For years, people have associated cannabis with recreational use and “getting high.” Though many people may talk about the effects of cannabis, it is important to understand that different people may have very varied reactions to cannabis use.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cannabis is the “most commonly used illicit drug” in the United States. In fact, a 2015 drug abuse and use survey stated that over 22 million people used cannabis in a single month.
Keep reading for more information on what it feels like to be high on cannabis, what causes it, and the factors that can affect how a person may respond to cannabis in its various forms.
Cannabis contains hundreds of compounds. Scientists and researchers are particularly interested in two of these chemical compounds: cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC produces the high when a person smokes, ingests, or vapes it. It enters the bloodstream and makes its way to the brain. It then attaches to receptors in the brain, which causes the high to occur in most people.
THC also slows down communication between the brain and rest of the body, which gives cannabis its calming effect.
Proponents of recreational cannabis use often talk about the positive effects of being high. These sensations can include:
- a feeling of relaxation
- laughter or giggles
- greater amusement and enjoyment
- greater sensitivity to color, touch, smell, light, taste, and sound
- a feeling of being more creative
Cannabis can cause the body to become dependent on the good feelings it produces.
Over time, a person’s body may greatly reduce the number of endocrines it creates because the chemicals within cannabis replace the naturally occurring chemicals present in the body. However, this is still just a theory, as there has been no research yet.
THC levels in the blood vary over time. Generally, they will build until they peak, and once they peak, they start to work their way out of the blood through a person’s urine or stool.
As THC levels rise and fall, a person may experience different effects from cannabis. During the peak, a person is most likely to experience the euphoric effect. As the THC concentrations in the blood begin to fall, however, a person may experience:
- anxiety or mild paranoia
The speed at which a person goes through these stages, and which stages they experience, will depend on several factors, including:
- the method of use, such as vaping, smoking, or ingesting
- frequency of use
- use of alcohol or other drugs while using cannabis
The term “strain” refers to the subspecies of the cannabis plant. There are three main strains of cannabis: Cannabis indica, Cannabis sativa, and a hybrid of the two.
In general, frequent users of cannabis believe that Cannabis indica strains produce a sensation of relaxation, while Cannabis sativa strains produce more of the euphoric high, which is better for creativity and social interaction. A hybrid strain may cause both effects, to varying degrees.
However, according to an interview with Dr. Ethan Russo, an established expert on the human endocannabinoid system, there is no evidence to suggest that the different strains actually produce different effects.
Instead, he explained that the differences are based on how a person reacts to the individual plant and the amount of terpenoids within the particular plant the person is using. More research is needed in this area, however.
There are several different ways of using cannabis. The three most common methods of use are:
- using edibles, such as brownies or candies
THC absorption differs depending on the method a person uses. For example, when a person smokes or vapes cannabis, the effects of being high occur almost immediately. The THC enters the lungs and bloodstream, and the user very quickly reaches their peak high.
When a person ingests cannabis in the form of edibles, however, it has to travel through the digestive tract, which slows down the process of absorption into the blood. Therefore, it takes longer for the effects of the edibles to kick in. Take care not to take too much while waiting for an effect.
In 2016, a review of studies identified the following time frames for smoking, vaping, and using edibles:
|Smoking or vaping||Edibles|
|Onset||Within a few minutes||30–90 minutes|
|Peak||20–30 minutes||3 hours|
|Total time||2–3 hours||Around 24 hours|
CBD and THC are two of many different compounds present in cannabis. CBD and THC both interact with cannabinoid receptors, but only THC causes the high that people associate with recreational cannabis use. Learn more about the similarities and differences here.
CBD does not cause a high. Manufacturers often extract CBD from the cannabis plant for medicinal use. Healthcare professionals have used CBD to treat pain, anxiety, and several other medical conditions.
THC is present in the bud of the cannabis plant, which is why people tend to use these parts in recreational joints and edibles.
If a person smokes, vapes, or consumes too much cannabis, they may experience unpleasant effects. These might include:
- nausea and vomiting
- red eyes
- delayed reaction times
- reduced muscle and limb coordination
- increased heart rate
- distorted senses
People who do not use cannabis regularly are more likely to experience these unpleasant effects from being high.
It is unclear whether or not there are long-term side effects of using cannabis. Researchers must determine what, if any, long-term complications of cannabis use exist.
Generally, there are minimal side effects when using cannabis to get high. According to Americans for Safe Access, a person would need to smoke the equivalent of 1,500 pounds of cannabis in 15 minutes to overdose. However, this is untested and more or less impossible.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse warn that a person who has used too much cannabis may experience acute psychosis, the effects of which can include hallucinations, delusions, and loss of personal identity.
A person is also more likely to become very high on cannabis if they use edibles. This is because when a person consumes edibles, the cannabis has to pass through the digestive system before it enters the bloodstream.
The result of this is a delay of the onset of the high associated with cannabis. This delay can cause a person to eat more than needed as they wait for the effects to kick in.
The American Addiction Centers also warn that some people who deal cannabis may mix it with additional drugs. They cite the following potential side effects:
- hyperactivity or aggressiveness
- cardiac arrest
- high blood pressure
- chest pain
- aggressive behavior
- irregular heartbeat
It is important to note that these additional side effects would be the result of the drugs added to the cannabis. Pure cannabis should not cause these more severe side effects.
Cannabis highs feel different for everyone.
The effects of cannabis will vary based on the strain of plant, the person, how often they use the drug, and how they use it.
For example, smoking and vaping produce the quickest high and will leave the system faster than edibles.
Cannabis is associated with some minor side effects, but no deaths exclusively due to cannabis use have ever occurred.
Still, a person should follow all local laws and check with their state prior to purchasing and using cannabis for recreational or medicinal purposes. If cannabis is not legal in a person’s state, it is not worth the risk to obtain or use this drug.