How Can Psychology Improve the Effects of Cannabis?

We are in the age of self-help, the era of improvement and being the best you can be and it can get a little tiring. It’s hard not to sometimes shrug at the suggestion that psychology can help improve our experiences and the way we interact with the world, but we’re here to hopefully change that view.

Psychology has a reach so far that all aspects of our lives have been dissected and studied by men in white lab coats holding clipboards. A surprising amount of research has also been done into how to improve day to day experiences, such as eating, drinking and relaxing to get the most out of them. Of course the experience that I’m going to investigate in this article is cannabis and psychology. Could it be possible that Psychology and the findings from the science could be used to improve the effects of cannabis on the brain and in general?

In this article, I’ll be looking at how we can use our senses (Sound, taste, sight), sociality and context to get the most out of the drug we love, both recreationally and medically. Our brain, and its ability to be influenced by its surroundings, is fascinating and we will be looking at how we can affect it through internal and external changes.

Both psychology and cannabis are hot topics of discussion lately, because both are holistic approaches to ailments that affect millions of people across the globe. It only makes sense at this point that we combine the two for ultimate healing results. Make sure to subscribe to The Medical Cannabis Weekly Newsletter for more articles like this one and exclusive deals on flowers, vapes, edibles, and other legal products.


Cannabis and the Brain

Before we look at how to improve the effects of cannabis, we must first discuss how it affects the brain. Cannabis works on the brain and body by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This is an intricate system of neurons in the brain that seems to control the release of multiple neurotransmitters. It was discovered in the 1990s and seems to be linked to many processes in the brain and body, including appetite, learning and memory and sleep.

Both CBD and THC, two cannabinoids found in Cannabis, activate the ECS and seem to produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is linked to reward and pleasure in the brain. This is the neurotransmitter that creates the euphoric high associated with Cannabis. If we can find ways to increase the production of this neurotransmitter Dopamine or find ways to affect the interaction of cannabinoids on the ECS, then perhaps this will have a wholly positive effect on the experience of getting high.

Get the Snacks Out: Food and the ECS

It has long been known that food tastes better after smoking cannabis, in fact studies on rats have shown that cannabinoids increase the senses of smell and taste, but there is also new emergent research suggesting that some foods can actually increase the effect of these same cannabinoids. According to a fascinating list created by NMJ Health, Mangoes, Chocolate and black Tea all have properties that increase the effect of Cannabis for recreational and medical purposes. Mangoes contain natural chemicals that actively help cannabinoids interact with the body’s ECS mentioned above.

By eating Mangoes before inhaling or injecting marijuana products you increase the levels of these chemicals (terpenes) that allow for this interaction. This means that the effects of the cannabis will set in a lot quicker, that they’ll be stronger and that the effects will last longer.  With Chocolate, it appears that the cannabinoids in cannabis that produce the euphoric effects are naturally occurring. Studies have even shown that a chemical in chocolate called

Anandamide binds to cannabinoid receptors mimicking and heightening the effect of Cannabis. Not only is this research incredible as it shows that chocolate can increase the overall effects of cannabis, but the practical applications for the use of medical marijuana and dosing cannot be overstated. Black tea and broccoli also seem to improve the experience of Cannabis. Black tea by producing longer and more sustained feelings of peace and relaxation. It is clear to see from this rather eclectic set of foods and the research behind them that we can change the effects of Cannabis through changing what we eat. 

Set the Mood: Music and Dopamine

Another avenue for increasing the experience that cannabis can offer through psychology and psychological research is to look at the effect sound and music has on a high. Music has long been associated with feelings of pleasure and relaxation, but recent research has shown that listening to music that gives you chills actually produces the neurotransmitter dopamine (a neurotransmitter linked to cannabis and the ECS. It seems then that listening to music you enjoy and instrumental music (the study found) leads to an increased amount of dopamine. This combined with the high levels of dopamine released when using cannabis can only result in a more pleasurable experience, again highlighting another way that psychology and the environment around you can influence your experience of cannabis.

