Can pot cause hallucinations? Report of officers who allegedly ate edibles fuels debate

Questions about edible pot reached new heights on Monday after CBC Toronto learned that two Toronto police officers had been suspended for allegedly ingesting marijuana edibles, hallucinating and calling for help while on duty.

2 experts share different views on whether or not pot can cause hallucinations

There has been much debate about whether pot can cause hallucination when inhaled or ingested (Brennan Linsley/Associated Press)

Questions about edible pot were begging for answers on Monday after CBC Toronto learned that two Toronto officers were suspended after allegedly ingesting marijuana edibles, hallucinating and calling for help while on duty. 

The two officers, who both work at 13 Division, were on duty not far from the station at Eglinton Avenue West and Allen Road when they allegedly ingested pot edibles late Sunday. 

Police sources told CBC Toronto the officers began complaining of "hallucinations" and one made a call for an officer needing assistance. Both officers were found in a police vehicle and later treated in hospital.

That incident has fuelled debate about whether marijuana can actually cause hallucinations.

Ryan Vandrey, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, says there have been very clear demonstrations and scientific studies proving it does.

"Folks tend to be more prone to have hallucinations if they have a family history of psychosis, but there have been cases, even one recently in my laboratory, where somebody without a family history of psychosis has had hallucinations following acute dosing with cannabis," he said. 

Ryan Vandrey says there have been very clear demonstrations and scientific studies of acute dosing of cannabis causing hallucinations. (Ryan Vandrey)

People tend to believe that edibles are more potent, says Vandrey. He argues that is a misconception. 

"It comes from the fact that people have a tendency to eat more than they would smoke or vaporize," he asserted.

The main difference is in the timing, he says. 

"When you eat it, it usually takes a lot longer for the effects to have an onset and the effects last longer."

Vandrey also said there are individual differences in both the type and magnitude of drug effects with any drug. Cannabis is no different, he says.

"You are more apt to laughter and feeling giddy; in some cases you can become anxious or paranoid. Hallucinations in particularly high doses are a possibility," he explained.

Windsor doctor Christopher Blue is adamant that cannabis that is obtained from a source that has been inspected and approved is not a hallucinogen. (Jason Viau/CBC News)

But Christopher Blue, a Windsor, Ont., doctor, says cannabis in its raw form does not cause hallucination.

He concedes, however, that there is a possibility illegal cannabis could be laced with hallucinogens.

"They often use cutting agents in it like salvia, or K2, or spice," which can have hallucinatory effects, often blamed on cannabis, he said.

Salvia is a psychedelic plant, while spice and K2 are synthetic cannabis compounds. 

While Blue stresses that in the purest form, cannabis is not hallucinogenic, he says certain strains of cannabis can impair cognition and judgment.

CBC News has learned that Const. Vittorio Dominelli is one of two Toronto police officers suspended pending the outcome of an investigation by the force's professional standards unit. (Toronto Police Service/Facebook)

In an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Tuesday, Coun. Shelley Carroll of the Toronto Police Services Board said the news of the incident involving the two officers was troubling.

"These are officers who should be trained such that they know how dangerous these things are because they do deal with people who have over-imbibed when they have a prescription for edibles," she added.

Carroll said the side effects that the officers experienced are the very reason why the federal government is moving in stages and hesitating to make edibles widely legal at this point, other than by strict prescription.

CBC News has learned that one of the officers under investigation is Const. Vittorio Dominelli, but has not confirmed the name of his partner.