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Study Suggests Cannabis Can Induce Experiences Akin to Psychedelics

A new cannabis study reveals that high doses of THC may induce a mystical-like state of altered consciousness know as oceanic boundlessness.
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Study Suggests Cannabis Can Induce Experiences Akin to Psychedelics

A new study reveals that high doses of THC may induce a “mystical-like” state of altered consciousness known as oceanic boundlessness, with implications for new mental health therapies.

A recently published study suggests that high doses of cannabis can induce oceanic boundlessness, an altered state of consciousness commonly associated with psychedelic drugs. The mystical-like experience of oceanic boundlessness, which is characterized by a feeling of oneness with the universe, is the subject of ongoing research and could be connected to the potential therapeutic benefits of drugs including psilocybin and LSD.

Previous studies have shown that oceanic boundlessness experiences induced by psilocybin are associated with improvements in treatment-resistant depression.

Mitch Earleywine, a professor of psychology at the University at Albany in New York and lead author of the newly published research, told PsyPost that the study’s findings indicate cannabis could have similar “subjective effects that seem to underlie psilocybin’s antidepressant effects.”

The report, titled “Cannabis-induced oceanic boundlessness,” was originally released online earlier this year before its July publication in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Explaining Oceanic Boundlessness

In his book “The Psychedelic Renaissance,” U.K. researcher and psychiatrist Ben Sessa explains that oceanic boundlessness is a feeling of being at one with the universe, writing that “psychedelics can induce the experience of expansion beyond the traditional boundaries of personhood. One no longer defines oneself as simply a doctor, a father or mother, a husband or wife, a friend, neighbour or citizen; rather one is a leaf on a tree, a drop of water in a lake, a breath on the wind. One can feel part of a plethora of vibrating energy moving like electricity though all things, stretching back in time to the very origin of the universe.”

Research into oceanic boundlessness induced by psilocybin, a psychoactive compound found in magic mushrooms, has shown that the phenomenon may be linked to the mental health benefits of psychedelic drugs. Earleywine said those studies inspired the hypothesis that high doses of cannabis might induce a similar response.

“Once the psilocybin labs started emphasizing that oceanic boundlessness seemed to be the mechanism underlying the molecule’s antidepressant effects, nearly every cannabis fan couldn’t help but ask, ‘Hey! Doesn’t marijuana have comparable effects?’” said Earleywine.

“My students had already shown that ‘challenging experiences’ were common when folks ate more edibles than they intended to,” he added. “Asking folks if they thought cannabis also produced these oceanic boundlessness effects seemed an obvious next step.”

To conduct the study, researchers recruited a group of 852 cannabis users and asked them to complete a survey about the subjective effect of their most intense THC experience. The survey included items from the oceanic boundlessness subscale of the Altered States of Consciousness Scale, a questionnaire frequently used in psychedelic research. Subjects also provided demographic information and answered questions about their cannabis use.

Earleywine’s research revealed that almost 20% of the study subjects scored higher than 60% of the maximum value on the oceanic boundlessness subscale, the level at which respondents are considered to have had a “complete” or “breakthrough” oceanic boundlessness experience. Previous studies with psychedelic drugs have indicated that complete oceanic boundlessness events are more closely associated with decreases in depression than “non-complete” experiences.

More Study Needed

The rate at which cannabis induced a complete oceanic boundlessness experience was “significantly smaller than estimates from formal psilocybin trials.” However, the investigators noted that a controlled study into the ability of cannabis to induce the state could produce a higher rate of achieving oceanic boundlessness and called for further research into the issue.

“Formal protocols that borrow from psilocybin research, including the use of stated intentions, psychological support, music, and an eye mask, might enhance the rates of THC-induced breakthrough, potentially leading to therapeutic effects,” the researchers wrote in the study. “In addition, since THC’s initial pharmacological impact varies from psilocybin’s, comparing the two in randomized clinical trials might answer important questions related to the role of subjective experiences in psychoactive-assisted psychotherapy.”

The study offers preliminary data on the potential for cannabis to generate mystical-like experiences including oceanic boundlessness. But more research including clinical trials will be needed to determine if THC-induced oceanic boundlessness can have beneficial therapeutic effects on mental health, Earleywine says, particularly in light of potential negative effects that have been associated with cannabis use and depression.

“We need to bring folks into the lab to see if these effects are real, then get approval for a clinical trial,” he said. “I don’t recommend the home game. Cannabis can make depression worse for some people, or so it seems.”

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