Cannabis and psychedelic substances are the most widely used recreational drugs around the world. They are in different drug categories and their effects are totally different from each other. Psychedelic substances became popular around the 1960s and widely used by the youth of the era whereas cannabis is known to have been used since the ancient history for recreational purposes. So what do you think? Cannabis or psychedelics?
Cannabis is the most used illegal substance in the world. It has a relaxing effect. When cannabis is smoked like a cigarette, its euphoric effect is seen within minutes, reaches its highest level in 30 minutes, and ends in 2-4 hours. Psychedelics, on the other hand, stimulate the brain’s serotonin receptors and in this way enable the person to connect with their emotions. They also activate the sense of sight. Therefore, the person may experience hallucinations or create different sensations that they see. In these stages, consciousness cannot remain as active as usual, and those who have been suppressed in this way come to light.
What Is Cannabis?
Known to be grown and used throughout history, cannabis is one of the commonly used substances. It is produced from the cannabis plant Cannabis sativa, which has been used in the Far East for more than 4000 years. The most effective form is found in the dry, brown-black resinous part of the poppy plant. Its use is by cutting it into pieces after drying and wrapping it in a cigarette and smoking it. There are also uses such as mixing into cake or drinking as tea.
When cannabis is used in cigarettes, the effect is seen within a few minutes; The effect of cannabis, which shows its highest effect in 30 minutes, ends after 2-4 hours. Some movement and mental effects can last up to 12 hours. Apart from cigarettes, cannabis is consumed orally by putting it in food. When it comes to the consumption of cannabis by inhaling the smoke, there is greater use of cannabis than the amount taken orally.
The effects of cannabis vary depending on the strength of cannabis, the way it is used, the method of drinking, the place where it is used, the last experience and expectation of the users, and the biological predispositions of the people. The use of alcohol or other substances that are taken while consuming cannabis also amplifies the effect of cannabis.
Cannabis use causes changes in perception, short-term euphoria and relaxation, exaggeration in sensory experiences, and deterioration in time perception. After use, an increase in activities such as watching movies or listening to music, or eating too much is seen. Cannabis is a gateway to other substances. Studies show that cannabis use increases a person’s potential to become addicted to substances, as well as to abuse other substances.
Dry mouth, hunger, redness of the eyes, increased blood pressure and palpitations are the most common side effects of cannabis use. Decrease in testosterone level and sperm amount and decreased fertility in women are among the side effects seen in continuous use.
In some individuals, reactions such as anxiety, increased feelings of fear, and panic attacks are observed; slowdowns are observed in some individuals. It also causes mental and physical disorders such as restlessness, difficulty sleeping, decreased appetite, weight loss, and impatience.
It is observed that individuals who use cannabis laugh unnecessarily when they are under the influence of the substance after using cannabis, or it is observed that they are afraid and in a state of panic. Problems with balance, redness of the eyes, poor memory, and weakened reactions are other symptoms observed.
After the effect of cannabis wears off, the person experiences fatigue, drowsiness, and anxiety. Depending on the use of cannabis; Disturbances in emotions and thoughts are especially common side effects. There are withdrawal symptoms such as hypersensitivity, irritability, irritability, restlessness, decreased appetite, gastrointestinal disorders, fever, nausea, chills, insomnia, and loss of sense of direction.
Individuals with a high amount of cannabis use experience hallucinations, confusion, and emotional disorders that appear suddenly and last for several days. Cannabis has also been shown to reduce the volume of the brain and cause brain damage.
What Are Psychedelics?
The word psychedelic was first used in 1959 by Humphrey Osmand, who was doing research on LSD, to mean “revealing the soul” and “activating consciousness in a different way”. However, we think that the most striking expression was used by the drug czar of the Nixon era in 1990 -not the drug lord, but the head of the commission that fought against drugs in the USA – Jaffe. He says that the most distinctive feature that distinguishes psychedelics from other substances is their capacity to cause perceptional states that can only be experienced in dreams and religious ceremonies.
The number of academic studies on psychedelics is increasing exponentially every day. The graph of a study published in Canada in 2020 shows us the number of articles published on psychedelics from the 1950s to the present. If you search, you will see that there are different substances under the definition of psychedelic in the sources. In this article, however, we will use the definition of David E. Nichols, a pharmacologist specializing in psychedelics.
We have given the number of citations to the article above, the article we use as a source in this article was published in 2016 and has already received 499 official citations, on the other hand, Nichols has a total of 452 published articles as far as we can find. Nichols defines psychedelics as psychoactive substances that intensely act on 2A serotonin receptors (5-HT2AR), in addition to other receptors, which we will not talk about here today, albeit in small quantities, and lists them as follows:
- Mescaline from peyote or San Pedro cacti
- Psilocybin which is obtained from magic mushrooms,
- LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide or commonly known as acid) which is produced by Alfred Hoffman in 1938 by synthesizing it from lysergic acid obtained by using rye spur alkaloids.
- DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) from Ayahuasca
Psychedelics are used extensively because of their ability to show us the ways we cannot see, or in other words, to increase creativity. Maybe you’ve heard of artists or Steve Jobs who use psychedelics for this purpose. In recent years, it has been used by some software developers in Silicon Valley to increase creativity and to create the ability to look from different angles. A study conducted in the Netherlands in 2018 shows that people can find more creative solutions when under the influence of psychedelics than when they are not under the influence of psychedelics.
In 2006, 36 research subjects were given the psychedelic agent psilocybin under carefully controlled laboratory conditions. The majority reported having had a mystical experience, with 21 out of 36 rated it as one of the five most important personal experiences of their lives. Laboratory-controlled experiments of psychedelic effects have repeatedly shown that the agents can supposedly “create transformative experiences.” (Strong, almost religious experiences that can even lead to a reassessment of central values)
Laboratory studies have also suggested that these drugs may lead to universal “unity” and lasting positive effects, resulting in the dissolution of the ego. The vast majority of people who use psychedelic drugs do not use them in laboratories. According to the results of the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Researchers attended a six-day collective meeting in the USA and England.
People with a tendency to take psychedelic substances were also thought to be more likely to demand transformative experiences. Researchers tried to find the answer to this question by asking participants about their wishes and expectations for a transformative experience. The effect of psychedelic exposure was robust even after taking this desire into account. When psychedelic drugs were included, transformative experiences were different compared to other drugs. They were more positive and more likely to lead to shifts in moral values.
Effect of Cannabis on the Brain
Some changes occur in the brain after the use of cannabis and its derivatives. After the change in the brain, it becomes difficult for the person to control himself. Behavioral disorders that occur with this difficulty in control cause the person to have problems in his family. Cannabis and its derivatives do not affect the recall of well-learned and stored information by recalling it. However, it negatively affects the recall of a word or a certain story.
In the case of intoxication with cannabis and its derivatives, ‘temporal disintegration’ occurs. This is the loss of the ability to remember and coordinate information for a purpose. Any information held in the brain for any period of time is needed, this information is lost when the needs to use it. For example, a person under the influence of cannabis starts a sentence when he wants to express a subject, but cannot finish the sentence because he has forgotten what he started to say.
People who abuse cannabis preparations for a long time develop a picture similar to Korsakoff’s psychosis seen in the same alcoholics. Memory disorders and deterioration of time-space perception are the main symptoms of this picture. These symptoms are related to the damage caused by prolonged use in the limbic system and hippocampus. Cannabinoid receptors are highly prevalent in the hippocampus, and the hippocampus is one of the brain regions most susceptible to long-term cannabinoid abuse.
The use of cannabis in people with a predisposition is associated with psychosis. Severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, paranoia, depression, bipolar disorder, in particular, intensification and aggravation of paranoid psychosis and paranoid behavior disorders can be caused by cannabis.
In other words, people who smoke too much can feel in danger, they may feel uncomfortable with the people around them and attack people, they may feel like they are being followed as if they are harmed by the police or unnamed dangers, they may feel as if someone is going to harm their family, they may feel that their spouse is cheating on them, etc. They may hear sounds or see images, which we call hallucinations.
In other words, cannabis may cause the person to enter a psychotic environment. Beyond that, cannabis also blunts cognitive abilities in the short term while being smoked. In other words, cognitively, it blunts memory, in the short term, it blunts abilities such as calculating and remembering information. They may show unprovoked anger behaviors. In people who smoke too much cannabis, this cognitive impairment can be long-term, meaning that young people who use cannabis every day can actually lose their cognitive abilities, especially as the years go by.
It is known that the use of cannabis and its derivatives, especially at an early age, causes severe irreversible psychotic disorders. We can say that 15% of chronic cannabis addicts turn into schizophrenia, which causes some serious mental disorders and damage the mental structure. In fact, this should be particularly worrying if we consider that only cannabis use increases the likelihood of a psychotic event.
The personality of the consumer and the effect of cannabis on the brain plays an absolute role. People with anxiety, fear, and panic may experience severe psychological reactions. They tend to get drunk, depressed, and withdrawn. Those who use cannabinoids and their derivatives have problems maintaining alertness and attention during the performance of tasks that require more than 50 minutes of attention. There are also difficulties in focusing on a particular subject.
Cannabis use is believed to be common, especially among musicians and other artists. In art circles, there is a belief that cannabis preparations increase creativity. However, objective scientific studies indicate that there is no significant difference in creativity between artists who use and do not use cannabinoids. This is totally an urban legend.
In this case, the view that creativity increases with the use of cannabis and similar preparations, as in all other addictive substances, does not go beyond an urban legend that has no scientific basis. On the contrary, it is also possible that long-term use in addicted people impairs mental health and negatively affects creativity. Although some world-famous artists use cannabis or other similar substances, there are many artists who have been successful without using substances.
On the other hand, there are also untimely deaths among artists who use drugs due to suicide and other health reasons. If they didn’t use drugs, they would probably produce more by living a longer life and healthier. Cannabinoids adversely affect performance associated with performing tasks that require particular attention to dose, route of administration, and user sensitivity. Confusion occurs in cannabis users, and one of the most important reasons for this is the deterioration of the hand-eye coordination with the use of the substance.
