What are the effects of consuming marijuana?

The effects of consuming marijuana vary from person to person, and they are dependent on the type and amount consumed, as well as the method in which it is consumed.

Those who enjoy using marijuana typically find it to be relaxing or mildly euphoric. Some find it makes them more social or outgoing. Those who dislike it often report it makes them feel uncomfortable, tired, or withdrawn.

New users often experience different effects than more experienced users. Some novice consumers feel no effect at all the first time they try it. Others — usually those who use a little too much their first time — temporarily experience some unpleasant feelings, such as an increased heart rate or a sense of paranoia.

What should I know before consuming marijuana?

Not all marijuana products are the same!

There are many different kinds (or “strains”) of marijuana. More information about the differences between strains can be found in the “Flowers” section below.

There are also different types of marijuana products. They are typically broken down into three categories, each of which can have very different effects on the consumer.

Flowers: These are the buds found on marijuana plants, and they are typically smoked or vaporized. They are what come to mind for most people when they think about marijuana. Each strain of marijuana is different. Along with varying in appearance, smell, and taste, they vary in potency and the effects they have on the consumer. Some marijuana strains can be stimulating and cerebral, whereas others can be more calming or relaxing.

Inexperienced consumers and those trying marijuana again after a long period of time should start by consuming only a small amount, such as one or two puffs. Smoking and vaporizing have an almost immediate effect that intensifies relatively quickly (usually within 10-15 minutes), so wait at least 20-30 minutes before using more so you can get an idea of how it is affecting you. In other words, do not start off by consuming an entire joint!

If you are using a vaporizer, keep in mind that, compared to smoking, it is harder to gauge how much you are inhaling, so go slow. Also note that a lot of vaporizer pens — which look similar to electronic cigarettes — use concentrated marijuana oils instead of flowers, which means they can be much more potent. More information about concentrates is provided below.

If you are purchasing marijuana at a retail store, ask a budtender to assist you in choosing which kind of marijuana to buy. Be sure to find out how potent it is and what effects to expect.

Concentrates: These are highly concentrated forms of marijuana, such as hashes, waxes, oils, and kief, which are produced by extracting THC and other cannabinoids from the flowers and leaves of marijuana plants. If you compare marijuana to alcohol, flowers would be roughly equivalent to a light beer and concentrates would be comparable to hard liquor.

Concentrates are usually smoked or vaporized, and concentrated marijuana oils are often found in vaporizer pens. Some people also use them to produce edibles, which are discussed below.

Regardless of your level of experience, go slow when using concentrates. Start with a very small amount and wait at least 20-30 minutes before using more.

Infused Products: These are products such as foods (or “edibles”) and tinctures that are infused with concentrated marijuana oils. Edibles are the most popular form of infused product, and they are also the most likely to result in over-consumption.

Inhaling vs. Ingesting Marijuana

It is important to understand there are two very significant differences between inhaling and ingesting marijuana:

  • Because of the way in which the body processes marijuana, ingesting it typically produces much stronger and longer-lasting effects:
  • Whereas the effects of inhaling marijuana are immediate and peak within 10-15 minutes, ingesting marijuana can take up to two hours to take effect and can peak for a couple hours after that.

This article provides a good overview of why ingesting marijuana is stronger than inhaling it. This page provides more detailed information about the effects of inhaled and ingested marijuana.

If you decide to consume marijuana edibles...

Start Low: Ingesting too much marijuana can be a very unpleasant experience, so be careful. Just about anyone who has over-consumed marijuana edibles will tell you that not eating enough is far preferable to eating too much.

First, always read the product’s packaging. State laws require that it indicate how many servings and how many total milligrams of THC are in the product. (THC is the psychoactive component of marijuana.) Under Colorado law, a “serving” is defined as “up to 10 milligrams of THC,” and most infused product manufacturers now use that as a standard. Some inexperienced consumers and people with smaller body types have found 10 milligrams to be too powerful, so those using it for the first time should strongly consider starting with 5 milligrams. This is the central theme of the Council on Responsible Cannabis Regulation’s “First Time 5 campaign," and we encourage you to check it out.

