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Published May 19, 2010

THE EXPERIENCE OF GETTING HIGH

What is it like to consume cannabis? Good question.

By Mikki Norris with Chris Conrad

(Originally written for a display at the Hash-Marijuana-Hemp Museum of Amsterdam. Based in part on observations from the book, High Culture, by William Novak (The Cannabis Institute of America, Inc., 1980.)

The cannabis "marijuana" or hash high is different for each person, depending on the particular details of conditions, setting, timing, state of mind, and the variety of cannabis used. Although cannabis is generally pretty benign, nothing is always safe and fun for everyone in every situation. This includes cannabis. Comfortable surroundings and good judgement are advised.

Smoked or vaporized cannabis is felt within seconds of being inhaled. Its peak effect is from 15 minutes to a half hour in duration, followed by a steep decline that levels off and wears away in 2 to 4 hours. People can smoke it in hand-rolled cigarettes, called "joints" or "spliffs," a variety of pipes, or water pipes ("bongs"). A new technology in the form of "vaporizers" is enabling people to consume the resin containing THC through heating it short of burning the plant matter to eliminate harms that come with smoking material.

Eaten cannabis is not felt at first. It is a good idea to wait and see for an effect after a suggested dose, before eating more. In a half-hour to an hour, the initial effect is felt, and that can be abrupt and powerful. It maintains a relatively stable level and drops off in 4 to 6 hours. Intensity depends on dosage and metabolism. But if you don't know yours, be prepared to lie down and rest for a while, if necessary. Fresh air, fresh juice, and gentle reassurances are the best things if you consume too much.

THE ENHANCER

Cannabis use can increase focus and concentration, making a person's moods, sensations, and experience seem more intense. Your heart may feel like it's pounding, the music is fantastic, this is the best dessert you've ever eaten and, wow, get a load of how beautiful nature is. The problem is that if you're concentrating on something that's negative, you can intensify that feeling, as well. Fortunately, something else will come along and distract you with another thought to pursue, if you so choose. And if your fleeting idea feels like the answer to the world's problems, please write it down. It's profundity might escape you later, but it will feel good if it turns out you're right.

MEMORY

Marijuana does not appear to affect actual memory. You still remember your name and address, parents, childhood, and whatever you've learned along life's highways and byways. Cannabis can be a memory trigger, which means that the experience is likely to remind the user of things that s/he has associated with cannabis in the past. There is some historical evidence that it's even been helpful for some seniors to retain or recover memories and recognition.

A short-term memory interruption is common, however. A speaker may lose track of what he was saying just a moment ago. This effect is temporary while high and does not impact memory in general. It is really a fleeting distraction, and the description is misleading, because "short term memory" refers to thoughts that have not formed into memory yet. It's like the moment before you begin to type at your computer; you haven't hit the keys yet, so there is nothing to save. But if you reconstruct what led up to the idea, you will probably think of it again.

IS CANNABIS AN ESCAPE?

Most people consider cannabis to be an experience enhancer rather than an escape device. If you feel good, it may make everything seem even better. When some people feel down or depressed, smoking may be "inappropriate" and they might get more into their problems. But, many report that it may lead to a new understanding or perspective on a problem, helping to resolve it and lift one's mood. It has been extremely helpful to people with terminal illness, helping them shake off depression and live out their remaining time with dignity and relatively good cheer.

For some people it is definitely an escape, but whether that is good or bad depends on the way that it is used. If it allows perspective and insight, that is good; if it is an avoidance mechanism, that is not a good use of cannabis. This is where the concepts of sensible and responsible adult use apply.

INSIGHTS AND CREATIVITY

People often get a new perspective on a familiar scene or problem, a seemingly profound thought or burst of creativity. There is a sense of awe, revelation and realization. Stoned insights tend to fall into three categories: 1) A deeper recognition or understanding of an already known truth or perception; 2) A new way of looking at something; 3) Playful fantasies and ideas.

It can result in uncontrollable giggling about silly ideas, or a burst of complex insights, such as when Carl Sagan solved a physics equation while "under the influence." It can draw on the appreciation of a hitherto overlooked phenomenon, or reveal profound metaphoric relationships that apply to one's own life. It can separate the consumer from the immediacy of life and lead to a more balanced perspective of their own situation. The possibilities are limitless because each set and setting is unique, and therefore capable of new ways of looking at things. That's spontaneous mental generation.

JUDGMENT

Unlike alcohol intoxication, people who feel the effect of cannabis are aware of that fact and tend to moderate their behavior accordingly. For example, most people prefer not to drive when high since they know that their perceptions are somewhat altered even when not impaired. There is an effect wherein you may experience a feeling that you are simultaneously observing your own actions with an objective eye at the same time as you are doing the action, giving a new sense of perspective. At the same time, certain experiences may be infused with a new sensibility, such as "how can people go out and get drunk like that? I'm glad I chose cannabis instead." Just don't get judgmental about it. Many people report that cannabis makes them more open-minded and tolerant of diversity.

TIME

Your pulse speeds up a bit, so the count of heartbeats may give you the sense that more time has elapsed than actually has. The external measurement of time appears to pass more slowly, as well. For example: you may feel like an hour has gone by but when you look at a clock it might only have been ten minutes. You may look at a clock repeatedly and still not keep track of what time it is. Events seem to unfold more slowly, allowing more detailed observations and reactions. Several ideas may occupy the same moment, or thoughts may pass so rapidly that you don't even try to keep up, you just observe the passage. Wow, is that still the same song playing as a while ago? That's one long song. And if you're driving, you might find yourself driving below the speed limit and letting everyone else pass.


