Marijuana is sometimes described as a hallucinogen, which may seem like Reefer Madness garbage to most tokers. However, scientists recently discovered a critical gene mutation in people who say they trip from weed, indicating that, yes, weed can act as a hallucinogen in some people.
The study, published Monday in Translational Psychiatry, was a massive joint research project with Yale University, Washington University, Indiana University, Boston University, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Schools of Medicine. The State University of New York Downstate Medical Center also contributed.
Here’s what they did. The researchers collected DNA samples from over 9,000 American subjects — roughly half of European descent and the other half of African descent. Then, they asked the subjects, “Because of your marijuana use, did you ever experience any of the following: Hearing, seeing or smelling things that weren’t really there?”
The subjects’ answers were compared to their gene sequences. Subjects who reported seeing, smelling, or hearing things “that weren’t really there” all shared one thing in common: a mutation in the CHRM3 gene, a gene responsible for a whole bunch of wild shit. And get this: the CHRM3 gene responsible for causing hallucinations likely originated in European populations, not African ones.
So, Harry Anslinger: Eat your heart out, buddy.
What does CHRM3 do, exactly? Scientists are still figuring that out, but one thing it’s responsible for is regulating our REM sleep cycles. REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep occurs when we enter the deepest stage of sleep and begin dreaming. So, just as we experience things entirely in our heads while we sleep, part of this dream world may creep into the waking world when people with the CHRM3 mutation smoke weed.
CHRM3 is also physically linked, by spatial distance, to other genes that are associated with hallucinations. In mice, we know this variant of CHRM3 tends to come with a total package of other mutant genes including versions of GABAG2, CHRNA4, and HRH3, three genes that regulate dopamine and serotonin production in our brains. And, as you probably already know, dopamine and serotonin are responsible for the trips caused by psychedelics such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and DMT.
The above mentioned genes are also associated with schizophrenia, a genetically inherited, permanent mental condition marked by hallucinations. Specifically, the mutant version of CHRM3 produces an unusual protein, AChR M3, which is seen at elevated levels in schizophrenic patients. Antipsychotic drugs prescribed to schizophrenics can counteract this protein, reducing hallucinations.
Does this mean that weed can cause schizophrenia? Absolutely not. (And Harvard University has our backs on this.) Doctors believe schizophrenia is largely genetic, though some environmental factors may trigger its onset. While scientists are still debating how marijuana can contribute to schizophrenia’s symptoms, all this latest study does is show that there are some genetic similarities between people who trip on weed and people who are schizophrenic. Don’t get it twisted.
So, there you have it: Some people see, hear, or smell things that aren’t there when they’re on weed. It’s genetic; it has nothing to do with their tolerance levels, experience levels, or other drug use. And if anything, they’re getting more out of their cannabis high than folks who don’t hallucinate (just a little) from marijuana, in my totally humble, absolutely sober opinion.
So, in the name of freeing this plant, please stop shaming people who trip out when they smoke weed. They can’t help it, and elitist weedsplaining isn’t going to change that.
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