Watch Those Lights: Sight, Colour, Taste and Experience 

This next paragraph may come as the most surprising to readers. Vision may be one of the most powerful senses when it comes to changing our experiences of the world. Being in a room with a certain colour scheme or using particular lights can influence our mental states and how we feel. To create a more calm and relaxed experience while using cannabis, a recent study has shown that blue lighting is best. The same study also showed that red light and yellow light increases heart rate, so perhaps should be avoided unless you want to induce a potential panic attack.

 There are ways that we can use our vision to influence our experiences of things like taste and smell too. Studies by Charles Spence, an Oxford researcher have shown that the colour of crockery used when eating actually changes the subjective experience of flavour. Red dishes increased perceptions of sweetness in some popcorn and blue seemed to increase perceptions of saltiness. What this means is that a particular coloured skin or vape could actually alter the taste of the cannabis inhaled. If you prefer a sweeter experience, perhaps using a red vape might do this for you. Again, this research highlights how we can use psychology to generally increase our cannabis experience. 

Changing up Your Environment 

One of the biggest factors that can reduce the enjoyment of cannabis is tolerance. A tolerance to a certain chemical just means that it takes more to achieve the same effect. From a neuro-chemical point of view, it just takes a greater amount of cannabinoids to activate the ECS. Tolerance arises due to frequent use of the drug. Can psychology be used to help us with tolerance? An incredible study actually seems to suggest it can, and the way one can overcome a tolerance seems to be through altering context.

Context just means the environments around you. It has long been studied in psychology as animals and humans seem to have powerful associations between context and memory. If you revise in a certain context (classroom) your results in a test done in that same context will be higher than if you alter it. Here’s where tolerance comes in: If you smoke cannabis in the same environment, your body associates that context with cannabis and will actually build up a tolerance that is context specific. In a fascinating review by Siegel et al the preparation and expectation of taking a drug can lead to the body preparing itself and therefore reducing the effects. When dogs were conditioned into taking adrenaline in a specific context, just placing the dog in that room was enough for their bodies to prepare to counter the high blood pressure, even without injecting anything.

The core study by Siegel was conducted on heroin users and it was found that the opposite is true as well. If a user of heroin takes the drug in a context they are not used to they are more likely to require medical treatment as it seems their tolerance is not there. The body was not prepared because it was not in the context associated with the drug. The very same principle of association and context can be applied to cannabis use. If you use the drug in the same context over and over again, the tolerance will be associated with that specific location, so to increase the effect, change up where you light up.

Being Around Others: Socialising and Dopamine 

A final way that cannabis can be improved is through being around others. It seems obvious to say, but being around others is good for the brain. It increases feelings of happiness and can relax us as well if we are around people we love, but it may be surprising to learn that socialising also increases dopamine levels, giving us a little high. This increase in dopamine is theorised to be a reward for being around others and evolutionary psychologists have argued that socialising and bonding with others is heavily linked to the reward areas of our brain and dopamine production. So perhaps combining socialising and cannabis will create a huge boost of dopamine and increase the euphoria of cannabis experiences.

Conclusion – Combining Cannabis and Psychology

I hope that from the list above you find even one thing to use to make your experiences of cannabis even better. I hope it’s also clear that any method can be useful but they are only suggestions and sometimes just sticking to what you know and enjoy is more than enough to have a great time. Cannabis is a fascinating drug and the mechanisms underlying it are still intriguing to psychologists. It affects so many areas of the brain that it isn’t surprising that the changes listed above can affect how it works. But what do you think?

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A Complete Look At Cannabis and Depression

Millions of people across the globe suffer from depression, with little relief from conventional medicine and big pharma. Many are turning to cannabis to treat their condition and regain a sense of normalcy in their lives.

Depression affects nearly 16 million people in the United States alone. Although the emotional reasons will be different for each person, from a chemical standpoint, the root cause of depression is an endocannabinoid deficiency that effects the 5-HT1A receptors and causes low levels of serotonin.  Low levels of serotonin also cause the limbic system to shrink.