SEX

Most people who've experienced it think that cannabis makes sex better. Some even consider it a mild aphrodisiac. It tends to increase sexual pleasure as it may lower inhibitions, slow down time, induce relaxation, make people more aware of touch and senses, and help to focus on the present moment. Orgasms may not be more intense, but the experience may seem more sensual. There's a sense of deeper appreciation for the ambiance such as candlelight, visual aesthetics and music. More imaginative approaches may be explored, but that does not remove the individual's responsibility or judgement for practicing safe sex and proper use of condoms.

PHYSICAL EFFECTS

All these effects are temporary. Reddening of the eyes; slight temporary increase in the rate of heartbeat; cool fingers and toes; mouth gets dry -- "cotton mouth." Cannabis and the cannabinoids are all non-toxic. Smoke itself is an irritant, and bronchial irritation can occur but no direct link to cancers have been proven. Ironically, cannabis is also a vasodilator and bronchodilator, so it can actually help some asthmatics.

There are no deaths that have been attributed to cannabis overdose, but it is possible to have a very unpleasant experience, especially due to the one-hour delay in effect when large amounts of it are eaten. That would be extremely rare, but once you've eaten too much you may need to vomit or just wait it out. That is an advantage to smoked or vaporized cannabis; because the effect is felt almost immediately, it is a simple matter to stop when the desired subjective effect is achieved.

FOOD

Most people get "the munchies" (a strong desire to eat) and say that food tastes exceptionally good, and chocolates or desserts taste even better. Some people say they can taste the separate ingredients in food and distinguish new subtleties in olfactory sensations. A few people experience the opposite effect: a loss of appetite and would rather postpone eating and do something else. Sometimes that is accompanied by a very strong appetite a few hours later. If it kicks in late at night when you should be getting ready for bed, that is where spontaneity vs. personal responsibility and moderation comes into play.

THINKING/ CONSCIOUSNESS ALTERATION

Consumers may feel a slight euphoria, happiness, or sense of "well-being." Many mundane things suddenly seem more interesting; alive; rich in details. Problems seem less severe and pressing. Stoned thinking has been compared to the indirect move of the knight on a chessboard, as opposed to the direct linear moves of the rook or bishop; like switching between two or more frames of mind. It may take you off on tangents as you follow a train of thought. For some however, thinking may be "foggy;" less clear or focussed. Then there are the times when you just get the giggles and laugh about anything, no matter how silly or ridiculous. You may realize that something that has really been bothering you is actually not such a big deal after all, or that something you overlooked before could be the key to a problem you've been trying to solve. Some people become more observant or self-conscious, and talk less. Others become more spontaneous and sociable.

A profound metaphor may reveal itself with rich implications for your life and destiny. This aspect has led to cannabis being used as a sacrament in many of the world's religions throughout history. There are a variety of Christian, Hindu, Islamic and other religious denominations that revere cannabis as a sacred plant. Bible scripture is cited to support its use.


PARANOIA / ANXIETY

Some people, especially novice smokers and people living under drug war marijuana prohibition, may feel uncomfortable with the changes they experience while stoned. They may become paranoid or self-conscious, or possibly experience a sense of panic (especially if they ate too much cannabis). This is often triggered by the sudden and often subliminal recognition that the cannabis consumer's heart is beating faster. Just reminding them that this is a normal effect will usually reduce their anxiety. Antidote: This discomfort is usually handled by changing the environment, getting some fresh air and trying to relax. One should lie down, breathe slowly and drink some orange juice. A reassuring friend is also helpful. Remember: No matter what, the effect will wear off in a few hours.

RELAXATION/TIREDNESS

On a physical level, cannabis helps relax muscles and reduce spasms, including those caused by spinal injury or MS. Many adults also often use cannabis to relax and unwind after work, to let go of the day's tensions and to adjust their mental attitude. Most people prefer not to smoke when they have a lot of things to get done, because smoking cannabis (especially indica) can sometimes make one tired, sleepy or feeling sluggish. Other people become energized or even "hyper" when they consume cannabis. Other people find that it gives them a lift and change of perspective to keep them alert.

OVERDOSE?

No one has ever died from consuming cannabis. There is no such thing as a fatal overdose. On the other hand, one can consume more than a comfortable amount, especially when eating or drinking it. Symptoms of overindulgence usually include unpleasant physical reactions or exaggerated psychological emphasis on annoying situations that can lead to paranoia or, rarely, panic. Since the effect of smoking is almost immediate, it is relatively easy to prevent this from occurring by stopping your intake while still at a comfortable level. Any negative effects wear off in a short time and you can often simply lie down and sleep them away. Generally, there is no hangover when you wake up.


SOCIALIZING

Some people enjoy smoking and interacting with others, and feel they enjoy a special communication, bond or connection with other smokers while high. Others may sometimes become quiet, introspective, self-conscious, uncomfortable or have difficulty making conversation and prefer not to be stoned in public or a social situation.

MUSIC

Most people say that music sounds "richer." They can hear sounds differently, more vividly and intensely. Some claim it enhances their ability to hear the distinct lines of several instruments at once and that they better grasp how the various instruments interact to produce the music.

READING

For some, reading seems impossible while high as they may forget the beginning of the sentence by the time they get to the end. Stoned readers may at times find themselves reading the same paragraph over again. Stoned readers may at times find themselves reading the same paragraph over and over again. Stoned readers may find themselves reading the exact same paragraph over and over and over again and again. On the other hand, others can focus on it and feel reading is even more enjoyable. When reading imaginative works, being high can increase the sense of empathy and help one to visualize situations.


Excerpted from the Hash, Marijuana, Hemp Museum of Amsterdam

PO Box 2662, 1012 DV Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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