Enhanced night vision seems like some sort of superpower. But, what if a few puffs of cannabis could help you see better in the dark? While it seems too strange to be true, case studies and recent research suggests that the herb does, in fact, improve night vision. Here’s why cannabis makes it easier to see in the dark.
Does cannabis give you better night vision?
Researchers have speculated that cannabis improves night vision for some time now. Back in the 1970s, a pharmacologist named M.E. West first made note of the fact that Jamaican fishermen who consumed a cannabis drink had “an uncanny ability to see in the dark.”
Two decades later, researcher Ethan Russo tested the effects of cannabis on night vision in some early, simple experiments. Three subjects in Morocco performed a series of tests after consuming Kif, which is cannabis resin mixed with tobacco. Russo also treated one subject with a dose of a purified, synthetic THC called Marinol.
In these early case studies, cannabis treatment was equated with a dose-dependent improvement in night vision. Now, yet another study presents some ideas as to why this improved post-cannabis night vision happens. Turns out, compounds in the herb may actually make cells in the retina more sensitive to light.
Study explains why cannabis improves night vision
Research spearheaded by Canada’s McGill University suggests that cannabis improves night vision because active compounds in herb interact directly with special cell receptors in the eye.
The cell receptors in question are called CB1 receptors, and they are the binding location for a class of organic molecules called cannabinoids, named after the cannabis plant.
Cannabis plants produce phytocannabinoids while the human body produces similar molecules termed endocannabinoids. Phyto means plant, and endo means inside, as in inside the body.
The study was published online in eLife, and it breaks through some previous ideas about why cannabis might improve vision. Previously, it was suggested that cannabis can dilate your pupils, enabling them to take in more light. However, some research suggests that the herb may actually constrict pupils instead.
Rather, cannabinoid molecules seem to bind directly to the retina, stimulating cells that allow humans and animals to perceive light. To figure this out, the researchers tested the effects of a synthetic cannabinoid drug on tadpoles.
After being treated with THC, scientists measured the activation of cells in the retina. They found that cannabinoid treatment increased the rate at which retinal cells fired in response to both bright and dim light. Simply stated, the compound made cells in the eyes more sensitive and responsive to light triggers.
While more research needs to be conducted in humans, this study is a sign that vision troubles may be yet another viable therapeutic area for cannabis medicines. A cocktail of cannabis tincture and rum seemed to help Jamaican fishermen work better in the dark.
However, better vision during nighttime work isn’t the only reason to get excited about the herb. Researchers suspect that these findings may be useful for slowing down degenerative eye diseases, like retinitis pigmentosa.
Anecdotal reports and early evidence have already suggested that the herb is useful in treating glaucoma, which causes a painful buildup of pressure behind the eye.