enters the bloodstream and binds to CB1 receptors concentrated in the central nervous system. These receptors belong to the endocannabinoid system—a body-wide network that regulates various processes crucial to human physiology.
Interestingly, THC mimics the internally produced cannabinoid (or “endocannabinoid”) anandamide (AEA). Also known as the “bliss molecule”, researchers believe anandamide underpins the runner’s high phenomenon, as the molecule helps to regulate motivation, pleasure, and reward.
Upon binding to CB1 receptors, THC causes a surge in dopamine. This signalling molecule gives rise to sensations of euphoria, laughter, and other quintessential aspects of the cannabis high. Conversely, the herb may also induce negative side effects, such as paranoia, confusion, and panic.
Although not presently categorised as a hallucinogen, humans have long associated the herb with mystical experiences. The Hindus of India and Buddhists of Nepal drink cannabis-infused Bhang to achieve transcendental states. The Rastafari smoke cannabis to become closer to Jah. Even casual cannabis users have insights and philosophical breakthroughs to share.
However, cannabis doesn’t induce intense trips into other realms or cause out-of-body experiences—at least, not to the same degree as true psychedelics. This makes sense when comparing the pharmacological action of cannabis versus psychedelics.
With that said, some users still claim to experience hallucinations when they consume cannabis. In some cases, these experiences stem from underlying mental conditions, such as psychosis, that THC may exacerbate. Yet, THC may also give rise to hallucinations in healthy people.
A paper published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research discusses the occurrence of self-reported hallucinations  after an acute dose of cannabis. Following the vaporization of 25mg of THC, the subject reported a hallucinogenic experience that differed from those caused by classic psychedelics. Despite the small sample size, the researchers suggest cannabis may induce a hallucinogenic experience through a different mechanism than other psychedelic compounds.
Extracts and Edibles: The Final Frontier?
Hitting blunts and bowls will certainly elevate your mood, enhance the taste of food, and plunge you into philosophical and existential discussions. Yet, the chances of tripping after smoking weed remain small. As such, the pursuit of increasingly intense highs has led cannabis users to think outside the box.
Humans have eaten cannabis preparations for thousands of years. After swallowing cannabinoids, the molecules pass through the digestive tract and into the liver before entering circulation. The liver converts THC into 11-hydroxy-THC, a metabolite known to produce more intense psychotropic effects. Edibles may take longer to kick in, but they let you know when they do. Anecdotal reports describe varying psychotropic experiences, from mere relaxation to fully fledged hallucinogenic states. When comparing 1mg doses of THC to 11-hydroxy-THC  , the latter produces much more intense outcomes.
Cannabis concentrates serve as an efficient way to saturate the endocannabinoid system with cannabinoids. Full-spectrum extracts provide large doses of a range of cannabis phytochemicals that work together in a synergistic dance known as the entourage effect. Terpenes and other cannabinoids accompany THC to produce an intense yet well-rounded effect. The presence of CBD and relaxing terpenes such as myrcene and linalool may actually make full-spectrum extracts less likely to induce a hallucinogenic experience.
In contrast, isolates offer potencies of around 99% THC. Dosing such high quantities of the cannabinoid may push the mind closer to a hallucinogenic state.
Is Cannabis Truly Hallucinogenic?
Well, it depends on who you ask. Some users report tripping from merely smoking weed. Others claim it takes over 100mg of THC to help them leave the launch pad. What we do know: THC doesn’t act like the classic psychedelic. However, early research does suggest it might catalyse its own type of hallucinations through different mechanisms. We also know that cannabis works differently in different people—only you will know how weed truly makes you feel. Enjoy the herb; experiment with it, and see where you end up!
Cannabis certainly causes a shift in consciousness, but is it a stretch to deem the herb a hallucinogen? Recent research on the topic may surprise you…
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Purple Haze Side Effects
- Learning Problems
- Depression and Suicide
- Heart Disorders
- Decreased Social Interaction
- Lung Inflammation
Purple Haze is a notably potent form of marijuana. Marijuana is the dried and shredded mix of leaves, flowers and other parts of the Cannabis sativa plant, notes MedlinePlus 1. Purple haze gets its name due to the purple tint of parts of the particular Cannabis sativa plant used to create the product. Marijuana is a popular illegal drug. There are a wide range of side effects associated with the use of Purple Haze or any type of marijuana 2.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Purple Haze use can cause learning problems, notes MedlinePlus. Marijuana use impacts the brain and can cause problems retaining information 1. It also damages the ability to focus on academic issues. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that marijuana’s negative effect on learning can last for days or weeks 2. If marijuana is used daily, intellectual ability will typically be below normal at all times.
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Addiction can occur with long-term use of Purple Haze and other types of marijuana, notes the National Institute on Drug Abuse 2. The dopamine neurons in the brain are impacted by marijuana use. Withdrawal from the drug will thus lead to stress, problems sleeping and craving the drug.
Depression and Suicide
Depression, suicide ideation, and schizophrenia are linked to Purple Haze use, as with all kinds of marijuana, notes the National Institute on Drug Abuse 2. It is not yet fully known whether marijuana use causes these problems or is symptom of their existence. If drug abuse is started at an early age it can lead to more severe problems with these issues as time passes.
Bad Side Effects of Marijuana Use
Purple Haze use can speed up the pace of the heart. Marijuana use can cause the heart rate to accelerate to 20 to 100 percent higher than normal for about three hours, reports the National Institute on Drug Abuse 2. This accelerated heart rate can lead to a higher risk of heart attack and heart arrhythmias.
Decreased Social Interaction
Social interaction can become impaired due to Purple Haze use, notes the National Institute on Drug Abuse 2. Drug use can make social interaction seem less important as the brain becomes addicted and wishes to focus on drug seeking activities rather than normal social activities. Ongoing marijuana use can lead to diminished pleasure in developing relationships and more emphasis on spending time only with other drug users.
- Social interaction can become impaired due to Purple Haze use, notes the National Institute on Drug Abuse 2.
- Drug use can make social interaction seem less important as the brain becomes addicted and wishes to focus on drug seeking activities rather than normal social activities.
Purple Haze use can inflame the lungs and also cause respiratory illness. Marijuana smoke contains carcinogens. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the smoke from marijuana has 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than the smoke from cigarettes 2.
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