What Happens If You Smoke Marijuana?
Reactions with pot can vary widely
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Sean Gallup Collection / Getty Images News
The reaction you may have when trying marijuana can vary dramatically based on many factors. Some people report not feeling anything at all when they smoke marijuana. In other cases, people report feeling relaxed or “high.”
Some people who use marijuana report having sudden feelings of anxiety and paranoid thoughts and that might be caused by trying a higher potency marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Research also shows that regular use of marijuana is linked to an increased risk of depression, anxiety and a loss of motivation or drive. You may feel “dopey” on the drug, which is when you begin to lose interest in activities that you might have previously enjoyed or you may lose the ability to grasp concepts easily.
Short-Term Discomforts of Using Weed
The effects of using marijuana can be unpredictable, especially when it is mixed with other drugs, research shows. You may feel relaxed on the drug, but other things you might not be expecting with pot use can include rapid heart rate and other unpleasantries.
- Dry mouth
- Swollen eyelids
- Bloodshot eyes
- Loss of coordination
- Accelerated heart rate
As with any drug or substance that can alter perception, logic and usual behavior, there are several short-term hazards of using marijuana from impairing driving abilities to memory loss.
- Learning difficulties
- Lack of attention and focus
- Poor driving skills
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Impaired memory
- Difficulty in thinking
Any drug that is taken over a prolonged period of time can have an effect on your health. Several of the physical barriers that can occur range from infertility problems to overall brain functions.
- An increased risk of developing lung, head, and neck cancers
- Lack of motivation
- Decreased sperm count in men
- Irregular menstruation in women
- Respiratory problems
- Heightened risk of infections, especially the lungs
- Poor short-term memory recall
- Inability to shift attention normally
- Inability to understand complex information
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that marijuana can affect each person differently according to their own body chemistry and the type of pot used. Some people can use weed and never have any negative reactions while others may try it and get entirely freaked out by the experience.
- Your biology (genetic makeup)
- Marijuana’s strength (amount of active ingredient THC)
- Previous experience with the drug
- How it’s taken (smoked versus ingested)
- Whether alcohol or other drugs are taken too
Not Your Grandfather’s Pot
Studies have found that the marijuana available today is much different in terms of potency compared to what was generally available in the 1960s when the use of the drug became widespread in the United States.
Today’s strains of the plant contain much more of the active ingredient in marijuana: tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, researchers say. That makes today’s weed much more potent than that smoked by the hippies and flower children of the Woodstock generation.
How marijuana affects the individual user depends on many different factors, including body chemistry and the potency of the drug.
First Time Smoking Weed? What You Should Expect
Everything you need to know for a good first sesh.
As cannabis becomes mainstream, more adults are finding themselves smoking weed for the first time; and if you are reading this you may be one of them. If so, you are on the right track by researching how it will affect you, and what to avoid when starting out. A recent study indicated that 44% of adults had tried cannabis, and the numbers are growing.
Following our guidelines and listening to the stories of others will help you decide whether or not you want to try it, and also make your first experience an enjoyable one.
If you are only first trying cannabis as an adult, it is very likely that you have been exposed to many myths about its use from anti-drug education programs like D.A.R.E and the ‘Just Say No’ campaigns of the Reagan era. For almost a century, weed use has been demonized in this country, and massive propaganda campaigns have been implemented to discourage use.
This includes many anecdotes which have easily been disproven by science and users alike. Examples include: give you a high that lasts for several days, cause promiscuity or encourage rape, make a person violent, and all sorts of other erroneous claims.
In fact, none of that is true. What you will most likely find during your first experience is much less extreme than what you expected. More than likely, it will be a feeling of euphoria that it much more subtle than what is portrayed in the Cheech and Chong or Pineapple Express type movies. You will not hallucinate or forget who you are, but you may end up getting a bit hungry and feeling pretty comfortable and relaxed.
