How does it feel?

Our sage cannabis advice columnist draws on contemporary knowledge and historical documents to answer an age-old question: what does it feel like to get high?


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Dear Herb: When weed becomes legal, I would like to try it. How can you tell if you are stoned? — CannaCurious

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/01/2018 (1856 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Dear Herb: When weed becomes legal, I would like to try it. How can you tell if you are stoned? — CannaCurious

Dear CannaCurious: I like this question so much that I’m devoting this week’s entire column to it, in two parts.

Herb answers your questions about legal consumption and growing, the law, etiquette — you name it, he'll look into it.

First, I’ll round up some common anecdotal observations about how it feels to be stoned. Then, because I’m a geek, I’ll share some cool historical perspectives on how cannabis makes people feel.

The impact of cannabis on individual users is largely subjective, and can vary widely depending on the type of cannabis used, the dose and method of use, and the user’s psychology and physiology. The cannabis user’s mindset and external circumstances will also play a role in the experience (among users of psychoactive drugs, this is commonly called "set and setting").

With those many caveats in mind, short-term psychological effects commonly reported by cannabis users may include:

  • Feelings of euphoria, contentedness, and relaxation
  • Transformed sensory perception, particularly in regards to taste, hearing, and visuals
  • Openness to new ideas or ways of thinking
  • Heightened libido
  • Altered perception of the passage of time
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Anxiety or paranoia
  • Mild auditory or visual illusions or (more rarely) hallucinations, particularly at high doses

Commonly reported short-term physiological effects may include:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased heart rate
  • Heightened appetite
  • Increased wakefulness or energy
  • Sleepiness or lethargy

When smoking or vaporizing cannabis, full effects are usually felt within 30 minutes and might last a few hours. As I advised a reader in a previous edition of Dear Herb, the effects of edible cannabis products take much longer to come into play, and usually last much longer, too. For those reasons, I strongly recommend you don’t use edibles for your first cannabis experience.

If you’re shopping for your first cannabis experience after legalization, try to find a strain that’s relatively low in THC, ideally with some CBD content (this ought to be labelled on legally-produced cannabis, and a responsible retailer will help you find a good first-time strain).

I’d also advise finding a more experienced cannabis user with whom to share your inaugural toke. They should be able to show you how to use, and advise you on what to expect. Ideally, this would also be someone whose company you enjoy — remember, external circumstances will affect how much you enjoy your experience, so getting stoned with an unpleasant partner will probably make for an unpleasant experience.

Finally: many first-time cannabis users report they don’t actually get high on the initial attempt. This problem is usually resolved on the second try. (The reasons for this phenomenon aren’t entirely clear to me, but I’m asking some experts in the field to clarify.)


I love reading historical documents about cannabis, and many of them ask the same question as you, CannaCurious: how does marijuana make people feel?

In 1893, the United Kingdom commissioned an enormous report on cannabis use in imperial India. The resulting Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Reportincluded an enormous amount of evidence about how contemporary Indians used the drug.

Here’s a great excerpt about the reported effects of cannabis in India at the time:

In 1894, the United Kingdom released an enormous report on the use of cannabis in imperial India. (National Library of Scotland)

"Judging from the replies of several witnesses, the immediate effect of the moderate use of any of the hemp drugs on the habitual consumer is refreshing and stimulating, and alleviates fatigue, giving rise to pleasurable sensations all over the nervous system, so that the consumer is ‘at peace with everybody’ — in a grand waking dream.

He is able to concentrate his thoughts on one subject: it affords him pleasure, vigour, ready wit, capacity for hard work, and sharpness for business; it has a quieting effect on the nervous system, and removes restlessness and induces forgetfulness of mental troubles; all sorts of grotesque ideas rapidly pass through the mind, with a tendency to talk; it brightens the eyes, and, like a good cigar, gives content; the man feels jolly, sings songs, and tells good stories; it causes bravery in the brave and cowardice in the timid, and, like alcohol, brings out the real character of the man. In young men it may give rise to sensual thoughts, and aphrodisiac effects are mentioned.

Some witnesses, on the contrary, state that the drug is not refreshing, and that the consumer is sometimes sleepy and sometimes talkative; or there is no tendency to talk: the conjunctiva become suffused and red, and the moisture dries in the throat and lips; the man becomes peevish, stupefied, sees double; and occasionally it may cause vomiting. Regarding the question of intoxication, witnesses speak of exhilaration and slightly dizzy sensation; a little intoxication, but no stupefaction; a feeling of ‘briskness’ followed by sinking, but no stupefaction; a little heaviness in the eyes, slight narcotic effects, or stupor more or less complete.