The limbic system controls various emotions including fear, pleasure, hunger, anger, and sex drive. This is the reason why people who suffer from depression often describe the feeling as “flat” or just “blah”, because it simply sadness they are feeling, but a general disinterest in things that once made them happy and loss of enjoyment in life.

To add to the distress, pharmaceutical medications have a reputation for not always being effective, and in some cases, causing more harm than good. What is the role of cannabis in the treatment of depression? Is it the silver lining therapy that many people are yearning for?  

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What is Depression?                                 

Depression is an incredibly complex mood disorder that ranges in severity and type. Several forms of depression exist such as major depression, dysthymia, bipolar disorder, and seasonal. Regardless of the type, depression can have a major impact on a person’s quality of life and ability to complete day-to-day tasks. Some sufferers of depression lose the ability to feel joy or pleasure at all – and all these feelings last for an extended period of time.  

The World Health Organization estimates that around 350 million are living with depression worldwide It affects people of all ages and races, and those of differing socio-economic status. Although symptoms vary widely from person to person, in general, symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, lethargy, low self-esteem, guild, shame, and anxiety.

Again, these symptoms will manifest differently in each person as well, but it’s common for sufferers to feel tired and unable to focus, they can experience negative/intrusive thoughts, issues sleeping and eating, problems with memory, difficulty making decisions, and many will be irritable and short-tempered.

Depression can lead to dangerous and reckless behavior, substance abuse for example, and life-changing decisions that cause additional stress and increased feelings of depression. Depression can also lead to self-harm as well as suicidal thoughts and attempts, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. On average, the CDC records upwards of 48,000 suicides each year – that’s one life every 12 minutes. And the numbers continue to rise with seemingly no solution in sight.

How Cannabis Can Help

For centuries cannabis has been a natural remedy for depression. It wasn’t until the 1900s that in started to become widely politicized and prohibited. Back in the early 1600s, English clergyman Robert Burton discussed the use of medicinal cannabis in his book The Anatomy of Melancholy, published in 1621. During that same time period, doctors in India were regularly using cannabis to treat depression and anxiety in their patients. Around the world, cannabis is a renowned ancient therapy.

The reason it works is because cannabinoids stimulate our endocannabinoid systems (ECS). The ECS is a network of receptors found throughout the bodies of all animals (except insects), and the naturally produced endocannabinoids that bind to them. This is why cannabinoids have such wide-ranging effects on human health, able to treat everything from depression, to physical pain, to epilepsy and more.

Cannabis is a natural, much safer alternative to pharmaceutical antidepressants, which are known to have worrisome side effects including nausea, blurred vision, aches and pains, and oddly enough, they can increase the risk of suicidal tendencies in some rare circumstances. Talk about counter intuitive.

Cannabis is faster-acting, and there are quite a few natural compounds in the plant that work synergistically to fight depression. Both THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) have their place in the treatment of mental health disorders; and terpenes, which are found in all plants not just cannabis, can also be beneficial for this purpose.

According to researchers from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who conducted a study on this subject in 2006, “This natural remedy offers patients peace of mind and battles stress by enhancing mood, providing energy and focus, relieving anxiety, inducing hunger, and combating insomnia. Occasional or daily cannabis consumers have lower levels of depressive symptoms than non-users.”

The University Medical Center Utrecht, in the Netherlands, also touted cannabis as a promising treatment option for depression and other mental illnesses. Numerous studies have linked moderate but regular cannabis use to mood stabilization and stress relief.

Samir Haj-Dahmane, a senior research scientist at the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions who studies chronic stress and depression, mentions this: “Chronic stress is one of the major causes of depression. Using compounds derived from cannabis — marijuana — to restore normal endocannabinoid function could potentially help stabilize moods and ease depression.”