Tips For Your First Time Smoking Weed
- Try it first in a comfortable setting, such as your own home, with people you enjoy to be around
- Do not combine it with any other drugs, such as alcohol, for your first time as they may have a cumulative effect and lead to nausea
- Take it slow, you can always have a bit more if it is not enough
- Don’t try to drive, operate machinery, or any other potentially dangerous activities
- Understand how it affects you before trying it at parties or venturing into public places
- Lastly, let your inhibitions go and just enjoy it. In the words of H.S. Thompson, “buy the ticket, take the ride”
I Tried It But Didn’t Get High. Why?
Often, first-time weed smokers claim not to feel anything and are let down by their expectations. The urban myth is that “your body has never been exposed to THC so doesn’t know how to use it.“
Studies into the Endocannabinoid system in the 1980s and 1990s have largely proven this wrong. More likely it is related to technique, as illustrated by both Bill Clinton and Elon Musk with ‘I didn’t inhale.’ According to some studies, in general, less then 10% of the THC is absorbed by novice smokers as they do not yet know how to pull the smoke into their lungs, and instead smoke it like a cigar, compared to the 28% absorption that a more experienced smoker would get. So, if you don’t feel anything, try again, but breath deeper.
If you’re having trouble taking deep pulls, try hitting your joint (or whatever you’re smoking) and before exhaling, inhale again. This double inhale 1. ensures you’re actually inhaling smoke, and 2. allows the smoke to cool off a little bit in your mouth, making it less harsh to inhale on the second round. You might also want to try a vaporizer, which can be less harsh on the throat and lungs for first-time smokers.
From a medical standpoint, what happens to my body when I smoke weed?
The experience of smoking weed is generally quite subjective, each person will feel and describe it slightly different, and enjoy it for different reasons. There are, however, several effects which scientifically can be attributed to smoking weed for all users. The first of which is an increase in pulse rate, often immediately after smoking. Blood pressure then falls slightly, which can lead to light-headedness at very high doses. Next, the eyes turn redder, and the muscles in the body become weaker. Appetite is generally heightened. In some cases, hearing and sight are enhanced, and time dilation may occur.
Most users also experience what is known as ‘cottonmouth,’ or dry mouth. All of these effects should be anticipated and are no reason for alarm or worry.
The physiological effects are quite consistent across users, but the psychological effects vary greatly between users, and between strains of marijuana consumed, as well as the method of consumption. Some people report feeling more open, creative, and connected to others. Alternatively, some users say they feel lazy, paranoid, or more introverted.
Not only is this a factor of individual biology, but it is also a factor of the different types of weed out there. Generally, cannabis is classified as either Sativa, or Indica (although some brands are starting to lean towards describing strains by mood rather than sativa or indica.) Sativa weed leads to a more energetic high that stimulates the mind, increases creativity, and can be energizing. Indica weeds are attributed more towards relaxation, slowing of the mind and body, increasing appetite and reducing anxiety.
Every user has their own preferences or may switch between strains throughout the day (i.e. Sativa for the day time, Indica for the night). If it is your first time, it is generally recommended to smoke an Indica, as there is less chance of paranoia. Once you know more how you will react, then try other strains and methods of ingestion such as tinctures or edibles.
Will I get addicted if I try it?
In the old days of such films as Reefer Madness, it was claimed that smoking just one marijuana cigarette would turn you into an addict. This is far from the truth, and in fact, it is very difficult to become physically addicted to cannabis as it does not influence the same dopamine reward circuits in the brain as with nicotine, cocaine, or even sugar.
People can develop a habit of use, but whether or not heavy cannabis use can cause withdrawal symptoms if ceased is still widely up for debate. A 2006 study looked at males and females using cannabis and found that the risk of dependence for males after 1 year of regular use was less than 1%.
That number rose to 4% after two years of use and then declined. For women, at the end of 1 year of regular use, less than 1% were dependent and that number did not change over subsequent years.
First time smoking pot is a unique experience. You might enjoy it a lot, you might walk away undecided, or you might not get high at all.