by Sebastián Marincolo on 04/10/2013 | Cultural

Marijuana and the slowdown of time perception

The phenomenon of a slowed down perception of time during a high is one of the most well known effects of marijuana – infamous to some, highly valued by others.


Oh! Do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.”

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
English novelist (1775 – 1817)

Hurled Away by a Stream of Ideas -Charles Baudelaire

Of course, those “distortions of time perception” can be seen solely as a risk for users – and it is certainly true that those perceptual distortions can become dangerous i.e. while driving a car high. On the other side, many users appreciate this change of perception in safe situations as one of the most valuable experiences during a marijuana high. We have detailed reports about the slowdown of time already coming from members of the “Club des Hashischins” (“Club of the Hasheesh Eaters”), a group of French intellectuals founded in Paris in the middle of the nineteenth century to explore the mind-altering effects of marijuana. The members of the cannabis club ingested large doses of hash marmalade, so it comes as no surprise that many of them became familiar with this phenomenon which shows especially under stronger doses. Charles Baudelaire, one the founding members of the club, wrote:

..a new stream of ideas carries you away: it will hurl you along in its living vortex for a further minute; and this minute, too, will be an eternity, for the normal relation between time and the individual has been completely upset by the multitude and intensity of sensations and ideas. You seem to live several men’s lives in the space of an hour.”1

Baudelaire’s statement already hints at two effects of marijuana that I believe to be relevant of the subjective effect of a slowdown of time perception. He describes something a friend of mine once called “mindracing” during a high: “a stream of ideas … will hurl you along … and the individual has been completely upset by the multitude (…) of sensations and ideas”. Baudelaire further notes the “intensity” of sensations and ideas which “hurl you along”. In my view, this intensity of experience comes from what I have called “hyperfocussing” during a high. When high, we hyperfocus on sensations, thoughts, or imaginations and often forget about what is going on around us. Whatever comes into focus becomes more intense. We know a similar but more subtle effect from our everyday experience: When you close our eyes and take time to focus on the taste of ice-cream melting in your mouth, your taste experience gets more intense; you also perceive more details. A forced focus of attention always brings more intensity to whatever we attend to.

Marijuana and the slowdown of time perception
The Hôtel de Lauzun in Paris, meeting point of the “Club des Haschashins”.

In Eternity – Fitz Hugh Ludlow

In his famous book “The Hasheesh Eater” (1857), the American author Fitz Hugh Lludlow gave us an even more detailed description of the effect of the perceptual slowdown of time during a strong high. Like Baudelaire, Ludlow also ingested large doses of hasheesh and was likewise absorbed by his intense imaginations and streams of thought during his high:

The thought struck me that I would compare my time with other people’s. I looked at my watch, found that its minute-hand stood at the quarter mark past eleven, and, returning it to my pocket, abandoned myself to reflections. Presently, I saw myself a gnome imprisoned (…) in the Domdaniel caverns, “under the roots of the ocean”. Here (…) was I doomed to hold the lamp that lit that abysmal darkness, while my heart, like a giant clock, ticked solemnly the remaining years of time. Now, this hallucination departing, I heard in the solitude of the night outside the sound of a wondrous heaving sea. Its waves in sublime cadence, rolled forward till they met the foundations of the building; (…) Now, through the street, with measured thread, an armed host passed by. The heavy beat of their footfall and the grinding of their brazen corslet rings alone broke the silence (…). And now, in another life, I remembered the fact that far back in the cycles I had looked at my watch to measure the time which I passed. (…) The minute-hand stood half way between fifteen and sixteen minutes past eleven. The watch musthave stopped; I held it to my ear, no, it was still going. I had traveled through all that immeasurable chain of dreams in thirty seconds. “My god!” I cried, “I am in eternity.” 2

 

Marijuana and the slowdown of time perception
“Hashish Smokers” by Gaetano Previati, 1887.

