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Why Don’t I Feel High?

There’s a false equivalence that the intoxicating effects of THC means that cannabis is “working” in your system. However, that’s far from the case: Feeling silly or giggly is only one of the many effects that cannabis can have. In fact, there may be some cases where you don’t want to feel the intoxicating effects of cannabis. 

Whether you’re a frequent consumer or new to cannabis, it’s possible to consume without feeling intoxicated. Read on to learn more about why you didn’t feel high after consuming a cannabis product.

6 reasons you might not feel intoxicated

There are a number of reasons you might not have felt the intoxication typically associated with cannabis products. Here’s a closer look at six of the most common ones.

1. Make sure you’re using the product or your device correctly

Sometimes the most obvious reason you’re not feeling intoxicated is because your device, such as an electronic vape pen, isn’t functioning properly. To ensure your device is actually working, check the user manual to ensure it’s on and the settings are correct for your desired goals. Most user manuals also include a troubleshooting section that can help you fix any problems that might be preventing you from consuming.

Additionally, different product types may work differently. For example, if you ingest an edible cannabis product, you shouldn’t expect to feel any effects within 10 minutes. Instead, you may have to wait longer before feeling intoxicated — don’t increase your dosage preemptively! Similarly, products like sugar may sound like they’re edible, but are actually meant to be dabbed instead of used as an ingredient in cooking. Be sure you understand each product type and how to use it before consuming.

2. You consumed a low-THC, 1:1 THC to CBD, or CBD-dominant product

The reason cannabis is often intoxicating is due to a compound called delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is a cannabinoid, arguably the most famous of more than 100 lipids found in the trichomes (or resin glands) of the cannabis plant. THC has long been known to be the primary cause of cannabis’s famous intoxicating qualities. 

However, not every cannabis plant or product has high levels of THC. Plenty of cannabis cultivars contain lower levels of THC while offering other helpful phytocannabinoids like Cannabidiol (CBD) in abundance. Similarly, there are low- or no-THC cannabis products on the market, including CBD vape cartridges and balanced 1:1 THC:CBD flower. Notably, CBD balances out the effects of THC, so products that contain these cannabinoids in even or CBD-dominant ratios are less likely to feel intoxicating.

3. You have a high tolerance

Whether you consume THC products frequently or just have a naturally high tolerance, it may take higher levels of THC for you to feel intoxicated. William McLay, PharmD, Ethos’s head medical professional, said everyone’s natural tolerance is determined by the distribution of CB1 receptors in their brain, a receptor that is part of the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS) that cannabinoids like THC interact with to elicit various effects.

“Genetics come in because the locations and amount of receptors that people have are completely different [from person to person],” McLay said. “When THC comes in, it’s an agonist of the CB1 receptor, so it connects and upregulates those receptors so you feel the effects. If you have more CB1 receptors in certain areas of the brain, THC will affect you in a stronger way from the start.”

Further, McLay said, tolerance builds with consistent consumption. A frequent cannabis consumer will soon find that it takes higher amounts of THC for them to feel the same level of intoxication they once did. 

“When you use products over a long period of time, your body down-regulates the receptors involved,” he said. “The body sees it as not normal and starts to shut down the receptors, so there’s less ability for THC to land and have an effect.”

4. You consumed an old or expired product

Old or expired products may no longer contain high levels of THC, so consuming them may not produce the intoxicating effects you expect. For example, as cannabis flower is exposed to heat, humidity, and ultraviolet (UV) light, the THC degrades into a cannabinoid known as Cannabinol (CBN). Unlike THC, CBN is not intoxicating. Similar to many cannabinoids, there is some evidence that CBN offers therapeutic effects, including antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, but don’t expect the intoxicating feelings typically associated with THC.

In aging cannabis flower, the degradation of THC into CBN is a process that doesn’t happen all at once. So, even in older cannabis flower, there may be some THC left. That means you could experience some intoxication with older cannabis flower, though expect your experience to be less potent than it would be if the flower were fresh.

5. You consumed a non-systemic product

Some cannabis products are not designed for intoxication, even if they contain THC. For example, most cannabis topicals are non-systemic, meaning cannabinoids won’t enter circulation and reach the brain. Instead, topicals are designed for use on the skin to alleviate pain or irritation externally, called a localized effect, even when they have high levels of THC.

