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I Tried to Figure Out Why Weed Isn’t Fun for Me

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

My friend Sara loves weed. She’s a great person without it, but when she lights up, Sara becomes the funniest, most relaxed, creative, and energetic human I have ever met. Her mind suddenly makes astounding connections and she reaches an almost post-human level of chill. Another friend of mine describes being high as feeling like you’ve morphed “into one of those plastic bobble head dogs with huge grins.” They’re not the only ones—a lot of my friends are weed enthusiasts, and it’s the one thing I can’t share with them: No matter how hard I try, weed just makes me feel like shit.

When I smoke a joint, I become extremely self-conscious and stressed. I’ll make a mundane comment about something and instantly start worrying about how lame it was. I’ll leave a room and worry that the vibe won’t be the same when I come back. I get into this state of paranoia, and although I’m still able to rationalize the situation in my head—Hey, you’re only thinking these things because you’re stoned, you weirdo!—the paranoid thoughts don’t go away. And if I happen to also be drunk I just end up with my head resting on a toilet seat, fearing that I’ll be trapped in that position for the rest of my life.

It bugs me to no end that weed isn’t fun for me. Not just my friends, but many of my personal heroes—Rihanna, the Broad City girls, Sarah Silverman—happen to be proud stoners. I’m not sad because I think getting high is cool, but I just really feel like I’m missing out on some euphoric experience. What is it, exactly, that’s keeping me from being a happy stoner? Am I doing it wrong and could I just learn to appreciate it? I need answers, so decide to contact a few experts to shed some light on my shortcomings.

All photos by David Meulenbeld

First, I speak to Natasha Mason, a neuropsychologist at the University of Maastricht and an expert on how THC—the psychoactive element in cannabis, which makes you feel high—affects the chemicals in your brain. She tells me she won’t be able to give me a clear-cut answer since using drugs is a subjective experience and effects differ from person to person.

But she tells me about a study conducted by the University of Chicago that shows that a low dose of THC in weed can help reduce stress; while a high dose can lead to feelings of fear, paranoia, and discomfort. Alongside THC, weed contains many different substances, including CBD—which counters the drug’s psychoactive effects and is known to have a range of medicinal qualities. The Dutch weed I usually smoke tends to be comparatively high in THC and low on CBD, which could possibly stimulate my sense of paranoia.

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The environment in which I smoke plays an important part, too, Mason tells me. Research carried out on rats has shown that a fear that’s stimulated by THC increases when the rats are in a new or potentially stressful environment. In addition, Mason tells me that people who smoke regularly usually experience less worrying side effects—but, she adds, it could be that people who never had negative experiences with weed are just more likely to smoke regularly.

That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t explain why I transform into this socially awkward, paranoid mess while my friends comfortably enjoy their high. We always smoke the same strains, with the same THC percentage, in the same familiar environment. Mason thinks my personality is to blame.

“The general opinion is that THC intensifies feelings of anxiety—and those feelings are already present in you,” she explains. “If you are naturally very analytical or a bit agitated and anxious, certain chemicals in your brain, like serotonin [which controls your mood], noradrenaline [the hormone that prepares your body for sudden physical action], GABA [a downer], and glutamate [a substance that helps the brain function normally] might operate differently in your brain than in the brains of more relaxed people—and that could result in a more extreme response to the THC.”

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Floor van Bakkum, a prevention worker at the Dutch drug education service Jellinek, agrees with Mason. She thinks it’s almost certainly down to the fact that I’m naturally anxious and tend to overthink stuff. “If you like to overanalyze things and try to have everything under control in your day-to-day life, it’s probably harder for you to let go of that control after you’ve smoked a joint,” she says. “Basically, you’re blocking the fun stuff.”

When I ask her what I should do to enjoy weed, she tells me to smoke joints that are higher in CBD. However, she also advises me to maybe just accept that you can’t always have what you want—weed might just never be for me.

But that can’t be it. Can’t I just learn to smoke weed like I learned to drink alcohol? With that in mind, I call Daan Keiman of the Trimbos National Institute for Mental Health and Addiction. He assures me that the effects I describe are pretty common with cannabis use, and that it’s quite possible I could “learn to appreciate it.”

