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What to Expect When Consuming Cannabis

Cannabis may be newly legal in many states, but it’s long been a staple in human civilization. Societies have consumed cannabis for medical and recreational purposes for thousands of years1. As prohibition begins to relax and adults can once again buy cannabis, a new generation of consumers are entering the fold. If you’re new to cannabis, here’s our guide to what you can expect of your first experience.

Why do people use cannabis?

You may know cannabis as medicine. Many have found relief from pain, anxiety, and other debilitating conditions through the plant. You’re far from alone – cannabis has been recognized for its medicinal value for thousands of years. Cannabis seeds were discovered in the graves of shamans throughout modern-day China and Siberia, signaling the plant’s medical – and perhaps even spiritual – importance to the cultures of the day.

You may also find that consuming cannabis is helpful for everyday purposes, such as relaxation, creativity, or focus. This type of adult-use recreational consumption has also been part of human civilization for millennia, emerging around the same time cannabis was first used as an herbal medicine. Today, most U.S. states and a handful of countries permit adults to possess and consume cannabis products. 

How cannabis works

Whatever your reason for consuming cannabis, knowing how it works is key to being a responsible consumer. There are two key components to the process: the phytocannabinoids found in cannabis and a bodily system called the endogenous cannabinoid system, also called your endocannabinoid system or the ECS.

  • Phytocannabinoids: The resin found in cannabis flower is packed with compounds known as phytocannabinoids. Perhaps the most famous of these are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD), although many others exist as well, including Cannabigerol (CBG), Cannabinol (CBN), and Cannabichromene (CBC). Visit our guide to cannabinoids to learn more.
  • The endocannabinoid system: Your ECS is composed of cannabinoid receptors that are found quite literally from head to toe, including in your skin, brain, immune system, and central nervous system. These receptors and the cannabinoids that interact with them influence many of the most important systems in your body. Visit our guide to the ECS to learn more.

Many of the effects cannabis has on our perception and bodily functions can be tied back to the interaction between cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, and the endocannabinoid system. What the chemistry doesn’t tell us, though, is how we can expect cannabis to affect each of us personally, as individuals.

What you need to know before consuming cannabis

  • Know your “why”: It’s important to understand your goals for consuming cannabis, whether you want to improve your sleep, relax after a long day, or ease discomfort. Knowing these goals will help your medical practitioner, the dispensary pharmacist, or associate select the right products for your goals.

  • Not all cannabis strains are the same: Each strain has its own cannabinoid and terpene profile, which work together to elicit certain desired effects. The strain you choose, therefore, plays a significant role in steering your cannabis experience.

  • Product type and consumption directly impact your experience: Each cannabis product impacts your body in a different way. Understanding how a product and an administration method could influence your overall experience can help you select the best possible cannabis product. Visit our guide to cannabis product types to learn more.

  • Everybody is unique: Finally, it’s important to remember that no two cannabis consumption experiences are alike. While there are many general expectations for consuming cannabis, you might not experience all or any of them. Your own biological makeup, when you last ate, and how you’re currently feeling are only a few of the factors that can influence your cannabis experience.

What can you expect when you consume cannabis?

Cannabis consumption comes along with a full gamut of possible outcomes. Depending on the strain you select and the product type you consume, you might or might not experience one of these common outcomes:

  • Laughter and euphoria: Some cannabis consumption induces a state of euphoria or prompts laughter. This is most likely due to the way phytocannabinoids and terpenes influence dopamine regulation and stimulate blood flow to certain regions of your brain2.

  • Relaxation: Some strains of cannabis are more likely to be relaxing than uplifting. In some cases, cannabis could even make it easier to fall asleep3. That relaxation could be due to terpenes, like linalool or myrcene. It could also be a byproduct of cannabis’s medicinal effect, making it easier for you to unwind.

  • Increased appetite: You might have heard of the “munchies.” Well, there’s a reason cannabis makes you hungry. It is thought that THC might stimulate a hormone known as ghrelin4, which increases senses of smell, taste, and hunger sensations.

  • Increased thirst and dry mouth: You might experience “cottonmouth,” or a persistent dry mouth and thirst. This is because THC and CBD bind to endocannabinoid receptors in your salivary glands. This modulates the neurotransmitters methacholine and norepinephrine, which play a role in saliva production5.

  • Dry eyes: A commonplace occurrence, dry eyes are likely caused by THC lowering blood pressure, which causes blood vessels and capillaries to dilate6. Although overall blood pressure is lowered, the dilation of these vessels and capillaries increases blood flow to your eyes, which can make them appear bloodshot.

  • Distorted perception of time: Multiple studies have shown that people tend to overestimate time after consuming cannabis7. Due to this distortion of perception, you might experience a delayed reaction time as well. The reason behind this shift in internal clock is not yet well understood.

  • Heightened anxiety: Even though cannabis can help alleviate anxiety, it may lead to increased anxiety in some people8. This can be for many reasons. For example, THC can increase heart rate, which could be perceived as a symptom of anxiety. Additionally, the intoxicating effects of THC could be overwhelming and may induce anxiety response. This makes it especially important to consume in a safe environment.

Tips for consuming cannabis safely

  • Be prepared to not drive: Because cannabis distorts perception of time and slows reaction time, driving a vehicle or operating heavy machinery is not only unsafe, but is against the law. Stay put or arrange for someone who has not consumed cannabis to give you a ride. 
  • Consume cannabis with loved ones you trust: Always consume in a place you are safe and comfortable. Trustworthy and reliable friends or family members can offer an added layer of support.

  • Start low and go slow: Begin with small amounts of cannabis. Take your time to see how you feel. Gradually increase amounts over time until the desired experience is achieved. Keep track of how much of a cannabis product you consumed and over what period of time. 
  • Give it time: Sometimes there is a delay between consumption and a perceptible change in feeling. Always give it time before increasing the amount of cannabis you consume. This is especially important when it comes to ingestible cannabis products.

  • Know your limits: Stop if you’ve had enough. The effects of cannabis, both positive and negative, could increase in greater doses.

  • Store your products in a safe place: You — and only you – should have access to your cannabis. Be sure to store it securely away from pets and children.

Deciding how to begin your cannabis journey may not be the easiest or most obvious choice. At Ethos, we understand the thrilling challenge of navigating this new space. We are here to serve as your educational partner and help you have the most positive cannabis experience possible. Whatever your goals for your personal cannabis journey, we will be with you step by step with information to help you make the best decision for yourself.



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