Mindracing, Hyperfocussing, and Associative Leaps

Like Baudelaire, we can see how Ludlow’s mind is racing. He is going through so many associative chains and detailed imaginations that it feels to him like a long time must have been passed since he began his reverie because he feels that usually, he would need hours or days to go through those detailed reflections – which actually only lasted for 30 seconds. Also, similar to Baudelaire, Ludlow describes that he is completely absorbed by his thoughts; in other words, he hyperfocuses on an inner stream of thought and, thus, does not pay attention to other processes outside him which unfold in real time. Both mindracing as well as the hyperfocus of attention then are described in Ludlow’s report of a radical slowdown of his perception of time.

Ludlow’s story, however, adds another interesting aspect to Baudelaire’s report: His illustrious associative “chain of dreams” is not only detailed and long, but it is also “jumpy”: with various associative leaps, he jumps from one detailed imagined situation to another (“Now … and now .. and now..”). The unusual associative leaps, which are often reported about a high, probably add to his subjective feeling that he ‘mind-travelled’ a long distance, much longer than he would usually do in 30 seconds or even in 30 hours.

According to the reports above, the slowdown of time perception could then arise out of the effects of marijuana to lead to an attentional hyperfocus of the perceiver on an unusually fast stream of often ‘jumpy’ associative thoughts or imaginations.

The Uses of Time Slowdown

This account of the perceptual slowdown of time during a high above would explain why many users of marijuana appreciate the effect of a perceptual time slowdown so much. With their racing and concentrated mind, users find themselves to be better able to appreciate the subtleties and depths of immediate sensations, as if they were presented in slow motion. For them, the subjective slowdown of time is not merely a perceptual distortion, but a real mind enhancement. Surely, the effect can be merely used for relaxation, mainly to step outside the ever accelerating speed of the routines of our everyday lives and to be in the here-and-now. However, many others seek this perceptual slowdown to appreciate the never usually perceived details and nuances of the moment of a great wine tasting experience, of the endlessly complex and soothing sounds of gentle waves washing upon a beach at night, or to go on a seemingly infinite voyage of lovemaking.

 

 

1Charles Baudelaire, “Le Poème du Haschisch”, in: Artificial Paradises, Citadel, 1998)

2Ludlow, Fritz Hugh (1857/2009). The Hasheesh Eater: Being Passages from the Life of a Pythagorean. Chapter II: “Under the shadows of Esculapius.” http://www.lycaeum.org/nepenthes/Ludlow/THE/index.html

Comment Section

Post a comment

Randall H

Thank you so much for the extremely insightful article Sebastián. It's the Occham's Razor version of an real world explanation of the phenomenon of 'slowed down perception of time' during a marijuana high.

14/10/2014

Chris

I had never experienced this sensation until recently. One of the most interesting components of this experience was the fact that I listened to approximately 50 songs on Pandora during a period that lasted around 40 minutes. These were Stick Figure songs so it was simply not possible. MJ effects the minds perception not the actual progress of time. My explanation? Reexperience of memories stored in short term memory. My mind found similarities in the songs and reactivated the memory of similar songs while listening to the music in real time. The result being the experience of multiple time periods at the same time. I should mention this occured during a longer session of MJ consumption. I only mention to explain the existence of extended related information stored in short term memory during the period outlined above.

20/03/2016

Susan

Thank you for this article it was very enlightening! I so enjoyed how you incorporate the various first hand accounts from various people over the decades. The larger print was also a great touch. They should try to isolate what causes the hyper focus and make a wholistic ADHD med. Anyway I liked your work.

18/09/2016

Brandon

I recently tried weed for the first time in a decade, I had this slow down of time described in this article. I laid in bed by myself for several hours and I swear it felt like months of my life possibly years had passed.

It really freaked me out I felt I was trapped like this forever and I would never return to "normal" perception again.

I must admit it was an extremely scary sensation to think I was trapped in almost a separate dimension where time moved so much slower than our own and I would never see my loved ones again.

31/10/2016

marcus

this helped me become great at video games time literally moved so slow that i was unbeatable my reaction time improved so much it was one of the fastest people on the planet

17/04/2017

Leo

Thank you for this Dope article, very insightful, had a Wonderfull time reading it(:

06/07/2017

Mia

Wonderful article!

23/08/2017

Claudia

Me too. I enjoyed it mucho.

12/05/2018

Leave a Comment

Please enter a name
Oops, looks like you forgot something?