Researchers have paired psilocybin with psychotherapy to treat addiction and depression. Could cannabis assisted psychotherapy offer the same therapeutic benefits?

The Journal of Psychopharmacology recently published a study called “Cannabis-induced oceanic boundlessness” which found that large doses of cannabis are “comparable to those identified in trials of psilocybin that precede relief from cancer-related distress, treatment-resistant depression.”

The goal of the research is to help connect how we understand addiction treatment across the board. Potentially, this work could support the development of a cannabis-assisted psychotherapy comparable to psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy.

cannabis assisted psychotherapy
Cannabis as medicine

Aside from cannabis psychotherapy, the use of cannabis as medicine has increased in the last decade. Proponents of medical cannabis see it as an important harm reduction strategy, and argue that it can function as a qualified substitute for prescription drugs, particularly opioids.

An article published in the Harm Reduction Journal by Kvamme, S.L., Pedersen, M.M., Rømer Thomsen, K. et al. details research around the impacts of cannabis as medicine (CaM). Specifically, “to explore who substitutes prescription drugs with cannabis, the type of prescription drugs substituted and the type of cannabis used, and the impact that substitution with cannabis has on prescription drug use as well as the motives for substitution in terms of experienced effects and side effects.”

Scientists only recently found evidence of the ECS when they discovered CB1 in 1988, so research is still ongoing into exactly how it functions. However, most data find that it helps our bodies regulate pain, mood, appetite, gastrointestinal motility, memory, emotions, stress response, immune function, and more.

When a person ingests the plant-based cannabinoids in cannabis, which are similar molecular shapes to endocannabinoids, they fit into the CB1 and CB2 receptors and trigger reactions that result in either very high or very low levels of specific neurotransmitters, which the cells of the nervous system, as well as other systems in the body, use to communicate with each other.

The mysticism of change

Cannabis’s potential to create these experiences is still unclear because research has been limited. But history tells a different story of transcending materialism and enhancing philosophical insight. Spiritual traditions suggest that many humans believed cannabis could generate these kinds of mystical moments throughout history in places like Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Traditions allude to cannabis’s role in peak experiences that “emphasize a sense of blessedness.” Groups of Sufi mystics, Tibetan Buddhists, Zion Coptics, Rastafarians, and Hindus refer to the plant in religious offerings, rituals, or traditions.

“Generally, ratings of mystical-type experiences tend to increase in sessions prior to improvements in cancer-related psychological distress (Griffiths et al., 2016; Richards et al., 1977), depression (Carhart-Harris et al.,2018), alcohol problems (Bogenschutz et al., 2015), or smoking cessation (Garcia-Romeu et al., 2014). Although the relevant analyses are essentially correlational, the idea that a specific subjective state precedes improvement underscores reports from non-pharmacological interventions that focus on transformative experiences (e.g., Miller and C’De Baca, 2001). That is, a more mystical experience occurs prior to dramatic change. Hundreds of people have reported mystical experiences after the administration of tryptamine psychedelics in laboratory or survey research (see Barrett and Griffiths, 2017).”

Cannabis-induced oceanic boundlessness

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