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Are you hallucinating, or does weed really cause hallucinations?

Research suggests cannabis use is highly unlikely to cause true hallucinations. (Kevin Johnson/Santa Cruz Sentinel/MCT) (Tribune Media MCT)

Research suggests cannabis use is highly unlikely to cause true hallucinations. (Kevin Johnson/Santa Cruz Sentinel/MCT)

Once again, we're dedicating today's Leaflet newsletter to the comical, contentious tale of two Toronto police officers who purportedly got so high off weed edibles that they had to call for backup.

Details of the story are still sketchy, especially since the original reporting relied on unnamed police sources. Those unnamed, leak-happy cops told both CBC Toronto and the Toronto Sun that the stoned officers suffered "hallucinations" after allegedly eating the THC-laced evidence seized from a weed dispensary.

That's quite a sensational claim, and it might help explain why this story has been amplified by media outlets from Kansas City to London.

Does cannabis use actually case hallucinations, though?

CBC Toronto asked that exact question in a follow-up story, and reached some rather inexact conclusions. One scientist told the Ceeb that yes, cannabis can cause hallucinations — he's even observed it in his own lab. A physician told CBC that cannabis on its own doesn't cause hallucinations, and suggested the edibles in question may have been laced with hallucinogenic agents.

We put the question of hallucinogenic weed to an expert of our own choosing: Mitch Earleywine, a professor of psychology at SUNY Albany, the author of "Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence," and editor of "Mind-Altering Drugs: The Science of Subjective Experience."

"Auditory hallucinations (really hearing something that is not real and genuinely believing it IS real) have only been reported at outrageously high doses and in markedly fewer than one per cent of uses," wrote Professor Earleywine in an email.

"Visual hallucinations (actually seeing something that is not there and thinking it is real) are even less likely than auditory. Only an extremely mis-informed user would ingest enough to make these happen. It would not stun me to learn that hallucinogens were added to this scenario."

Of course, that's assuming that the cops in question actually were hallucinating. Earleywine made another important point about that claim:

"Most people don't really know what a hallucination is. They tend to think modest changes in sight or sound count as hallucinations, but these are called perceptual aberrations. They are more common than hallucinations, but they are much like the common experience of incorrectly thinking someone called your name in the midst of some chatter, or noticing an afterimage when you close your eyes. "

So even if these cops did see things after ingesting cannabis edibles, that doesn't necessarily mean they were actually hallucinating. And it definitely doesn't mean cannabis is likely to cause hallucinations.

The morals of today's story:

1) Research suggests that cannabis on its own is highly unlikely to cause true visual hallucinations.

2) Anonymous police officers are not good sources of accurate information about the effects of cannabis.

3) Regardless, people all over the world will likely remember that hilarious news story they read about how two police officers hallucinated after eating weed edibles.

Don't believe everything you read, folks. Unless, of course, it's from The Leaf News.


New on The Leaf

  • A controversial question: Cannabis activist Steven Stairs asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whether pardons are likely for weed dealers with criminal records. Find out why he asked, even when he already knew Trudeau would likely say 'no'.
  • Where to stash your stash: Should cannabis be frozen for long-term storage? Our advice columnist Dear Herb knows.
  • Lawsuit in the making: A group of lawyers are considering a class-action lawsuit to pressure the federal government into offering pardons for marijuana possession charges, reports CP's Jordan Press.

Elsewhere on the Weed Wide Web

  • Not in their backyards: Cities in the greater Vancouver area are banning cannabis businesses ahead of legalization, as Maryse Zeidler reports for CBC News.
  • Time to panic: Canadian cannabis stocks cratered today as panicked investors sold off their holdings, reports Bloomberg's Jen Skerritt.
  • A gift for you: Associated Press reporter Philip Marcelo explores the "free gift of weed" loophole that's proven popular in some U.S. jurisdictions.

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