Cannabis (also called weed, pot, or marijuana) is a mind-altering plant and one of the most popular drugs worldwide. It’s rich in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive compound that causes euphoria and relaxation. THC can also cause sensory distortions, especially at higher doses, which leads a lot of people to wonder: is cannabis a psychedelic?
Cannabis is not a psychedelic, although it can cause a few psychedelic-like effects. THC differs from psychedelic drugs in several ways. Most importantly, THC works through a different mechanism in the brain, and it doesn’t alter your perception to the degree that psychedelics do.
Here’s a look at how cannabis and psychedelics compare, the similarities and differences in their effects, and how each one changes your brain function.
What Is a Psychedelic Drug?
Psychedelics (also called hallucinogens) are a class of drugs that cause distorted sensory perception, hallucinations, and non-ordinary states of consciousness.
There are four classical psychedelics:
- LSD (acid)
- Psilocybin (mushrooms)
Classical psychedelics work by activating serotonin receptors in your brain, especially in regions that influence perception, sense of self, creative thinking, and sensory experiences (like touch, sight, and hearing).1
What Is Cannabis?
Cannabis (also called weed, pot, or marijuana) is a leafy, flowering herb that’s high in the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC activates a special set of receptors in your brain called cannabinoid receptors—especially a type called cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1).
CB1 receptors influence memory, hunger, motivation, anxiety, and mood.2, 3, 4 THC alters these pathways, which explains its main effects: impaired short-term memory, increased appetite, euphoria, and relaxation.
Can Cannabis Cause Hallucinations?
In rare cases, cannabis may cause hallucinations.
A 2018 case study reports that a healthy 30-year-old man experienced intense hallucinations and altered perception after vaporizing 25 milligrams of THC (a very large dose for someone who doesn’t use cannabis regularly). He ingested the THC in a laboratory setting as part of a study.
However, the effects of the cannabis-induced hallucination were different from those of a psychedelic hallucination.
The man reported highly enhanced sensory perceptions (touch, taste, hearing, smell, etc.). He said he had particularly intense somaesthesia—a heightened experience of physical sensations like touch, pain, and pleasure. However, his sensory perceptions were not distorted; they were simply more intense than usual.
The man also displayed marked decreases in affect (outward displays of emotion) and cognition (targeted intellectual thought)—two things that are often enhanced during psychedelic experiences.
The researchers concluded that this response to cannabis was rare (they’d never seen these effects previously) and that, while it shared some overlap with a classical hallucination, it also differed in several important ways. They concluded that this man’s response should be considered a negative reaction to THC, not a standard effect.
So while cannabis may cause hallucination-like effects in rare cases (and, perhaps, when taken at unusually high doses), it won’t cause hallucinations in the vast majority of people.
How do Cannabis and Psychedelics Differ?
Cannabis and psychedelics differ in several important ways. Most notably, they act through completely different mechanisms in your brain, which leads to different drug effects.
Cannabis activates cannabinoid receptors, which causes effects that include:
- Increased appetite
- Impaired short-term memory
- Time distortion
- Decreased cognition
Psychedelics activate serotonin receptors, which causes effects that include:
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
- Perceptual distortions
- Time distortion
- Ego death (feeling like you’re one with the external world; loss of sense of self)
- Depersonalization (feeling like you’re floating outside your body)
- Derealization (a sense that your surroundings aren’t real)
- Mystical experiences
Psychedelics tend to produce significantly more intense effects than cannabis does. Psychedelics also usually last longer (up to 12 hours, depending on the drug), while cannabis wears off within 3-4 hours.
And while there’s some overlap in drug effects between the two—euphoria, time distortion—the major differentiator is hallucination.
Psychedelics cause hallucinations and notable perceptual distortions. You may hear or see things that aren’t there, or you may experience changes to your environment that seem real—walls moving, surfaces that seem to be “breathing” or changing color, and so on. You’re unlikely to get those effects from cannabis.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cannabis and Psychedelics
Here are a few frequently asked questions about cannabis and its possible psychedelic effects.
Is cannabis a psychedelic?
Cannabis is not a psychedelic. Cannabis and psychedelics act on different parts of your brain and have different effects. Cannabis does not cause the same kind of sensory distortions or hallucinations that psychedelics do, and while there’s minor overlap in effects between the two drugs—euphoria, for example—they’re very different.
Can THC induce psychedelic effects?
Generally speaking, THC does not cause psychedelic effects like hallucinations. There are a few rare case reports of people who experience hallucination-like effects after ingesting large amounts of THC, but those examples are unusual. In the vast majority of cases, cannabis will not cause psychedelic effects.
Can you hallucinate from smoking weed?
Weed is unlikely to cause hallucinations. There have been rare reports of people experiencing hallucination-like effects after consuming large amounts of cannabis, but generally speaking, smoking weed won’t cause you to hallucinate the way that, say, a psychedelic drug would.
Is Cannabis a Psychedelic Drug?
Cannabis is not a psychedelic drug. It has a different mechanism of action in your brain and it causes different drug effects than psychedelics do. Most notably, cannabis is unlikely to cause hallucinations.
In very rare cases, people may experience hallucination-like effects in response to cannabis. However, there are only a couple examples of cannabis-induced hallucinations in clinical research, and they’re rare enough to prompt case study reports by the researchers who observed them.
In the vast majority of cases, you will not experience psychedelic effects after smoking cannabis.
- Aghajanian GK, Marek GJ. Serotonin and hallucinogens. Neuropsychopharmacology. 1999 Aug;21(2 Suppl):16S-23S.
- Koch M. Cannabinoid Receptor Signaling in Central Regulation of Feeding Behavior: A Mini-Review. Front Neurosci. 2017 May 24;11:293.
- Witkin JM, Tzavara ET, Nomikos GG. A role for cannabinoid CB1 receptors in mood and anxiety disorders. Behav Pharmacol. 2005 Sep;16(5–6):315–31.
- Wise LE, Thorpe AJ, Lichtman AH. Hippocampal CB(1) receptors mediate the memory impairing effects of Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2009 Aug;34(9):2072–80.
- Barrett FS, Schlienz NJ, Lembeck N, Waqas M, Vandrey R. “hallucinations” following acute cannabis dosing: A case report and comparison to other hallucinogenic drugs. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2018 Mar 1;3(1):85–93.