The history of cannabis as a substance for recreational and medicinal purposes dates back a very long time ago, as do the misconceptions surrounding it. Obviously, not everyone has first-hand experience with the effects of weed. Because of this, opinions are formed and tales are spread without any real scientific backing.

Tall tales about weed have often been disseminated intentionally, and this doesn’t exactly help with educating people on its true effects. Often, these stories haven’t just been exaggerated, they also serve as a sensationalist tool for certain parties to demonize the herb for their own agenda. The infamous "Reefer Madness" hysteria from the USA in the 1930 comes to mind.

One of the misconceptions about cannabis is that it induces hallucinations akin to some strong psychedelic drugs. But can cannabis really cause hallucinations? We want to examine this claim. To start, let’s first look into what a hallucination actually is.

reefer madness movie hallucination cannabis

WHAT IS A HALLUCINATION?

A quick look at the definition of a hallucination tells us that it is “an experience involving the apparent perception of something not present.” In other words, it is when the brain has us perceive or even believe that something is real, which it isn’t for anyone else.

A hallucination doesn’t necessarily have to involve something out of the ordinary or fantastic. Because of that, hallucinations aren’t always obvious to those that experience them. Some mental health conditions like schizophrenia are a good example for this. Those who suffer from this condition may see or hear things that are not real. These are classic hallucinations, although they do not necessarily stem from drug use.

There are drugs that will cause genuine hallucinations. Not surprisingly, these drugs are called hallucinogens. LSD, peyote, and magic mushrooms are just some examples of hallucinogenic drugs. The principle of how these drug-induced hallucinations come about is similar to mental conditions like schizophrenia, yet the drug’s effects on the brain are short-lived.

IS ALTERED PERCEPTION THE SAME AS HALLUCINATION?

There is really no clearly defined line where altered perception ends and hallucination begins. Obviously, hallucination is altered perception, but altered perception doesn’t necessarily lead to a true hallucination. Or simply said, most of the time when people experience altered perceptions, say from using a "soft drug" like weed, they know that what they experience is not entirely “real.” A hallucination, on the other hand, may come across as so real and “convincing” that the consumer can’t differentiate it from reality. This could be another way to tell the two apart.

Many drugs will, in one way or another, initiate “altered perception.” Cannabis can cause temporary changes in perception, depending on how you choose to define it. “Altered perception” by itself is a rather vague expression that can mean a great many things. Even a mild effect from weed, for example its relaxing properties, would account for some alterations. This, of course, is a far cry from tripping on acid or shrooms when the nature of reality itself can be obfuscated.

HOW IS CANNABIS DIFFERENT FROM PSYCHEDELIC SUBSTANCES?

Psychedelic drugs that cause hallucinations, such as LSD and magic mushrooms induce mind-altering effects via substances known as serotonergics. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger that transports signals in the brain. A serotonergic drug produces its effects via interactions with the serotonin system.

These drugs can directly stimulate or block the transmitting of messages (neurotransmission) in the brain. The active compounds in mushrooms or LSD do this by binding to serotonin receptors in the body. What’s more, it is believed that these substances don’t just block the body’s natural serotonin, but can activate various parts of the brain independently.

Cannabis doesn’t contain any serotonergics like LSD, mescaline, or other hallucinogenic drugs. One of the active compounds in cannabis is THC (the compound responsible for the high), which works in a different way. THC binds to cannabinoid receptors that are found all throughout the body and brain in the endocannabinoid system.

The THC contained in cannabis doesn’t stimulate or activate brain processing in such a dramatic way as serotonergics do. This is also the reason that cannabis won’t cause hallucinations, but may alter perception.

cannabis psychedelic effect

BUT DOESN’T CANNABIS ALSO HAVE A PSYCHEDELIC EFFECT?

If you look around on cannabis forums and similar places, you will likely find someone who claims that some of the stronger varieties of cannabis, namely sativas, can induce psychedelic effects. What’s up with this?

There is an easy explanation for the misconception surrounding the “psychedelic” effects of cannabis and how some strains can allegedly cause visuals. Cannabis can indeed affect the optic nerve directly. This can result in all kinds of effects, such as blurred vision or “flashes” - visual distortions some may mistake for hallucinations.

But these effects wouldn’t technically qualify as hallucinations. Likewise, there are anecdotal reports on how taking cannabis together with some medications makes for a “psychedelic” experience; here too, the effect would be entirely different as compared to true hallucinogenic drugs.

WHAT ABOUT LACED WEED?

Once in awhile, you may come across someone who swears that they had a psychedelic experience with visions and hallucinations from cannabis. Here, we can actually speculate that the weed was laced with some other drug.

This is the danger that comes with obtaining herb from the black market. All it takes is an unscrupulous source and you may end up putting something in your body that you really didn’t prepare for. The very real danger of tainted cannabis is also one of the main arguments for legalizing weed. So, if you do get hallucinations from the weed, it sure isn’t a sign of the “quality.” In fact, it’s just the opposite! In short: avoid it!

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

Cannabis is beneficial for all sorts of things. The altered perception experienced from consuming cannabis can make you happy, stoned, giggly, and can help you relax and soothe physical pain, among its many other uses. But what cannabis doesn’t do is induce a psychedelic, reality-altering high with intense hallucinations. Obviously, classifying cannabis as something it isn’t doesn’t end up benefitting anyone, which is why it’s high time for this sullied myth to go away.

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