Impairment of hand-eye coordination causes disruption and poor performance in all tasks that need to be performed through this coordination. In tests that evaluate both psychomotor performance and memory, such as the number-symbol test, the performance of those who use cannabis and similar substances is low. It is clear that cannabis and its derivatives have negative effects on vehicle use. Driving under the influence of cannabis is also restricted by law.
An international team of researchers led by Imperial College professor Oliver Howes in London, in a newly published review article, emphasizes that regular long-term cannabis use lowers levels of dopamine, an important chemical in the brain’s reward center. Heavy cannabis use has so far been associated with risks of mental disorders such as psychosis, addiction, depression, suicidality, cognitive impairment, and lack of motivation. However, the causality of cannabis in these associations was not conclusively proven.
The steps taken to solve the mental mechanism of action of cannabis are important in this respect. “There is conclusive evidence that cannabis blunts dopamine levels, and it’s critical to understand exactly how this happens and what it means for users’ health,” the team of researchers said. The study analyzed the effect of dopamine by analyzing numerous scientific studies involving brain scans of long-term cannabis users.
The dopamine system forms the basis of learning and motivation mechanisms. It was concluded that long-term cannabis use was associated with blunting dopamine in humans. Cannabis is similar in this respect to cocaine or amphetamine, but probably not to the same degree.
Effect of Psychedelic Substances on the Brain
The first appearance of psychedelic substances was in the middle of the second world war when Albert Hoffmann conducted the first LSD experiment in Basel, Switzerland. When we look at the structural formula of LSD, it is very similar to the structure of serotonin. Later, as scientists continued their research on this subject, they continued to discover substances with psychedelic effects such as psilocybin, which is found in a kind of fungus, mescaline, which is found in a cactus variety, and DMT, which is found in the ayahuasca plant.
All these psychedelic substances bind to serotonin receptors in the body and show their effect for 3 to 12 hours depending on the dose and substance taken. Along with hallucinations and various factors affecting brain activity, its side effects can even lead to death in overdose. About 15-20 years after the discovery of these substances, even their medical use was banned in about 40 countries due to the necessity of political reasons.
In addition, the examination of psychedelic substances on humans, including for positive or negative therapeutic purposes, was also prohibited, and in many countries, their use, sale, possession, and even cultivation of plants began to be considered a crime. Despite the insufficient research results during the period of its prohibition, various negative scenarios were put forward to prevent the use of these substances. Claims have been made that the brain’s negative effects on the chromosomes that damage the learning and memory center cause birth defects and fatal diseases.
According to the studies carried out to date, there is no definitive proof and research results that it causes chromosomal damage and birth defects, as well as the fact that it does not cause toxic effects on the brain, causes physical addiction. The risks may have been exaggerated to prevent use at that time, but like every chemical substance taken into the body, no matter how herbal it is, its effects on the body are not without its effects.
Especially nowadays, mixing psychedelic substances, which can be accessed illegally, with substances such as methamphetamine or PCP, causes bigger problems. In addition, if you have a predisposition to any psychological disorder, the use of such substances increases the tendency to believe in the unreal world caused by those substances, to take higher doses to disconnect from real life, and with this, the rate of people who believe in the unreal world tend to harm others and themselves. . This is generally the effects of psychological disorders rather than the chemical effect of the substance on the body.
According to new research, no significant connection has been established between the use of such psychedelic substances and schizophrenia and psychopathic diseases in individuals who are conscious and healthy without exaggerating the dose for life, and it has been proven that it can even be used in the treatment of some psychological diseases. No matter how much the research and new findings have changed, the rules determined by the countries in the legal sense have not changed. The prohibition of use was further expanded.
Although today’s political and legal permissions have been made difficult, various experiments are being carried out in order to be used in the treatment of psychological diseases such as depression and anxiety, especially in the treatment of alcohol and cigarette addiction, since psychedelic substances are different from chemical and laboratory synthetic drugs. We have said that the effect of such substances is directly related to the current psychology of the person and the susceptibility to psychological diseases, and the biggest effect of the use of such drugs for treatment is the patient’s perspective on recovery.
Because such substances affect brain activity at a high rate, they increase the connections between the regions of the brain and even provide the establishment of new connection paths. In other words, if the patient approaches the drug with psychology as seen in the placebo effect, that is, if he believes that the drug is a necessary and useful method for its treatment, it can become a much faster and more valid treatment than the placebo effect, because there is a high increase in brain activity and with it, our body chemically (neurotransmitter and hormone release) shows high activity.
When we look at the dependency factor, addiction changes as physical and psychological dependence, and physical dependence can be observed after psychological dependence. Addiction usually occurs with the stimulation of the ego’s reward center, especially people who are exposed to severe stress can become addicted to substances that stimulate the reward mechanisms and reduce the stress level of the body and brain a little.
In general, addictive substances are associated with the dopamine and dopaminergic system, as well as the fact that psychedelic substances generally bind to serotonin receptors and have almost negligible effects on the dopaminergic system, has been used in studies intended to be used in the treatment of alcohol and cigarette addiction.
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