Can Cannabis Use Improve Night Vision?
Adding to the long list of medical uses for cannabis, a new Canadian study has confirmed the beneficial effects of cannabinoids on the night vision of tadpoles. Are humans affected in the same way? Anecdotal evidence in scientific literature from fishermen in Jamaica and Morocco suggest it’s possible.
It would appear that what began as a pipedream for hopeful hippies in the ’60s (marijuana use being beneficial to your health) is fast becoming a medical reality in the 21st century. Science continues to uncover new and exciting health benefits derived from that ol’ devil weed, marijuana.
With today’s advancements in scientific research, reefer madness is taking on a whole new meaning. One particularly curious study that caught my eye, so to speak, looks at cannabis consumption and its ability to enhance night vision. The field tests produced some head-cocking results.
This phenomenon was first observed and recorded by M. E. West in the early ’90s. At the time, West was a pharmacologist working at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. He noted that Jamaican fishermen, after smoking cannabis or ingesting it via a crude elixir of pot and white rum, showed a dramatic increase in their ability to see at night.
Catch a Buzz… Catch a Fish?
West remarked that the men, after consuming their home-brew, were easily able to navigate the treacherous waterways and coral reefs in their small fishing boats in total darkness.
“It was impossible to believe that anyone could navigate a boat without compass and without light in such treacherous surroundings,” West concluded, after accompanying some of the local fishermen on one of their nighttime excursions. “[But] I was then convinced that the man who had taken the rum extract of cannabis had far better night vision than I had, and that a subjective effect was not responsible.”
Different Cultures, Same Result
As the story goes, West was told by some of the Jamaicans that Moroccan fishermen also reported having improved night vision after smoking hashish. In 2002, a research team traveled to northern Morocco’s Rif mountains.
Here, they conducted a field experiment, which would be published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology two years later, involving four locals. These mountain people also claimed that smoking kif (aka, kief, which is a form of cannabis resin) before embarking on their nocturnal expeditions improved their ability to see in the dark.
When night fell, three of the test subjects smoked while the fourth volunteer ingested a synthetic form of cannabis. Using the latest optic equipment, the men’s eyes were then tested to determine if their night vision had improved. Without exception, the tests proved the men’s ability to see in the dark had been greatly enhanced.
Tadpole Eyes Become More Light Sensitive
More recently, in a paper published in August 2016 by famed cellular biologist Dr. Lois Miraucourt of the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University, the eye tissue of tadpoles was treated with a synthetic cannabinoid.
The results backed up the original observations of M. E. West and the claims of the second study group in Morocco. The tadpoles’ ability to see in the dark was greatly improved.
Essentially, the study showed that the introduction of cannabinoids to the eyes of these tadpoles reduced the chloride ions inside the retinal ganglia cells, which hyperpolarizes the cell, making it able to fire at higher frequencies when stimulated. What this means is that it makes them more light-sensitive.
Utilizing software developed with McGill physics and chemistry professor Paul Wiseman, the research team could detect behavior changes in the tadpoles. Their conclusion was that after exposure to increased levels of cannabinoids, the tadpoles were more able to detect dimmer objects in low light than they had without the cannabinoids.
The experiment was completed multiple times with a variety of techniques and the results were consistent, says the paper’s senior author, Ed Ruthazer, a professor of neurology and neurosurgery at the Montreal Neurological Institute. In a statement to the University, Ruthazer said that though their findings were somewhat controversial and unconventional, the observable effect was so strong they knew it was an important discovery.
It is not yet known if this discovery means cannabinoids have the same effect on human vision, but Ruthazer says the research indicates that they have found a previously unknown role for cannabinoids in brain signaling.
The next step is to attempt the experiment with the retina of mice or human retina cell cultures.
A Long Time Coming
For centuries and in many cultures, cannabis has been used in ethnomedicine (traditional medicine used by indigenous peoples) for its calming and healing effectiveness on both mental and physical disorders.
Unlike historical snake oils that promised to cure everything from gallstones to demonic possession, claims of medical marijuana benefits are now being backed by hard science. In numerous controlled studies by leading researchers at prestigious institutions, more and more discoveries are being made surrounding the mystical and undeniable powers of both cannabis sativa and indica.
Moreover, marijuana is now at the forefront of some of the most important research being conducted to date on a host of serious maladies and with some singular results.