The use of marijuana is no longer a recreational activity. More and more people are now considering the use of cannabis as medicine or as a natural medicinal treatment. But many are still skeptical, asking “Is weed a psychedelic?” If so, how can something so potent and so psychedelic be medicinal?
Is Weed a Psychedelic? – What is Cannabis Really?
Cannabis is a genus in the plant family and is often interchangeably used by users, growers, and enthusiasts with marijuana, hemp, and weed. Cannabis is not a drug. But to better understand what cannabis is and how it works, you need to first identify the different terminologies, chemical names, and abbreviations that are associated with it.
Cannabis is also referred to as hemp or marijuana and is a genus of plants that are native to Central Asia and are also found in the Indian Subcontinent. There are two very well-known sub-species of Cannabis: Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa. To manufacture hemp, sativa plants are cultivated to produce a variety of strains that contain lower amounts of psychoactive chemicals. The compounds found in cannabis are more prominent in the buds or flowers of the plant and less on the leaves and stems.
Another common term that you will encounter as you try to understand the effects of marijuana is cannabinoids. In cannabis, there are 100+ chemical compounds and three are very well-known.
Cannabidiol or CBD
This compound is the non-psychoactive component of cannabis. It is the therapeutic component that makes marijuana medicinal. CBD is found in many different OTC products and fact, it is the active compound in the only FDA-approved marijuana-based drug called Epidiolex. This drug is an approved medicine for seizures.
Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC
THC is the most common compound found in cannabis and is the reason why marijuana is euphoric and psychoactive. The ratio of THC and CBD in cannabis is indirectly proportional in such a way, that when THC is higher, CBD is lower and when THC is lower, CBD is higher.
Cannabinol or CBN
This is another psychoactive compound that’s not created by the cannabis plant but is the product of oxidation of THC. CBD has an entourage effect and when paired with THC, you’ll get improved sedating effects. This compound has not been studied closely by experts but cannabis users and breeders say that it may have anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties.
About Psychedelic Drugs
Identifying if a substance is psychedelic or not depends on two things: receptor binding and comparison of the substance’s effects on drugs that are classified as psychedelic. If the substance checks for both or either of these then this is classified as a psychedelic.
When it comes to receptors, a drug or compound is psychedelic if this binds with serotonin 5 HT2A receptors as an agonist or as partial agonist activating an enzyme known as phospholipase C that helps in the development of inositol phosphates as well as diglycerol that leads to the increase in calcium ions from the cells. There is also a possibility that serotonin receptors may be involved in the psychedelic experience of a weed user.
Meanwhile, the effects of most psychedelic drugs are variable and may also be dependent on the dose. Just like using low doses of LSD, it may lead to problems with cognition and sensory processing but the person is aware that the effects are due to drug use. When users consume higher doses, the effects may trigger an alternate reality. Users may also lose contact from their daily life. These experiences may be mystical or transcendent that represents the user’s states of mind which is completely different from reality.
Researchers now say that having a profound experience will lead to a dramatic change in a patient’s condition under psychedelic-assisted treatments. However, the experience that can happen when consuming any dose of the psychedelic drug as long as the “set and setting” has been considered to create an altered state of mind.
So what about THC and the other components of cannabis? These compounds were tested by experts by combining these to agonists or partial agonists found on the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. Similar to serotonin receptors, cannabinoid receptors that are part of the GPCR or G-protein-coupled receptor family.
Studies that focus on the effects of THC in the development of mental illness in young adults when cannabis is used for a long term period. In a study performed in young mice that were exposed to THC, the researchers observed “pro-hallucinogenic molecular conformation” with exacerbated schizophrenia- like” effects in the animals. These results are an amazing find that adds evidence of marijuana being classified as a psychedelic according to receptor binding.
Cannabis vs Psychedelics Effects
The chemical make-up of cannabis and classic psychedelics are different from each one however, users report that there are very similar effects as well.
Psychedelic researcher and supporter Timothy Leary and his colleagues Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner came up with a scale to measure the intensity of a person’s psychedelic high in 1964. According to the effects, the researchers included cannabis on the list of psychedelics.
They mentioned that the effects of average to high doses of marijuana included synesthesia, visual effects when the user has his eyes closed, improved musical perception, the surfacing of unconscious thoughts, and the unrestrained thought patterns. Most of these symptoms are very common in people who consume psychedelics in low to medium doses.
When psychedelics are taken at higher doses, a classic out-of-body and mental experience happen in some users. Some users suffer from ego dissolution and experts agree cannabis use can also lead to ego dissolution.
So is weed a psychedelic? From the book titled “Cannabis and Spirituality: An Explorer’s Guide to an Ancient Plant Spirit Ally,” Stephen Gray mentioned that marijuana can be gentle and at the same time intense. If a large dose is taken to achieve ego dissolution, cannabis can be very powerful. He also mentioned that cannabis’s ability to produce this effect may also be due to the person’s intention which is again about “set and setting” when consuming cannabis.