Survey Reveals Almost Half of Canada’s MMJ Patients Reduced Their Alcohol and Opioid Consumption
by Bethan Rose
How long will a person feel intoxicated after consuming cannabis? If you’re baffled by the vast range of answers to this question swirling around the internet, you’re not alone. Different sources claim THC highs will last anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours—and none of them are necessarily wrong. Cannabis-induced highs depend on a lot of factors, from the user’s experience with cannabinoids (the active compounds in cannabis) to the type, quality, and profile of the cannabis product.
Still, emerging research and decades of personal reports have given us a general idea of how certain cannabis consumption methods will impact the user. In this guide, we’ll break down cannabis intoxication to give you a better idea of what you’re in for. After all, peace of mind is crucial for a comfortable cannabis experience.
Cannabis highs are primarily caused by tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the most abundant and psychotropic cannabinoid in the plant. This high, along with all of the other effects we get from cannabis, is possible because of an internal feedback network we all have called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). When we consume THC, it interacts with cannabinoid (CB) receptors in our body to create euphoric sensations, relieve pain, and boost appetite. It should be noted, though, that THC highs can vary depending on the amount, product type and strain, and other compounds consumed (learn about the entourage effect here).
Cannabidiol (CBD), on the other hand, does not create a high by itself, which is why it’s most popular among medical users. Don’t get it twisted, though: CBD is technically psychoactive in that it impacts one’s mental state (e.g., reduces anxiety), but it doesn’t cause mind-altering intoxication that could impact your activities like THC. Compared to the blissful, munchie-crazed feelings brought about by THC, CBD is calming and appetite-suppressing. Research published in 2019 found that it can enhance the effects of THC in small doses and counteract the effects of THC in larger doses.
Whether you’re consuming cannabis medically or recreationally, there may be situations that call for a more intense high. If that’s the case for you, you’re in luck! Experts and consumers have discovered a whole host of foods and drinks that are thought to amplify the effects of THC; mangoes, nuts, coffee, and kombucha are among them. You can read more about this phenomenon here. While scientific evidence is somewhat lacking in this area, it never hurts to experiment and find what works for you.
Perhaps you’re reading this post because you’re experiencing a distressing cannabis high and want it to be over…now. While the side-effect paranoia that can arise from taking in too much THC often feels very real and scary, know that cannabis on its own will not fatally harm you. Cannabis author David Schmader wrote, “Even aspirin can kill you if you take too much, but a fatal dose of marijuana would require ingestion of fifteen hundred pounds in fifteen minutes—a physical impossibility for any human, even Snoop Dogg.”
Nonetheless, feeling too high is never fun—we’ve all been there. The cannabis community has put together a list of tricks over the years for easing this very problem, including eating a snack, chewing on black peppercorns, taking CBD, and talking to a friend. For more information on these and other ways of counteracting THC, take a look at this post.
The length of time you’ll feel the effects of cannabis after consuming it is entirely dependent on your consumption method. Smoking cannabis flower has traditionally been the most common method of intake, but many others—such as dabbing wax, vaping oil, and eating infused edibles—have grabbed the attention of consumers over the last decade. Each of these methods offers a different onset, intensity, and length of high.
In 2021, University of Sydney researchers published one of the most insightful studies on this topic. By meta-analyzing 80 studies on cannabis’ cognitive impact conducted between 2000 and 2020, the team narrowed down the window of cannabis impairment to 3-10 hours, adding that a “more typical duration of impairment” is 4 hours. You can read the full review, published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, here.
In addition to the dose and delivery method of THC, the researchers confirmed that users’ frequency of use and resulting tolerance to cannabis greatly affect intoxication level and length. For the study, they defined a moderate dose of THC as 10 milligrams—think one typical THC gummy—but noted that this dose would only produce mild effects in regular users. Because regular users can handle THC better, they were found to be less cognitively impaired by it than occasional users.
The onset of effects and amount of time you will feel high from a cannabis product depend on how the body processes the THC. Let’s explore what this looks like with each kind of consumption method.
Cannabis flower can be smoked (in a joint, bong, pipe, etc.) or vaped (using an herb vaporizer like this one), and the high onset and length are thought to be similar for each. When THC is inhaled, it is quickly and directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs, peaking within 3-10 minutes. That’s why smoking and vaping have one of the fastest onsets, meaning you will feel the effects fairly quickly.
After smoking or vaping cannabis flower, you can expect to start feeling the THC in about 2-10 minutes. Flower highs feel the most intense at the beginning and start to fade about 30 minutes to an hour in for most users. Depending on how much you smoked or vaped, the high will altogether last 1-3 hours. For a new consumer, though, it’s important to point out that while the true high will only last a few hours, trace effects (such as lethargy) may linger for longer.
A popular consumption method among seasoned cannabis users is dabbing cannabis concentrates with a dab rig or dab/wax pen, which creates one of the strongest cannabis highs. Concentrates can also be vaporized using a vape pen; this method is much more gentle than dabbing, making it popular among newer users. Because both of these involve inhalation, the way your body processes the THC is the same as with smoking or vaping flower.
