Most recreational cannabis strains contain the psychotropic molecule THC. Upon inhalation, this cannabinoid enters the bloodstream and binds to CB1 receptors concentrated in the central nervous system. These receptors belong to the endocannabinoid system—a body-wide network that regulates various processes crucial to human physiology.
Interestingly, THC mimics the internally produced cannabinoid (or “endocannabinoid”) anandamide (AEA). Also known as the “bliss molecule”, researchers believe anandamide underpins the runner’s high phenomenon, as the molecule helps to regulate motivation, pleasure, and reward.
Upon binding to CB1 receptors, THC causes a surge in dopamine. This signalling molecule gives rise to sensations of euphoria, laughter, and other quintessential aspects of the cannabis high. Conversely, the herb may also induce negative side effects, such as paranoia, confusion, and panic.
Although not presently categorised as a hallucinogen, humans have long associated the herb with mystical experiences. The Hindus of India and Buddhists of Nepal drink cannabis-infused Bhang to achieve transcendental states. The Rastafari smoke cannabis to become closer to Jah. Even casual cannabis users have insights and philosophical breakthroughs to share.
However, cannabis doesn’t induce intense trips into other realms or cause out-of-body experiences—at least, not to the same degree as true psychedelics. This makes sense when comparing the pharmacological action of cannabis versus psychedelics.
With that said, some users still claim to experience hallucinations when they consume cannabis. In some cases, these experiences stem from underlying mental conditions, such as psychosis, that THC may exacerbate. Yet, THC may also give rise to hallucinations in healthy people.
A paper published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research discusses the occurrence of self-reported hallucinations after an acute dose of cannabis. Following the vaporization of 25mg of THC, the subject reported a hallucinogenic experience that differed from those caused by classic psychedelics. Despite the small sample size, the researchers suggest cannabis may induce a hallucinogenic experience through a different mechanism than other psychedelic compounds.