Cannabis flower, psychedelics

Is cannabis considered a psychedelic?

Is cannabis considered a psychedelic

Written by Emma Stone

Is cannabis considered a psychedelic? If you’ve experimented with weed and journeyed with psychedelics, you’ll know that the two experiences overlap in some ways but diverge in others.

Hallucinogenic experiences such as distortions in time, perceptual changes, or loss of motor skills may occur after consumption of either cannabis or psychedelics, but are these similarities sufficient for cannabis to qualify as a psychedelic? How different are cannabis and psychedelics, really? 

How consumers use cannabis and psychedelics

Cannabis and psychedelics are typically used and experienced differently. A 2020 survey of 319 cannabis and psychedelic consumers found that the majority of the participants drew a clear line between the two in terms of motivations for using each, and the type of experiences they had.

Of the participants, 75% reported that their cannabis experiences did not resemble experiences with psychedelics. On average, consumers restricted psychedelic use to 1-10 times per year, with 69% of respondents saying they had a spiritual motivation for using a psychedelic.

Cannabis, on the other hand, was used, on average, 51-100 times per year, with only 25% of participants using the plant for spiritual purposes. Cannabis use was generally associated with motivations such as recreation, bonding with friends, relaxation, and coping with personal problems.

Two different paths through history and culture

Federal perceptions of cannabis and psychedelics have also influenced people’s understanding of the substances—both have been stigmatized, and the residue of history and culture continue to influence perceptions of each.

“Unlike traditional psychedelics, cannabis was subject to intense social and political scrutiny,” said Dr. Winston De La Haye, MD, a senior lecturer of psychiatry at the University of the West Indies and medical director at the Aion International Center for Psychedelic Psychiatry

“Harry Anslinger, the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics during the prohibition era, took the scientifically unsupported idea of marijuana as a violence-inducing drug, connected it to Black and Hispanic people, and created a perfect package of fear to sell to the American media and public,” said De La Haye. Beginning with the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937, Black and Hispanic people were arrested for the use, possession, and distribution of cannabis far more than whites. 

Psychedelics, on the other hand, initially came into the public consciousness in the 1950s, and were legitimized by scientific research. “Research into the potential therapeutic effects of LSD and other hallucinogens, like psilocybin, produced over 1,000 scientific papers and six international conferences,” said De La Haye.

Although pioneering psychiatrists demonstrated that psychedelics had significant therapeutic potential, research was halted due to a backlash against hippie anti-war counterculture in the ‘60s, and psilocybin and other psychedelics were outlawed.

How can or is cannabis considered a psychedelic?

Although there’s evidence to differentiate cannabis from psychedelics, the two substances also share a lot in common.

“The definition of a psychedelic is hallucinogenic, distorting perception and awareness,” said Dr. Stephen Barnhill, M.D., Executive Chairman of Aion Therapeutics, and a plant medicine expert. “Cannabis could certainly be considered a psychedelic: We know cannabis can cause time dilation, euphoria, and hallucinatory symptoms much like classic psychedelics.” 

Barnhill also emphasized that, like psychedelic compounds, too high a dose of cannabis can cause a “bad trip” of sorts—intense paranoia or agitation. 

“Some cannabis effects are psychedelic in nature,” said Dr. Lonny Weiss, an integrative psychologist with an expertise in plant medicine. “Cannabis is known for its hallucinogenic effects, which include distortions of time or space, loss of motor skill control, detachment from oneself or the surrounding environment, and hallucinations.”

Weiss points out that rather than debating whether or not Is cannabis considered a psychedelic or could be understood as a psychedelic, it could be more useful to identify both as entheogens.

“[Entheogens are] defined as promoting life-altering experiences, profound insights, and spiritual connectedness, or ‘generating the God within,’” said Weiss. “Like psychedelics, the use of Cannabis sativa has been widely documented as a powerful shamanic medicine for thousands of years all over our planet—many people across the world view cannabis as a master plant or teacher.”

Such views were echoed by cannabis consumers in the 2020 survey mentioned above, albeit a small group: Of the 319 participants, 25% had a spiritual or self-expansionary motive for using cannabis and regarded the plant as an entheogen.

What’s more, the survey participants reported experiences that resembled psychedelics in certain respects, such as enhanced connections and increased feelings of love toward other people. which conclude the question of “Is cannabis considered a psychedelic” 

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