The exception to this rule is transdermal topicals, which are designed to penetrate your skin and enter your bloodstream, so transdermals with THC will cause intoxication. Most topicals, however, are not transdermal products and are intended only for localized relief.

6. You selected a product type that isn’t right for you

Everyone reacts differently to cannabis, and not all “absolutes” in cannabis apply to each person. For some consumers, a certain product type might simply not work. This is most common with cannabis edibles, McLay said.

“If it’s a functional issue, like you’ve eaten an edible that contains a lot of THC and felt zero, then edibles are not for you,” McLay said. “It’s not the case that you should just keep ramping it up until you feel it. If a patient isn’t feeling it, we’ll try another dosage form instead.”

McLay recommended tinctures, which are absorbed beneath the tongue and enter circulation directly, to feel the effects of THC more strongly. Additionally, he said cannabis distillate and Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) offer an alternative to edibles that could also be absorbed through your gums and tongue, which can bypass the digestive system and interact differently with your body. He even added that there are cannabis suppositories available.

“There are plenty of dosage forms,” McLay said. “When there’s a functional issue, it’s usually solved by just switching product types.”

What to do if you didn’t feel intoxicated (and want to)

If you didn’t feel “high” and want to, follow these four steps to determine why and help guide your product choice for your next session.

1. Check your product’s THC levels

For consumers with high tolerance, it might take heightened levels of THC to achieve the desired intoxication. Cannabis flower typically offers low levels of THC that some may find less potent. If your tolerance is a bit higher, you could consider purchasing a product with elevated levels of THC, such as kief or concentrates like oil or wax. 

However, be aware that there is more to consumption experience than THC levels alone; cannabis is a complex plant and the many phytocannabinoids and terpenes work in tandem to have an effect. Read our guide to busting the high-THC myth to learn more about what goes into the consumption experience.

2. Consider product type

If your tolerance is higher than you’d like, it might be because you’re using the wrong product type. Cannabis inhalants like flower or concentrates are very potent, but their effects only last a short time. This tendency causes intoxication to spike before sharply receding, which may lead you to more frequent consumption – and a rapidly building tolerance.

“I like to give patients something they can control; if I give them a vape cartridge, they may take too much,” he said. “It’s hard to control that dose.”

Instead, McLay said there are easier dosage forms to control, like edibles, tinctures, and RSO. If you want to keep tolerance in check but also want to feel THC’s intoxicating effects, find the lowest amount of THC possible that still prompts desired effects. That way, he said, you can avoid building your tolerance too quickly and rendering your chosen products ineffective for your goals.

3. Consult with an Ethos associate or pharmacist

At Ethos, our associates and pharmacists have a wealth of knowledge regarding cannabis products and how they work. If you’ve run into a snag and your preferred products just aren’t offering you the relief you expect anymore, schedule a consultation to talk it through with a pharmacist like McLay.

“When somebody comes in and tells me they’re not feeling it, whether it’s edibles or high-THC products, I sit with them to figure out the root cause,” McLay said. “Everybody is different and very individualized — it strongly depends on how much they’re consuming. I need to understand their daily consumption and rate of consumption first.”

4. Consider a tolerance break

When all else fails, McLay said a short tolerance break can go a long way to balancing things out. For most consumers, a few days to a few weeks should be enough to reset their systems. And, he added, they can continue using low-THC cannabis products in the meantime to get the relief they need while they let their tolerance come back down.

“If you consume over a long period of time, you will need more THC to feel intoxicated,” he said. “But, if you take a break, your body rebounds very quickly. It ranges from two days to four weeks, and you’re back to square one at that point.”

If you want to learn more about reducing your cannabis tolerance so your products remain effective at lower amounts, read our guide to tolerance breaks and how to use them for your benefit.

Didn’t feel anything? Don’t worry!

There are many reasons why you might not have felt intoxicated when using a cannabis product containing THC. If you’ve run into this issue, it usually can be easily solved by finding a new product type or finding your tolerance levels. At Ethos, our associates and pharmacists can help you define your consumption experience and goals. As your partners in your cannabis journey, we can help you find the best product available for your needs.

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