Due to the high THC content in concentrates compared to flower, the effects from dabbing or vaping concentrates kick in almost instantly. From there, however, the high is very similar to that of smoked or vaped flower, hitting hardest at the beginning and then slowly tapering off. If you just took a couple of hits using a vape pen, you will likely only feel a modest high for 30 minutes to an hour.
Dabbing is much different story. Because concentrates that are dabbed (e.g., wax, shatter) can have upwards of 80% THC, it’s very easy to consume a lot of THC in a short period when dabbing. An experienced user might feel effects for 1-3 hours, but a newbie could be very high for many more hours depending on the dose. For this reason, those who are unfamiliar with dabbing should approach it with caution.
Cannabis-infused edibles range from baked goods to candies to pills and capsules, and the experience offered by these products is wildly different from that of smoking, vaping, or dabbing. When THC is consumed orally, it has to be digested and processed by the liver before it enters the bloodstream and produces a high. The time this takes varies widely; your weight, metabolism, and recent diet all play a role. THC levels peak in the blood roughly 2-4 hours after eating an edible, which is why edible highs can be a rollercoaster.
A cannabis edible will generally hit between 30 minutes and 2 hours after it’s eaten (most users will start to feel effects in the middle of that range), and it’s crucial to wait that period out before taking more. Unlike inhalation highs that hit fast and hard, edible highs build up. While you might start to feel the THC 45 minutes in, the peak of the high could be hours ahead. Adding to the intensity of an edible high is the fact that the liver turns half the THC into 11-OH-THC, a compound thought to be four times stronger.
In sum, edible highs are the least predictable of any form of cannabis for a number of reasons. The effects of edibles can be felt for 2-10 hours, sometimes hitting in waves, and very high doses could potentially linger for up to 24 hours. If you’re new to edibles, you should start with 5-10 milligrams of THC and plan to be unavailable for the rest of the day.
Tinctures fall somewhere in between inhalation and oral consumption. These usually alcohol-based liquids are administered sublingually, or under the tongue, so that the THC quickly enters the bloodstream through the mouth’s mucous membranes. After the tincture is held under the tongue for 30-60 seconds, it’s then swallowed. This dual delivery of THC is what makes sublingual tinctures a unique case when it comes to the length of effects.
If properly held under the tongue, cannabis tincture should create some effects in 15-30 minutes. Some of the THC in the tincture is digested after being swallowed, however, and that THC will not be felt until it’s processed by the liver (just like with edibles). Tincture highs build up similarly to edible highs and can last just as long.
The amount of time that THC is present in your system after consumption is much different than the amount of time it actively produces effects. According to Dr. Scot Purdon of the University of Alberta, the THC metabolites picked up in urine or blood via testing are not the same neuroactive components that cause a high. To make things even more confusing, each THC detection method can spot the cannabinoid in your body for a different length of time.
Urine drug tests are the most common way of testing for cannabis use, but THC can also be detected through hair, blood, and saliva samples. The following are estimated detection windows provided by Testing.com:
Check out this post to learn more about THC and drug tests.
As with any intoxicating substance, you should never attempt to drive if you feel high from THC. Although cannabis has not been anecdotally found to weaken driving ability in the same way alcohol does, the University of Sydney’s 2021 meta-analysis revealed that THC does indeed affect several measures of driving performance and driving-related cognitive skills, including reaction time and conflict control. (CBD, however, does not impair these skills, so it’s safe to drive after consuming it.)
Based on the review’s findings, most driving-related skills are recovered within 5 hours of inhaling 20 milligrams of THC. When consumed orally (i.e., in an edible), though, the same amount of THC impairs driving for about 8 hours. Similarly, a recent randomized clinical trial found that poor driving performance “appears to resolve by 4 hours 30 minutes in most individuals” after smoking THC. The researchers pointed out that many of the trial’s participants felt ready to drive an hour and a half after smoking despite still being very debilitated by the THC.
Essentially, you should wait about 4-5 hours to drive after inhaling THC (even if you feel okay to drive) and probably a few hours longer after taking an edible. But what about the fact that the THC is still in your system—are DUIs a concern? Unfortunately, legislation and science haven’t quite aligned on this matter, and every law enforcement agency has its own policy regarding cannabis DUIs. Professor Iain McGregor, academic director of the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics at the University of Sydney, stated:
“THC can be detected in the body weeks after cannabis consumption while it is clear that impairment lasts for a much shorter period of time. Our legal frameworks probably need to catch up with that and, as with alcohol, focus on the interval when users are more of a risk to themselves and others. Prosecution solely on the basis of the presence of THC in blood or saliva is manifestly unjust.”
It’s getting easier to predict what the various kinds of THC highs look like thanks to emerging research, but the reality is that every consumer’s experience with THC will be different. The length and intensity of your high will ultimately be based on your tolerance to THC, the amount of THC you consume, and the method of consumption you choose (e.g., dabbing, edibles). What rocks one person’s world for hours may only produce mild effects in someone else.
As a good rule of thumb, make sure to clear your schedule for the rest of the day if you’re planning on trying a new consumption method (or are new to cannabis altogether). This will help you avoid any issues if the high lasts a little longer than expected. If you’d like more pointers, book a consultation with one of Veriheal’s cannabis coaches for a personalized deep dive into cannabis use.
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