What Does it Feel Like to Be High?

Woman holding a dab rig.
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Along with cannabis’s therapeutic benefits, it has become a common recreational drug for its attractive high. But, if you have never used cannabis before then you may wonder what this sensation is like, and how you can personally manage it. Let’s take a look at what happens to your body when it is exposed to THC and what effects smoking weed will produce!

Common Sensations that you can Anticipate

Since marijuana strains vary in their amount of THC and CBD– two of the main psychoactive compounds in cannabis– users are likely to experience different effects between each person and each session.

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Some of these considerations include:

  • Amount of THC or other prominent cannabinoids in the cannabis
  • Whether you smoke, vape or ingest it
  • How often you use marijuana
  • If marijuana was used in parallel with other intoxicants like alcohol

While there are many effects to marijuana, some of the most common sensations include:

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  • Euphoric feeling, or clear mindedness
  • Laughter
  • Lethargy
  • Hunger
  • Creativity
  • Slower movement of time

Unfortunately, there are potentially negative sensations as well:

  • Anxiety
  • Dampened motor function
  • Confusion and delusions
  • Increased blood pressure

Stages of Being High

By igniting weed, you are releasing thousands of compounds into the air. Upon inhalation these compounds fill the mouth and infiltrate the lungs. Like the rest of the body, the mouth is filled with THC receptors that are ready to bind the drug once it is present. However, these receptors work in parallel with salivation, so once they bind THC they can no longer produce saliva and the infamous cottonmouth sets in. This, for many people, is one of the first signs of getting high.

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Once the smoke has reached the lung, the psychoactive compounds, like THC and CBD, move through the highly absorbent tissue and make their way into the bloodstream. To move throughout the body, the cannabinoids bind to various blood cells and blood vessels.

Once THC and CBD reach the heart, the effects are instantaneous. The blood vessels begin to dilate and the heart pumps faster to move the same amount of blood through– this will cause an increased heart rate which is noticeable but completely normal. As the cannabinoids move throughout the body, they interact with every blood vessel, even the small capillaries present in your eyes. The eyes and the skin around it will begin to swell which causes your eyes to go red and eyelids to droop, the tell-tale signs of being high. This side-effect, however, can be alleviated by adding a few over-the-counter eye drops.

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THC in the Brain

The true high sensation takes several minutes because the cannabinoids must pass the blood-brain barrier to interact with neurons to cause the main psychoactive effects. Many of the previously listed effects of cannabis like lapse in time, dampened motor function, forgetfulness and anxiety only occur once THC is able to bind between brain cells and dampen their communication. These sensations do not occur with CBD because CBD is a non-psychoactive compound that mainly targets relaxation through muscles.

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Neurons form an expansive communicatory web within the brain and throughout the body so every thought, movement, and action are tightly regulated by chemical signals between these cells. THC mimics the structure of one signal and interacts with the receiving end of the neuron. In turn, this interaction prevents many other chemical signals from interacting with its neighbor.

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a women thinking with her brain neurons firinga women thinking with her brain neurons firing

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While this inhibition does not prevent the signal entirely, it does decrease the spend by which this signal is sent and received. Remember, in the cellular world, a decreased time is on the scale of nanoseconds, but if each neuron interaction is slowed by just a fraction of a second, you will be able to feel the cumulative effects. In a peak high stage, it may be difficult to quickly form sentences, fluidly move limbs or solve complex questions because it takes longer for the brain to process these situations or actions.

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Even internally there is an effect. Normally many parts of your brain are in communication to respond to situations correctly, but if this conversation is slowed then it is difficult to properly control emotions, like laughter. Furthermore, time seemingly slows because the parts of the brain that control your internal clock, known as circadian rhythms, now have inaccurate signaling patterns and the concept of time gets distorted.

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Perhaps the most notorious effect is the munchies. At peak high stages, it feels like your distended stomach is somehow empty and you are forced to reopen the fridge to pick out new snacks. But, every time you eat a chip you seem to forget that you have just eaten, and on goes this cycle until, to your surprise, the bag is diminished and you can’t seem to understand how they left so quickly. The brain has a difficult time producing new memories while high, so unimportant actions, like eating, are often glazed over. Hunger continues because neurons between the stomach and the brain are usually in constant communication to regulate how much has been consumed, but THC thwarts this signaling.

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Does this Same High Occur for an Edible?

Rather than smoking cannabis to get high, many users prefer consuming THC-infused products, like various baked goods or drinks. Since the THC molecule is the same in both cases, the largest difference between the two methods is that the THC found in edibles is much more potent and efficient.

To make edibles, the THC has to be extracted out of cannabis and placed into the food. Since THC is a lipophilic drug, meaning it is fat dissolving rather than water, the cannabis has to be baked in butter or oil for several hours to dissolve the compounds. Throughout this process, other compounds are released into the air causing a smelly house, but this also alters the final product. Terpenes are the aromatic compounds found in cannabis, but they have also been shown to collaborate with THC to produce different high sensations. However, since terpenes are not as lipophilic as THC, they are released into the air rather than dissolving so the final THC-infused oil has a different chemical composition than cannabis. This is part of the reason why many users report a completely different high when using edibles versus THC.

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Gourmet chocolate cannabis edibles in the shape of marijuana leavesGourmet chocolate cannabis edibles in the shape of marijuana leaves

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The efficiency between smoking and taking an edible is very different and can cause small amounts of THC to react more or less strong. When smoking, much of the cannabinoids and terpenes are lost to the atmosphere as smoke and, even if it is inhaled, smoke is still blown out which shows that not all of the compounds were consumed. Contrary to this, edibles have a much higher transfer rate to your body because nearly all of the nutrients are consumed during digestion. This means edibles have substantially less THC than cannabis– edibles range from 10mg-500mg whereas cannabis is sold in gram, but edibles can produce much stronger highs.

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The main difficulty with taking edibles is understanding your own limits. Since edibles have an extended lapse period– effects begin about 30 minutes to one hour after consumption– many users will mistakenly eat more which results in a much more intense high then just smoking. Since smoking is a more instantaneous high, it is much easier for new users to recognize their limits and prevent “greening out”. But if this ever occurs, Wikileaf has provided some tips to alleviate this sensation!

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