Others say that the first effect is exciting, then soothing; while some describe the effects as those of intoxication of varying degrees, from moderate to dead drunk. According to certain witnesses, the intoxication of hemp drugs differs from the alcoholic in that only those unaccustomed to the drug are affected, or that intoxication is not much marked in old consumers. Some witnesses state that the drugs allay hunger; others that these effects only result from excessive use; while others deny the power of the drug to allay hunger under all conditions apparently. Similar contradictory statements are made in connection with the alleged power of the drug to create appetite."

In 1939, New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia appointed a special committee to study marijuana use in the city. The resulting report was published in 1944, and included these insights on how using marijuana made New Yorkers feel:

New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia commissioned an inquiry into cannabis use in NYC in 1939. (U.S. Library of Congress, New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection)

"In describing the most common reaction to the drug they always stated that it made them feel ‘high.’ Elaboration of just what the smoker meant by ‘high’ varied with the individual. However, there was common agreement that a feeling of adequacy and efficiency was induced by the use of marihuana and that current mental conflicts were allayed. Organic illness was not given as a cause for smoking ‘reefers.’…

The confirmed marihuana smoker consumes perhaps from six to ten cigarettes per day. He appears to be quite conscious of the quantity he requires to reach the effect called ‘high.’ Once the desired effect is obtained he cannot be persuaded to consume more.

He knows when he has had enough. The smoker determines for himself the point of being ‘high,’ and is ever conscious of preventing himself from becoming ‘too high.’ This fear of being ‘too high’ must be associated with some form of anxiety which causes the smoker, should he accidentally reach that point, immediately to institute measures so that he can ‘come down.’"

From 1969 to 1972, the Canadian government conducted the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, more commonly known as the Le Dain Commission. The resulting report included an entire section on cannabis (and recommended legalizing possession and personal cultivation).

The section "Cannabis and Its Effects" offers this take on how cannabis users feel when they’re stoned:

Gerald Le Dain chaired Canada's Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, which was completed in 1972. He later sat on the Supreme Court of Canada. (Canadian Press/Supplied by Eric Le Dain)

 "Subjective effects which are typically reported by users include: happiness, increased conviviality, a feeling of enhanced interpersonal rapport and communication, heightened sensitivity to humour, free play of the imagination, unusual cognitive and ideational associations, a sense of extraordinary reality, a tendency to notice aspects of the environment of which one is normally unaware, enhanced visual imagery, altered sense of time in which minutes may seem like hours, changes in visually perceived spatial relations, enrichment of sensory experiences (subjective aspects of sound and taste perception are often particularly enhanced), increased personal understanding and religious insight, mild excitement and energy (or just the opposite), increased or decreased behavioural activity, increased or decreased verbal fluency and talkativeness, lessening of inhibitions and emotional control, and at higher doses, a tendency to lose or digress from a train of thought.

Feelings of enhanced spontaneity and creativity are often described, although an alteration in creative performance is difficult to establish scientifically. While most experts agree that cannabis has little specific aphrodisiac (sex-stimulating) effect, many users report increased enjoyment of sex and other intimate human contact while under the influence of the drug. 

Unpleasant experiences may occur in different individuals, or possibly in the same individual at different times, although significant acute adverse effects are relatively infrequent. Apparently most regular cannabis users have experienced some undesirable side effects from the drug.

Some of these reactions may include: fear and anxiety, depression, irritability, nausea, headache, cold hands and feet, backache, dizziness, blurred vision, a dulling of attention, confusion, lethargy, and a sensation of heaviness, weakness and drowsiness. Disorientation, depersonalization, delusions, suspiciousness, paranoia and, in some cases, panic, loss of control, and acute psychotic and depressive reactions have also been reported."


As these historical documents show, CannaCurious, cannabis can have a huge range of effects on different users at different times — but when you get stoned, you’ll almost certainly know it.

If you use just a small amount of moderately potent marijuana, you’ll probably be a happy camper. If not, at least you’ll have satisfied your curiousity.

Here’s to hoping your post-legalization experiment is a pleasant one. Let me know how your first time goes!


Got a question about cannabis? Herb answers your questions about legal consumption and growing, the law, etiquette — you name it, he’ll look into it.  Email or to submit anonymously, fill out this form:    



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