Many edible marijuana products contain multiple servings. In Colorado, for example, they can have as much as 100 milligrams of THC. Many companies produce these high-dosage products with the expectation that consumers will only eat a portion of them or share them with others. Some manufacturers produce lower-dosage products that include only 5 or 10 milligrams of THC, so those would be a good place to start if you are an inexperienced consumer. If you consume only a portion of a marijuana edible and save the rest for another time, remember to save the packaging so you can refer to it if necessary.

Go Slow: It can take as long as two hours to experience the effects of marijuana-infused products, so be patient. One of the easiest ways to have a bad experience with marijuana edibles is to go back for a second serving without giving the first serving enough time to take effect. If it’s your first time, start off with 5 milligrams of THC and don’t use any more for the rest of the day or evening. If it doesn’t produce the desired effect, try 10 milligrams the next time. Don’t jump up to 20 or more! It might seem like a big difference between 10 and 20 milligrams, but keep in mind that 20 milligrams is four times the amount recommended for a first-time consumer.

According to the First Time 5 campaign, rich and dense products like brownies or chocolate take longer to digest, which means it will take longer before you feel the effects. Products like infused drinks and tinctures are absorbed into the body much more quickly, so you will likely experience the effects sooner.

This article provides a good overview on how to avoid ingesting too much marijuana when consuming edibles.

What will happen — and what should I do — if I consume too much marijuana?

Fortunately, marijuana is virtually non-toxic to healthy human cells and organs, so you do not need to worry about dying purely from a marijuana overdose. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about overdoing it. Consuming too much marijuana in one sitting can be a very unpleasant experience, and it can happen with any type of marijuana product if you’re not careful.

Over-consumption is typically characterized by an increase in heart rate, dryness of the mouth, and/or feelings of paranoia or anxiety. These symptoms are temporary and will usually dissipate within 15 minutes to one hour for smoked or vaporized marijuana flowers, slightly longer for smoked or vaporized concentrates, and anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours for marijuana edibles and other infused products.

If you consume too much marijuana, try to stay calm and remember that the feeling is only temporary. Lay or sit down, close your eyes, and try to relax. If you are with other people, let them know that you have overdone it and want them to keep an eye on you. If your discomfort becomes so intense that you think you need medical attention, ask someone to take you to the emergency room or call 9-1-1. Do NOT try to drive anywhere!

Is marijuana harmful to my health?

This is a big question to get into here, but it is an important one, and we encourage you to review the wealth of information that’s available on this subject.

Every objective study on marijuana has concluded that it is far less harmful than alcohol to the consumer and to society. It is less addictive, less damaging to the body, and less likely to contribute to violent and reckless behavior. The Marijuana Policy Project website has some good information about the relative harms of marijuana and alcohol, as well as broader information about its health effects. You can also learn quite a bit about marijuana by reviewing the National Academy of Science Institute of Medicine’s comprehensive report, “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base.”

Like virtually any other substance or behavior, consuming marijuana can pose some problems for some people.

  • First and foremost, marijuana is not for children or teenagers. While we know it does not pose nearly as much harm as alcohol and many other substances, there remain questions about its potential impact on the developing brain. Also, adolescents are at a stage in their lives during which marijuana could interfere with their personal and academic growth. Young people should be provided with objective, evidence-based information about marijuana and encouraged to wait until they turn 21 if they wish to consume it.
  • Although the addictive properties of marijuana are relatively minimal compared to alcohol and other drugs, people who are predisposed to addictive behaviors may want to avoid marijuana because they may be more likely to become dependent on it.
  • People suffering from certain mental health conditions should also avoid using marijuana. There is some evidence — although it is not conclusive — that indicates marijuana could exacerbate symptoms associated with psychosis, depression, or schizophrenia.
  • Pregnant women should avoid consuming marijuana much like they would tobacco or alcohol. If women feel there is a medical need to use marijuana while pregnant, they should consult their physicians before doing so.
  • Because inhaling smoke can irritate the respiratory system, it should be avoided by individuals who suffer from breathing-related conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Using marijuana can also produce a temporary increase in heart rate, so people with a history of high blood pressure or heart disease should avoid using it or consult their physicians before doing so. There is also some research that suggests people suffering from severe liver problems should refrain from consuming marijuana.

If your marijuana use ever interferes with your health or safety, or if you feel it is having a negative impact on your life or the lives of those around you, please seek professional help as soon as possible.