Why Does Cannabis Slow Down Our Time Perception?

Cannabis consumers may experience distortions in their perception of time, often reporting how minutes can feel like they stretch to hours on end—an unsettling experience, to say the least. But to what degree is this a scientifically proven phenomenon?

Researchers have been curious about this question as well, and have conducted several investigations over the years probing cannabis’ strange time-altering properties. Many of these experiments have corroborated individual reports that time slows down while high, though this has largely been on the scale of seconds or minutes, not hours.

Research on Marijuana and Time Perception

“One of the most commonly reported effects of cannabis by users is to distort the perception of time,” says Zerrin Atakan, a London-based psychiatrist who surveyed all known studies of cannabis and time distortion in 2012. “Our review of papers on the topic showed that 70% of studies found that users experienced over-estimation of time. In other words, users felt using cannabis made them feel as if the time was longer than the actual time.”
Yet, many of these studies have been rife with limitations—small sample sizes, failure to consider the effects of previous cannabis exposure, and use of delivery methods such as inhalation and oral administration that produce wide variation in THC’s effects over time, to name a few.
Later that year, a team at Yale School of Medicine sought to address these shortcomings and clear the smoke surrounding the connection between cannabis and time tripping.
“I was fascinated by the observation that some drugs can distort the experience of passing time, and that the phenomenon was not well understood,” says Deepak D’Souza, a professor of psychiatry at Yale and leader of the investigation. “I was particularly intrigued by the observation that in some individuals who found the effects of cannabis unpleasant and also experienced time dilation, the overall experience was even more unpleasant.”

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