A new research by the Imperial College in London has explored the effects of the combination of psychedelics and cannabis. A team of researchers from the Department of Brain Sciences of the Faculty of Medicine and the Centre for Psychedelic Research has come to the conclusion that there could be a possible interaction between psychedelics and cannabis. The name of this research is: Psychedelic experience dose-dependently modulated by cannabis: results of a prospective online survey.
But what are psychedelics? Psychedelics, like some components of cannabis, are psychoactive substances.
A psychoactive or psychotropic substance affects how the brain works. It amplifies familiar states of conscious experience like mood, feelings, awareness or behaviour. Alcohol, nicotine, cannabis, some pain medicines and caffeine are legal psychoactive substances (in some countries). LSD, DMT, psylocibin, ayahuasca, cocaine, amphetamines or heroin are examples of (mostly) illegal psychoactive substances.
Psychedelics are psychoactive substances (they change the way our brain works) “with a mind-manifesting capability showing useful or beneficial properties of the mind”. This is how Humphry Osmond defined psychedelics in 1957. Psychedelics alter states of conscious experience in a way that they are no longer familiar to us. Some people consider that psychedelics bring new states of consciousness. This is the “mystical experience” associated with psychedelics.
The way psychedelics will affect you will vary according to these factors:
Psychedelic experiences are called “trips” and they can last approximately:
It is uncommon to classify cannabis as a psychedelic substance. Only purified THC has proven empirically to be psychedelic, but not the plant itself. The effects of psychedelics will vary depending on their composition. They are mainly associated with alterations in sensory perception. Some effects from psychedelics that differ from the psychoactive effects of cannabis are:
This research used this online platform to collect data from 321 adult participants who already had an intention of taking psychedelics. They filled out several surveys at specified time points: first 7 days before intake and once again 1 day after the intake. Participants specified their psychedelic choice from this list:
Participants also indicated the dose used within these parameters: a low dose (≦50 μg), a moderate dose (≦100 μg), a high dose (≦200 μg), a very high dose (≦300 μg ) or an extremely high dose (> 300 μg).
Participants informed if they used other kinds of drugs such as cannabis, alcohol, tobacco or stimulants choosing from several dosages with the parameters: not used, low, medium and high. Because the doses were not specific, this led to subjective-self reports.
Cannabis seemed to increase the effects of psychedelics. The parameters used for this assessment included five questionnaires:
After this research, the cannabis experience combined with psychedelics gave interesting results: a linear relationship with MEQ (mystical experience), ASC-Vis (visual) and EDI (ego-dissolution); a quadratic relationship with the CEQ (the higher the cannabis dose, the higher these effects: grief, fear, death, insanity, isolation, physical distress, and paranoia); and no relationship at all with the EBI (emotional catharsis or epiphany).
Smoking cannabis during ayahuasca ceremonies is often practiced in order to minimize bad trips. The investigators of this survey made a link between low cannabis doses helping to lower anxiety (anxiolytic effect) and higher doses provoking the contrary (anxiogenic effect). These are the contradictory effects of cannabis: higher doses of CBD give an anxiolytic effect while higher doses of THC provoke anxiogenic effects. This is one of the reasons why CBD can help in case of a bad trip or lessen potential bad consequences of getting high.
It is important to note that the results of this research are based on 53 people using low doses of cannabis, 45 using medium doses and 28 using high doses. The amount of researched participants is thus not very high. Moreover, the design of the survey does not give solid indications of causality to the ability of cannabis to enhance psychedelic experiences and the composition of the cannabis used was not analysed.
CBD and THC interact with the endocannabinoid system, and several studies mentioned in this survey suggest that they also interact with serotonin receptors. That means that endocannabinoids modulate the serotonin system. And this is one of the reasons why medical cannabis is also used in cases of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, insomnia, and depressed mood associated with chronic diseases (HIV/AIDS, chronic non-cancer pain).
There is a potential overlap between the receptor targets of both cannabis and psychedelics. And here is where the therapeutic use of psychedelics might be interesting! Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy (PAP) is gaining space and recognition, both in the short and in the long term. It is a psychiatric practice with a mental health professional and it is part of a psychotherapeutic process. In Canada, psilocybin is given during end of life psychotherapy to soothe distress about death. PAP is also showing good results in the treatment of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), addiction, depression and eating disorders.
It is still not exactly clear how psychedelics work during PAP. Psychedelics could change people’s mindset through mystical experiences. Another theory suggests that psychedelics could “reset” the brain by acting on neurotransmitters, changing behaviour and mood. Also, psychedelic users -beautifully named “psychonauts”- could be more suggestible and thus more prone to respond positively to therapy or to their own trip.
What we do know is that we are open to learn about further research on the possibility of combining cannabis and psychedelics. Who knows, could this lead to more self-discovery, love for nature and healing.