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Why Does Our Perception Of Time Slow Down On Marijuana?

A close up of a stopwatch.

Many marijuana-users, whether they use for recreational or medical purposes, report a very mysterious phenomenon as a result of THC’s euphoria: time altercation. Users often say that it seems as if time has slowed down considerably when they are under the influence of marijuana.

Indeed, this is one of the most commonly reported effects of using cannabis, and it’s one that have researchers in the field particularly interested.  A team of students and professors at the Yale School of Medicine decided to investigate this phenomenon themselves, and they found some interesting conclusions.

After putting together a carefully designed experiment, the team found that participants in the study who were high would overestimate time passing by as much as 25 percent or underproduced time by up to 15% compared to when they were sober.  Participants who were given a placebo had no notable difference in time estimation.

Professor of psychiatry at Yale, Deepak D’Souza, explains:

“Marijuana dilates time- that is, five minutes is experienced as ten minutes.  So the subjective experience is that time is passing slowly- but that feeling can only occur if the internal clock is speeded up.”

The study also found that long term users of marijuana are much less likely to experience the time dilation effect.  This could be due to their brains producing a new internal clock to deal with the changes in time experience while on marijuana.  While users are not immune to the regular euphoria, they no longer feel that time has slowed down.  The time dilation effects are strongest in users that rarely consume.

The cause of the time dilation effect is a cause of greater mystery, but it could be due to an area of the brain, called the thalami-cortico-striatal circuit, that may be integral to our perception of time.  This area of the brain also has a lot of cannabinoid receptors, which are the areas of the brain that are effected by cannabis and cause the psychoactive effects.

While further studies need to be done to confirm that hypothesis, it gives us a hint at what could be causing time to slow down when we take a toke!”

Mac Jackman