New research suggests Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC – the psychoactive ingredient most commonly found in marijuana – can induce feelings of oneness with the greater universe, often referred to by psychologists as “oceanic boundlessness.”
The phrase initially coined by French author and mystic Romain Rolland in a 1927 letter to Sigmund Freud, feelings of “oceanic boundlessness” have long been associated with psychedelic drugs such as LSD or psilocybin.
In recent years, increased study of psychedelics has found that having “complete” or “breakthrough” experiences of oceanic boundlessness can have dramatic and long-lasting positive effects on mental health, including alleviating treatment-resistant depression. Additional recent studies have likewise shown that psilocybin can spark immediate and lasting growth to neural connections after just one dose.
With this recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers say the preliminary evidence suggests that THC can equally induce the same states of altered consciousness and feelings of oneness as psychedelics. Consequently, users who experience THC-induced oceanic boundlessness may reap similar positive mental health benefits that have been shown in clinical trials of psilocybin and LSD.
“Once the psilocybin labs started emphasizing that oceanic boundlessness seemed to be the mechanism underlying the molecule’s antidepressant effects, nearly every cannabis fan couldn’t help but ask, ‘Hey! Doesn’t marijuana have comparable effects?'” study author Dr. Mitch Earleywine, a professor of psychology at the University at Albany, told PsyPost.
To examine if THC products could produce experiences of “oceanic boundlessness,” researchers recruited a sample of 852 cannabis users from Facebook and Amazon Mechanical Turk. Study participants were asked to complete an anonymous survey rating their most dramatic THC experiences, including measuring items from an oceanic boundlessness subscale of the Altered States of Consciousness Scale- a survey commonly used in psychedelic research.
Examining the responses, researchers found that nearly 20% of participants claimed to have undergone experiences of “complete” or “breakthrough” oceanic boundlessness while using a THC-related product.
Though results suggest THC can induce feelings of oceanic boundlessness, researchers note that the frequency of having a “complete” or “breakthrough” experience was far less than the nearly 60% shown in randomized clinical trials of psilocybin.
Preliminarily, researchers say it appears that the amount of perceived THC content plays a role in whether one will have a mystical or transformative experience while using cannabis. Those claiming to have experienced feelings of oceanic boundlessness typically approximated the milligrams of THC they consumed as much higher than those who reported not having feelings of oneness.
While larger doses of THC appear to make it more likely to experience a state of altered consciousness, previous research has also found that higher amounts of THC can be equally associated with having negative or uncomfortable experiences after consuming edible cannabis. “We are also eager to emphasize that links between the use of cannabis, both acutely and chronically, and mood are complex and frequently unpredictable unless confounds, dosage, and comorbid conditions receive careful attention,” research authors noted.
Ultimately, researchers say the results of their preliminary study offer support for the further study of THC-induced mystical experiences and its therapeutic potential, similar to the work currently being done with psychedelics.
In terms of what comes next, Dr. Earleywine says, “We need to bring folks into the lab to see if these effects are real, then get approval for a clinical trial.”
Follow and connect with author Tim McMillan on Twitter: @LtTimMcMillan or encrypted email: LtTimMcMillan@protonmail.com