Every person’s endocannabinoid system is specific, like a fingerprint, which is why there is no universal cannabis experience. An edible with 5 milligrams of THC can rock one person’s consciousness while barely registering in someone else’s. That said, there is one point of fact that all cannabis enthusiasts can agree on: THC gets you high, and the high is a journey.
But before we get into the typical stages of that journey, we should have a word about timelines. A study published by the National Health Institute in 2017 established two main timelines for THC highs: smoking or vaping and ingestion. Smoking or vaping will typically result in an onset that arrives minutes after use, a peak that occurs 20 – 30 minutes after the onset, and a high that could last up to two hours. Ingestion, on the other hand, filters THC through the liver before entering the bloodstream. The resulting onset can occur up to two hours after ingestion, with the peak of the high occurring 2 – 3 hours after the onset. The effects can then linger for up to 24 hours, depending on the dosage.
Whether inhaled or ingested, both highs can be mesmerizingly intoxicating or mild and manageable. Knowing your dose is key.
If you’re ready to compare notes with your own experiences, or you’re new to cannabis and aren’t sure what to expect, the stoned spectrum can bridge the gap between the effects you and others may similarly feel. Below, explore the 10 stages of being high and see if it all adds up.
Stage 1: the first step before the high
Your nose and mouth are typically the first to interact with cannabis. Even in the case of edibles, traces of terpenes can predict the direction, duration, and intensity of your high.
Smelling and tasting your weed can have a pretty substantial impact on your cannabis journey, so take a whiff and savor the flavor. And while you’re tasting and smelling your herb, you can shore up your plans — and snacks — for when your high kicks into gear.
Stage 2: the first sign of a high
Once THC crosses your blood-brain barrier and binds to your CB1 receptors, the high is initiated. This activation can occur seconds after hitting a fat dab, minutes after blowing a dense blunt, or hours after eating an artisan edible.
There are many variables that dictate activation, but variables aside, once your blood-brain barrier has been breached, the primary effects of cannabis can begin to percolate. These effects often begin with a feeling of effervescence in the limbs and a slight shift in cognition that brightens and smooths rough edges, slowly blooming throughout the body.
Stage 3: cresting the high and feeling mildly stoned
In the time between activation and onset, users can expect an intensifying of the physical and cerebral effects that have begun to percolate. The length of time and intensity of this moment depends entirely on the method of consumption, the strain, and the user’s DNA.
As THC concentrates in the bloodstream, the high develops and features effects like creativity, relaxation, or pain relief. Stages 2 – 3 are the perfect time to connect with your body. We recommend doing some gentle stretches or other low-stakes physical activity in this stage.
Stage 4: getting blazed
Stages 2 – 4 can occur in such rapid-fire succession and with such seamless fluidity that one may not feel many nuanced effects between taking a deep hit and feeling a strong onset. However, there will come a moment when your blood reaches max THC concentration, and this is when your high will swoon into effect — sometimes overwhelmingly.
Calibrating your dose to match your tolerance is critical to ensure a manageable swoon. This stage is the best time to ground yourself with a few deep, mindful breaths.
Stage 5: tension starts to build
As your body readjusts to the THC in your bloodstream, users can sometimes feel a tug between gravity and ascension which may cause anxiety or tension.
The easiest way to avoid feeling crippled by this moment is to have a pre-planned activity ready, as well as some THC-softening CBD. This would be the time to start a hike, turn on a gaming console, or run a bath in order to keep your mind busy and your high going strong.
Stage 6: reaching the peak
Once your high solidifies, your chosen strain or product’s effects should sharpen, and whatever unique characteristics that attracted you to this strain or product will become substantial and tangible.
Strains that affect focus might produce wild creativity, euphoric strains will launch giggle fits, chatty strains will loosen jaws, and chill-out strains will lock you into the couch. For some, this is considered the peak when THC blood concentration is at its highest and the body has comfortably acclimated to that concentration. Stage 6 is the moment to get introspective with your high, let your mind wander freely, and maybe have an epiphany — or ten.
Stage 7: when the high levels off
By this stage, you’ve been high for a while. Your eyes are probably bloodshot, your lids are likely heavy, and if your high calls for them, your munchies are presumably emerging. And despite popular opinion, munchies do not accompany every single cannabis high. In fact, many strains are appetite suppressants. But if your strain is known for delivering stoner cravings, prepare accordingly during Stage 1 lest you end up high and dry with no burgers or fries.
Aside from the munchies, consumers in this stage will begin to feel a gradual lightening of effects as the THC in the bloodstream becomes more diluted. This stage can last anywhere from one hour to the better part of a day. During this stage, best practices dictate leaning into whatever stoned activity you initiated during Stage 5 and enjoying the ride.
Stage 8: the cooldown
The vacuum created as THC slowly dissipates from your body can be quickly replaced with malaise. For joint tokers, bong rippers, and dab hitters, Stage 8 is usually when another session is initiated. For edible enthusiasts, Stage 8 is a good time to make a cup of tea and ease all the way into decompression and evaporation.
Stage 9: decompression
A particularly intense Stage 7 can lead to a disorienting come down that could be comparatively more dizzying and/or lethargic than the rest of the high. In these instances, feeling burnt out is pretty common. If the feeling emerges, don’t fight it: give in and take a nap.
Stage 10: evaporation and tranquility
The best-case scenario, and most common by far, is that your high will evaporate in a timely fashion, leaving your cognition slightly altered and your body slightly more responsive, but your awareness more or less intact. At this stage, the psychotropic effects of THC have exhausted themselves, but the countless other cannabinoids have affected you in many ways less tractable than THC.
Effects like tranquility, physical ease, and general congeniality are common remnants of a weed high that last long after the giggles, head trips, and munchies have passed. Stage 10 is a good time to evaluate your high, what you liked about your strain, what worked best, and what you might adjust before your next session.
Featured image by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
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