High doses of cannabis can cause hallucinations and otherworldly experiences, but is marijuana a psychedelic? Here are some facts
Is marijuana a psychedelic? 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 weed is a psychedelic.
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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, is pot a psychedelic?
Based on the serotonin receptor definition of psychedelics, marijuana is not a psychedelic. Marijuana, 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 marijuana can be considered a psychedelic using this definition, but for the moment, using it, cannabis is not a psychedelic.
Something else interesting to note is that by using this definition, many other drugs that some consider psychedelic, such as MDMA and ketamine, also would not be psychedelics. Both of these drugs bind with other receptors in the brain.
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.
So, using this definition, is weed a psychedelic?
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It can be. Those who consume marijuana know that the drug certainly CAN cause intense hallucinations, but it doesn’t always, or even usually.
A lot of factors go into whether pot causes a hallucination, but one of the most decisive is how you consume the marijuana. There are two main ways people take pot, either by smoking it, or ingesting it in the form of an edible —think pot 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 marijuana, especially if you are inexperienced with it.
The question of whether marijuana is a psychedelic becomes more interesting, however, when you look at its effects when you consume it in edible form, such as a pot 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 pot when you smoke it.
Edible pot has the potential to cause hallucinations, and even rocket your consciousness off into other realms. Even if the THC is not binding with the 5-HT2A, subjectively speaking, you would be hard-pressed not to label it as a psychedelic.
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 marijuana.
At the end of the day, whether marijuana is a psychedelic or not essentially comes down to semantics and definitions. What matters is knowing that marijuana 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 weed is a psychedelic, everyone can agree that sometimes it can be hallucinogenic.
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