Whether you're new to the world of weed or a seasoned toker, you might be curious about how people feel when they're high on cannabis. Here you'll learn what the science says about how it feels to be high on weed and the factors that affect a high. You'll also hear from cannabis consumers of different ages and experience levels about how they feel when they're high.
What science says about how weed makes us feel
Many clinical studies on the effects of cannabis begin by acknowledging that it results in relaxation, loss of inhibition, euphoria, altered perceptions, and sleepiness. On the other hand, it can also lead to paranoia, dizziness, insomnia, nausea, dry mouth, fear, and hallucinations.
“I like to think of getting 'high' in two components: your mood, and your abilities,” said Dr. Adie Rae, a neuroscientist and scientific adviser to Weedmaps.
“Cannabis is well-known to cause positive changes in mood. This is typically called euphoria. There is a huge range of positive mood, from a subtle sense of ease all the way up to full-blown joy and elation. Where you'll fall on this spectrum depends a lot on your baseline mood state (how you feel before you smoke), the product you use, and the composition of your endocannabinoid system,” explained Rae.
Joy and elation are possible outcomes of ingesting THC but some people feel a heightened urge to paint, write, play music, or otherwise express themselves. Or they may choose to read or engage in deep, thoughtful conversations. Marijuana use can cause a change in perspective or thought processes that some say makes them more creatively inclined. “It would be oversimplifying to say that cannabis makes you more creative, but at the right dose and in the right person, creativity could be one possible outcome of the changes in brain activity,” Rae told Weedmaps.
Clearly, what it feels like to be high is a subjective experience that's different for everyone. How you feel when you're high also depends on a multitude of external factors. But does being high always feel good? “There is a dose window for positive mood, and if you use too much for your level of tolerance, you can overshoot this window and end up feeling anxious or paranoid,” Rae said.
To decrease the likelihood of experiencing a “bad trip” and feeling anxious or paranoid, increase your dosage in small increments to understand your tolerance level. It's best to test the weed waters with small doses of low-THC products. Once you know how that makes you feel, you can increase as needed.
In addition to altering your mood and perception, cannabis use can also affect your ability to function, remember things, reason, and feel inhibition. A study published in 2018 in the journal Behavioural Pharmacology found that cannabis decreased inhibition, particularly in doses high in THC, but had a less concrete effect on memory and reasoning. As Rae points out, “You may be forgetful, have trouble keeping up in conversation or following the plot of a movie, and of course, may not have all the physical abilities required to safely drive a car. Your reaction time slows, and your sense of time goes out of whack.”
The science is clear on THC being the primary psychoactive component of cannabis and, therefore, the main factor in the strength and duration of feeling high. But terpenes may also play a role in the marijuana high experience. According to a 2018 study published in the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, there are many studies where terpenes have been shown to ease pain, anxiety, and depression, which could account for part of the euphoria that many people associate with being high.
At the end of the day, each individual will have a unique experience with cannabis. “No matter how we try to quantify or describe the mood state, thinking state, or psychological effects of cannabis, these phenomena are often ineffable; they can only be felt by the person getting high,” Rae asserted.
Real people talk about how being high feels
Weedmaps spoke with a trio of people across the country to understand how they feel when they're high on marijuana. Here's what they had to say:
“I'm a social stoner, meaning I only get high around other people, which has been hard since Covid hit. Before Covid, I would light up a bong with friends and just feel happy, like everything and everyone was in harmony.” — Ryan, age 24, Boulder, Colorado
“I've been smoking weed since I was 17. Now I've got a medical card. My tolerance is pretty high at this point, but I still love that spacey chill feeling I get when I light up a joint. Sweet oblivion.” — Harold, age 58, Fort Myers, Florida
“I didn't like how I felt the one time I tried edibles. I had a small cookie and small brownie and felt more stoned than high. Like I was in a stupor. But at the same time, my heart was beating so fast and I felt panicked. Not good. Plus it lasted through the night and I woke up with a pounding headache.” — Tatiana, age 39, Savannah, Georgia
Factors that affect a cannabis high
Consumption method. Some cannabis consumption methods may have stronger and longer effects than others. Edibles, for example, may be more potent and long-lasting in their effects than vaping or smoking, but experiences will vary among consumers.
Dosage. Getting the right dose for your body is crucial. This includes an appropriate ratio of CBD to THC so that the cannabinoids can work in tandem through the entourage effect.
Cannabinoids. CBD and THC are the two main cannabinoids in cannabis, but more than 100 have been isolated in the plant. CBN, CBG, and THCV are just a few of the other cannabinoids that could influence your experience. THCV may have the potential to decrease the negative side effects (notably anxiety) of THC, according to Rae.
Potency. Potency depends on how much of a certain cannabinoid is present and how that cannabinoid is delivered (i.e., smoking, eating, etc.). Cannabis containing high levels of THC is more potent and can produce a very intense high.
Terpenes. Though there are no human studies on terpenes' role in consumers feeling high, there is evidence of the anti-anxiety effects of several terpenes commonly found in cannabis. Another terpene common in cannabis, pinene, shows promise as a schizophrenia treatment.
Weed strain. Consumers have countless weed strains from which to choose and some are famous for certain effects. Known for its heady and euphoric high, OG Kush is a perennial favorite. Other strains, such as Jack Herer, have been reported to help consumers focus and be productive.
Tolerance. All other factors aside, your personal tolerance level may be the most critical component to how you feel when you're high. If you're new to cannabis, assume that your tolerance level is low and start with less potent strains and lower dosages. Always shop for weed at a licensed dispensary and consult with a qualified medical professional before beginning a cannabis regimen.
Weed produces different effects for everyone. The key to finding the right products for you is to experiment cautiously. Start with a low dose — one puff of a joint or 2 mg of THC for edibles — and observe how different cannabinoids, strains, and consumption methods make you feel. Become familiar with your tolerance and the weed world will be open for you to explore.
Major contributions from Dr. Adie Rae.