Psychoactivity refers to the mental effects of some medications. Subjective experiences of being “high” on marijuana may seem as varied as the persons who report them, yet there are some commonalities. Typically, the psychoactivity of cannabis is unobtrusive; first-time users frequently fail to notice any difference in their perceptions. With repeated use, the psychoactive effects are learned.
There have been many literary descriptions of cannabis intoxication, both graphic and poetic.[i] A heightened sense of mental flow is almost universal. Psychoactivity seems to turn up the “volume” or “brightness” of the mind’s internal dialogue. Sensory perceptions are heightened as the nervous system becomes subtly charged with an added intensity. Intuitive understanding becomes more easily accessible. Unbridled hilarity and a pronounced sense of innate profundity may infuse the mind with compelling expressions.
The psychotropic effects of cannabis vary widely with differences in dosage, potency, method of ingestion, individual difference in metabolism, and relative experience of the user. For one who is familiar with the effects, a few puffs of smoke can pleasantly blend perception and experience in a clear and cohesive associative understanding that may not be obvious to a nonuser. On the other hand, a very large dose orally ingested by an inexperienced subject can result in temporary panic or induce mental confusion, usually followed by deep sedation. THC intoxication can sometimes induce mild visual imagery to swirl and dance behind closed eyes. Although sensations can be intensified to an uncomfortable level by psychoactive excess, true hallucinations or radically altered perceptions are extremely rare and easily averted.
The mild mental stimulation of a normal dose of cannabis can be useful in increasing the attention span and mental concentration. That same mental stimulation can cause an undisciplined mind to wander aimlessly. One might become more absorbed with a project or task using normal doses of cannabis. A much larger dose might induce the same individual to abandon the task and drift into contemplation. While contemplation may be intuitively invaluable under some conditions, associative musings can certainly prove detrimental to students at test time.
Marijuana can exaggerate and intensify preexisting moods. A tired person might feel sleepy, but a more rested person might feel mentally stimulated by the same dose of marijuana. External variables also contribute to the subjective effects. Timothy Leary stressed the value of “set and setting” in the psychology of psychoactive drug experiences. In group use, marijuana tends to increase a person’s susceptibility to the moods of other people, enhancing social harmony.[ii]
Physiological symptoms such as increased heart rate may correlate with the mental and sensory excitement often experienced immediately following administration. This mild increase in heart rate is generally self-correcting within 20 to 40 minutes, and mental excitement steadily diminishes accordingly.
Trace elements of cannabinoids are absorbed by and stored in the fatty tissues of the body. Although detectable by various drug testing methods for several weeks following ingestion, these metabolized trace elements are definitely not psychoactive.[iii] Although some occasional users may report a mild “hangover” the following day, all notable effects of cannabis wear off within a few hours following administration.[iv]
Deeper understandings and a deeper appreciation of art and music are frequently ascribed to cannabis use. Artistic expression is also said to be heightened, which can be interpreted as an increase in associative rather than linear thought patterns. Some researchers have occasionally noted mild episodes of psychoactive déjà vu. The link between cannabis and associative thinking is also indicated by the discovery of cannabinoid receptor sites located in the right frontal lobe of the brain, which governs memory and emotion.[v]
Chronic users, such as patients who consume one or more grams per day over a period of many months or years, universally report that the psychoactive effects of cannabis diminish in proportion to continued use. With continued exposure, the mental stimulation experienced by occasional users is gradually transformed to an overall sensation that may be expressed as a glow of warmth or comfort insulating the patient from a general or specific pain or discomfort. When cannabis is used as an analgesic, patients frequently report that their pain fades away or becomes more distant. These subtle effects contrast greatly with the complete sensory suppression characteristic of opiate narcotic pain killers.
While law enforcement officially incorrectly classify marijuana as a hallucinogenic drug, established medical literature accurately classifies marijuana as a euphoriant.[vi] Many cannabis users feel a heightened sense of self-awareness contributing to a greater feeling of well-being—the literal definition of euphoria.
Related sections: Analgesia, Anxiety Attacks, Cerebral Effects, Stress Reduction, Tolerance.
[i] Grinspoon, Marijuana Reconsidered. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Quick American Archives, 1971
[ii] Rossi, Kuehnle, and Mendelson, “Marijuana and mood in human volunteers.” Pharmacological Biochemistry and Behavior, Vol. 4, pp. 447-453, 1978, Source: National Library of Medicine, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/
[iii] NORML, http://www.norml.org
[iv] Zimmer and Morgan, Marijuana Myths: Marijuana Facts. New York: The Lindesmith Center, 1997
[v] Mathew, Wilson, Coleman, Turkington, and DeGrado. “Marijuana intoxication and brain activation in marijuana smokers.” Life Science, Vol. 60, No. 23, pp. 2075-2089, 1997
[vi] Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. Philedelphia: F.A. Davis Company, 1987