When to Abstain from Cannabis Use

It’s important to keep in mind that cannabis won’t work for everyone, and while there is scientific literature showing that low to moderate doses can be helpful, too much THC can actually do the opposite in some people. High doses of THC can induce anxiety and panic attacks. Studies found that CBD can counteract the effects of THC, so if you’re feeling anxious or paranoid after smoking it might be time to switch to a different strain, maybe something with a 1:1 ratio of CBD:THC.

There is also the issue of human error, and evidence suggest that many patients misuse their cannabis, using either too much or too little depending on their current mood, when in reality, a consistent regimen might be better. It’s also more likely for patients to stop using any conventional treatments in lieu of medical cannabis, although they might not be ready to make the full transition yet.

“I was, at times, able to get patients to agree to stop their marijuana use for a few weeks just so they could determine whether there was or was not an improvement in mood,” says Allan Schwartz, LCSW, PhD, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker in Colorado and New York. “These individuals were surprised, but were willing to admit that they felt real improvement in mood and functioning.

“I have directly witnessed the tragedy of patients going off of their medications for bipolar disorder, using marijuana and ending up re-hospitalized in worse shape than any time prior to the relapse,” Schwartz added. “In fact, it has been my experience that many of these unfortunate patients experienced multiple relapses and were caught in an endless cycle of hospitalizations marked by periods of instability in between.”

Possible Interactions with Pharmaceuticals

Researchers from the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut Health Center conducted an extensive review of the research available, albeit limited, to determine if there are any interactions between cannabis and pharmaceutical anti-depressants. Their report, titled Psychotropic Medications and Substances of Abuse Interactions in Youth, they specified how minimal the risk is.

“It’s possible adverse events are ‘relatively rare’ or ‘do not happen.’ Moreover, ‘newer psychotropic medications have a relatively high therapeutic index’—as a class of drugs, they are less likely to produce adverse interactions.” Patients who consume cannabis along with antidepressants are advised to “be cautious” and “talk with [their] health provider” before making any changes to their treatment plans.

Final Thoughts

Cannabis isn’t for everyone, but it does seem to work well for the overwhelming majority of people who struggle with symptoms of depression. There is no standardization when it comes to medical cannabis, so how it’s used will depend on many factors including the individual’s current health, weight, cannabinoid tolerance, and more. Speak to your physician or a healthcare provider you trust before stopping any of your medications.

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Resources:

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Cannabis Remains Schedule I After UN Vote
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First-Ever Human Trial For Cannabis and Dementia Begins Now

The Institute for Health Research at University of Notre Dame (UNDA) in Western Australia just announced the start of their unprecedented research to learn how cannabis compounds can be used to treat the symptoms of dementia.

After nearly two years of meticulous planning, UNDA is officially starting the clinical trials to discover the impact of cannabis on dementia. The research team at UNDA will be sourcing their cannabinoid extract from MGC Pharma – an established grower, producer, and processor. The extract will come in the form of an oral spray with at 3:2 ratio of THC:CBD.

The study followed 10 females with severe dementia so far, but will eventually expand to a total of 50 participants over the next year – making it one of the largest studies in this particular field. For now, they will be looking at participants who live in accredited care facilities for the elderly or disabled – to ensure safety of the participants.


According to preliminary observations noted by team lead Dr. Amanda Timler, subjects demonstrated a “40 percent reduction in behavioral concerns and a 50 percent reduction in rigidity after two months of use.”

To further elaborate, cannabis made a positive change for the following symptoms: agitation, aggression, problems with appetite, and difficulty sleeping – all of which are the most common complications associated with dementia.

In an email exchange with the Cannabis Business Times, Dr. Timler discussed the origins of her interest in cannabis, as well as her plans for the future:

“For me, I have a great interest in the area of medicinal cannabis as there are so many therapeutic properties that seem to benefit a range of conditions, so I am interested in how this medication can help to treat dementia as it is a complex condition, with no cure. The number of family members that I have spoken to since the start of this project who just want someone to talk to is overwhelming as the medication being used do not always work or make symptoms worse.”

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