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Why Does Cannabis Seem to Slow Down Time?

Most of our daily decisions are based on time: how long a meeting will run, how road conditions will change the commute, the duration of tasks throughout the day.

Time is a funny thing. Some call it an illusion–an artificial construct of human consciousness and not a true reflection of reality. It feels real, though, and inexorably linear, like a river that never stops flowing into the future. It’s possible that it expands and contracts, and even loops.

Or maybe it’s best explained through the infinite monkey theorem, which posits that a monkey sitting at a typewriter hitting random keys could surely replicate the great works of Shakespeare, given enough time. The point is that all things are possible when eternity is a factor. That amount of time, however, is impossible to fathom.

Then there are those circadian clocks to consider. The ticking we can’t hear within us that originated more than two billion years ago and dictates the rhythm of most living things, including plants and animals. There are very few instances or organisms that escape the confines of some sort of countdown.

Regardless of all this, time may not be what time seems — this smooth unity without parts, the ever-existing stage on which all happenings happen that the clock is clocking.

Cannabis users frequently report a slowing down of time. One possible explanation is that the rapid flood of THC into the brain causes a significant increase in the production of neurotransmitters, most notably glutamate. The same subjective time-warp has been found in rats, as well.

“Maybe you care less about the dumb shit when you’re high, so time just doesn’t matter,” said Clayton Hodges–my younger brother–when I told him about this article. And truth be told, that could be part of it, considering one common side-effect of smoking cannabis is short-term memory loss. It’s as if you’re forgetting the moment as you’re living it, and suddenly, the pizza has arrived.

Then there is always the consideration of lived time versus clock time, and the rabbit-hole question: why did summer seem to last forever when you were a kid? The ‘perceptual theory,’ as it’s called, hypothesizes that the speed of time seems to be largely determined by how much information our minds absorb and process — the more information there is, the slower time goes. When you’re a kid, almost everything is new, and that same world just becomes less notable the older you get and the more you succumb to a routine.

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Perhaps, cannabis rubs the dust off the lens and gives us back some child-like wonder.

The results of a study showed that participants who were high overestimated time by as much as 25 percent and underproduced time by up to 15 percent when compared with their sober baseline levels. As Deepak D’Souza–a professor of psychiatry at Yale and leader of the investigation–told Leafly: Marijuana dilates time—that is, five minutes is experienced as ten minutes.

But if cannabis only warps time by a few minutes, what implications does that have on normal functioning and why does it matter?

Essentially, time is our anchor in the ebb and flow of the day. The hazards of navigating those 24 hours with an altered perception of time, even by a few seconds and only for a few hours, can have a significant impact on our reaction time when driving, operating heavy machinery, crossing the street (anticipating the speed of traffic), and other instances of decision-making that require a built-in timekeeper, down to a millisecond.

Modern science is striving to try to unravel the nature of time: be it an arrow shooting forward and never backward, a loop we are destined to repeat, or any other variation of multiverse theories. As it pertains to cannabis, more studies are required to understand how its active compounds impact the brain circuits responsible for our perception of time. Further, what could the warping of time, according to our mind, mean for productivity, social interactions, spirituality, and so on?

Findings by several teams of astronomers in the 1990s demonstrated that cosmic growth is speeding up, apparently due to an unobserved entity known as dark energy. In some theories, dark energy is conceived as strengthening over time. Eventually, it would become so powerful that it should overwhelm all of the other forces of nature and tear apart the fabric of the universe.

Perhaps, regardless of what time is or is not, there is an inevitable end. If cannabis helps expand our interpretation of a minute–and within that minute we learn something new, laugh a little longer or feel less pain–that might be one of the greatest gifts the plant has given humanity. It’s up to us to decide what to do with the extra time–at least, the illusion of it.

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