“Dazed and Confused.” “Pineapple Express.” “Half Baked.” These are just a few of the iconic stoner films that have left thousands of viewers laughing… and maybe feeling a little curious.
Cheech & Chong may have blazed (pun intended) the trail, but countless books, movies, and TV shows since have created detailed depictions of what it looks, sounds, and feels like to be completely baked.
But really… for real — is that what it’s actually like to be high?
There’s no straight answer. What it’s like to be high varies from person to person and depends on the type of marijuana, the dose, the way you ingest it, etc.
Still, there are a few key characteristics of a marijuana high to be aware of, especially if it’s your first foray with these new buds.
OK, this is a bit of a misleading term, but the fact is, everyone has an “ideal” high. What’s actually ideal depends on the reason you’re getting high.
For many people, the goal of smoking, vaping, or eating marijuana is to find some relief from pain and/or anxiety (especially if a medical condition causes uncomfortable or disruptive symptoms). For others, it’s to manage appetite or help with sleep.
Basically, people are aiming to achieve specific physical and emotional sensations so they can feel better.
Some of the physical goals might be:
- increased hunger
- sensitivity to light, color, touch, taste, and smell
Some of the emotional goals might be:
Because marijuana relies on THC (aka delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient) to work, the mental and physical reactions tend to happen at the same time.
You can avoid getting too far into the emotional state by choosing a strain that has less THC, but even then, many factors play into the strains and influence the resulting high. Your chances of getting the same high more than once are low!
What affects how high you get?
- the dose, strain, and potency of the marijuana
- whether you smoke, vape, or eat it
- how often you use marijuana
- your age, gender, and body type
- whether you drink alcohol or take other drugs at the same time
- whether you’ve eaten food before ingesting marijuana
Here’s where it gets real, though: Marijuana isn’t for everyone. Plenty of people have scary tales of bad trips or getting “too high.”
It’s impossible to immediately know if you’re prone to these less-than-pleasant experiences, but it’s true that people who are sensitive to substances may not enjoy their highs at all.
Just as every high is different, every instance of being “too high” is unique. Some people may experience such a strong high that they have to crawl into bed, while others may feel catatonic or out of control. These experiences can discourage people from ever trying edibles or smoking again (this usually applies to edibles).
A few of the known physical risks are:
- high blood pressure
- racing heartbeat
Common negative emotional and psychological effects include:
While a fatal overdose of marijuana is unlikely, getting too high can definitely be scary. Fear can be dangerous since it can cause panic and carelessness. That’s why it’s recommended that people who are under the influence of any drug not get behind the wheel.
The best way to avoid the worst of being high is to plan ahead
If you’re sensitive to substances or new to marijuana, start slow. Seriously. Even if your local dispensary sells edibles and other products with 10 milligrams of THC per dose, beginners will likely need to start with less.
Way, way less. We’re talking closer to 2 or 3 milligrams — and some people may never be able to take more than that. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend to babysit you as well.
If you do accidentally get too high, the most important things to do are move to a place you feel safe and try to stay calm. Remember that the feelings are temporary. Some people find that eating, getting properly hydrated, or even taking a whiff of black pepper can help them find balance, but the best thing you can do is stay in one place until the feelings wear off.
Whether you’re curious about being high or you’re looking for an explanation for your bad high, let’s talk about THC. It’s the active ingredient responsible for your high, but it’s way more than an on/off button.
When you smoke or vape marijuana, THC enters your bloodstream via your lungs. Within a few minutes, it reaches peak concentration in your blood. Eventually, the ingredient is broken down and excreted through your urine and stool.
When you eat a food containing cannabis, your saliva breaks down the THC. After it hits your stomach, it metabolizes into another compound, eventually making its way through your system via your blood (but at a different pace).
Because your blood concentration of THC changes over time, the high you feel depends on your tolerance. A dose of 5 mg may affect you a certain way the first time, but it won’t have the same effect if you eat 5 mg of edibles regularly. The feeling of euphoria many people are after tends to peak when THC reaches its maximum concentration in the blood.
Joints, pipes, vapes, and edibles won’t all affect you the same way. If you eat a 5-mg gummy, the effect will be different than the effect of drinking 5-mg tea or taking a deep breath through a vape.
Again, “different” is subjective. Talk to anyone who’s ever tried marijuana, and they’re likely to tell you they felt infinitely more stoned from one method than from another.
tl;dr: Smoking vs. oral
- Smoking and vaping is stronger than oral/edibles
- Smoking and vaping take 20-30 mins to activate
- Edibles take 30-90 mins to activate
If you want statistics, though, a 2017 study comparing the effects of smoked, vaped, and orally ingested cannabis found that users reported weaker effects from oral consumption.
Sure, it’s annoying to hear that we can’t pinpoint a reason for these differences, but there are a few possible explanations! For one thing, the dosing in an edible may be different from that of a smoked or vaped product.
It’s also possible that THC reaches your liver faster when it’s eaten. The liver is where the ingredient is broken down into another psychoactive compound, and the type of high you experience might theoretically change depending on how much THC and its metabolites are circulating in your bloodstream as a result of this breakdown.
The other factor is the time it takes for the THC to kick in. With vaping or smoking, you may start to feel high within 20 to 30 minutes. For edibles, it can take 30 to 90 minutes for the weed to activate (which leads many impatient users to up the dose and accidentally level up their high to too high).
If your goal is to control your high and stay as grounded as possible, the key is to start with a low dose, no matter how you decide to get high. You can also gradually increase the dose as needed to find an effective one (the operative word being “gradually”).
Again, a single serving is often considered 10 milligrams of THC, so if you’re new to pot or just want to take things easy, cut this dose significantly!
Sativa, indica, hybrids — oh, my! If you’ve ever been around a seasoned pot user, they’ve probably mentioned which type of strain they prefer. The term “strain” refers to the specific type of cannabis.
Typically, indica is associated with a relaxing high, sativa is linked with more of an active, physical high, and hybrid strains contain some combination of both. But all these associations are theoretical — there’s no science to back them up.
So where does CBD fit into all this? Since CBD — aka cannabidiol — is in everything these days, it can be confusing. (P.S. We’re not talking about hemp CBD here.)
Just like THC, CBD is a compound found in cannabis. But CBD doesn’t affect the same receptors in your brain and doesn’t produce the feelings of a high. It can, however, affect your body’s endocannabinoid system, which helps regulate functions like sleep, immune system responses, and pain.
That’s why some people find CBD products helpful in managing issues like pain, anxiety, depression, and more. Some marijuana products contain a combination of CBD and THC, while others contain just one or the other.
Achieving a high from marijuana can help some people cope with physical and emotional issues — but can there be too much of a good thing when it comes to pot use? To summarize: We just don’t know enough yet.
Since marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug by the FDA, it’s incredibly hard to study, and when researchers do study it, they often have poor-quality plants on their hands.
We do know that for people under 25, regular marijuana use may cause long-term side effects like damage to neurons and executive function. So it’s probably a good idea to remember that “everything in moderation” applies to pot as well.
Risks of repeated marijuana use:
- learning and memory problems if heavy use begins during youth
- chronic cough
- schizophrenia in some people with higher genetic risk
- recurrent episodes of severe nausea and vomiting (in rare cases)
If and how you choose to use marijuana is up to you, but if you’re struggling to manage a chronic condition, it’s always best to work with a healthcare provider you trust who can help guide your treatment choices without judgment.
Michelle Konstantinovsky is a San Francisco-based journalist, marketing specialist, ghostwriter, and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumna. She’s written extensively on health, body image, entertainment, lifestyle, design, and tech.