I ask him if my symptoms could mean I’d be more likely to experience psychosis after smoking. “Being at risk of psychosis and having anxious feelings are completely different things,” he tells me. “But you should be especially careful if someone in your family has ever suffered from psychotic episodes.”

After running out of experts to talk to, I finally turn to my friend Anne, who puts my mind at ease. “You know, to you, it might seem like stoned people are having a great time, but that’s not always true,” she assures me. “The fact that you don’t enjoy it and don’t do it might just be a blessing.”

If she’s right and I’m really not missing out on anything, that would make the whole situation a lot easier to accept. Why do I need to be part of stoner culture if it’s not as fun as people make it out to be? With that thought, for a moment, I finally do feel as content as a plastic bobble head dog with a huge grin on his face.

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No matter how hard I try, it makes me feel like shit.

Sensation of a Marijuana High: Smoking, Edibles, and Vaping

Smoking, ingesting, or vaping marijuana can make you high or “stoned.” If you’ve never tried marijuana, you might wonder what it feels like.

Marijuana can have drastically different effects from one person to the next. Some people report feeling happy or relaxed. Others report laughter, altered time and sensory perception, and increased appetite. But marijuana can also cause less-desirable effects.

Keep in mind that marijuana is still illegal in most states. In others, it’s only legal with a prescription. You should only use marijuana when it’s legal.

Marijuana affects each person differently. Some people are very sensitive to marijuana’s effects, while others might not notice them as much.

How you react to marijuana depends on a number of factors, including:

  • the dose, strain, and potency
  • whether you smoke, vape, or ingest it
  • how often you use marijuana
  • your age, gender, and physiology
  • whether you drink alcohol or take other drugs at the same time

While high on marijuana, you might feel:

  • euphoric
  • relaxed
  • amused
  • giggly
  • creative
  • hungry
  • more sensitive to light, color, sound, touch, taste, and smell

However, marijuana use can also lead to unpleasant feelings or experiences. These include:

  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • delusions and hallucinations
  • high blood pressure
  • nausea and vomiting
  • panic
  • paranoia
  • psychosis
  • racing heartbeat

Negative reactions are more likely when you’re inexperienced or take too much. Strong cannabis can trigger a stronger reaction.

Stages of being high

The active ingredient in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). When you smoke or vape marijuana, THC enters your bloodstream via your lungs. Its concentration in the blood peaks within minutes. Eventually, THC is broken down and excreted in urine and stool.

Since your blood concentration of THC changes over time, it’s possible to experience different stages of being high. For example, feelings of euphoria tend to peak sometime after blood concentration of THC has peaked.

More research needs to be done to understand whether the effects of marijuana change over time.

Do different strains cause different highs?

Strains are different breeds of the cannabis plant. There are three main strains of marijuana: indica, sativa, and hybrids.

Users associate indica strains with relaxation, while sativa strains are believed to produce a more active, physical high. Hybrid strains are thought to combine the effects of both indica and sativa strains.

However, these differences in high are not scientifically proven. In addition, some researchers believe they’re unfounded.

According to a 2016 interview with Dr. Ethan Russo, an expert on the human endocannabinoid system, “One cannot in any way currently guess the biochemical content of a given cannabis plant based on its height, branching, or leaf morphology.”

He also stated that: “The differences in observed effects of cannabis are then due to their terpenoid content.” Terpenoids are a substantial group of organic compounds found in plants. They can have a wide variety of effects in humans.

Are the munchies real?

The “munchies” are a scientifically supported effect of marijuana. There’s likely more than one mechanism behind them.

THC affects brain areas that control appetite. It may also increase ghrelin, a hormone associated with hunger. Finally, THC enhances smell and taste, which can cause you to start or continue eating.

Vaping marijuana is different from smoking marijuana. When you vape, you are inhaling vapor instead of smoke.

Vaping releases higher concentrations of marijuana’s active ingredients than other methods. As a result, vaping can produce a stronger high.

As with smoking, you should feel the effects of vaping right away. These effects can last up to four hours .

Results from a 2018 study indicated that vaporizing cannabis produced higher blood THC concentrations and stronger effects than smoking the same amount.

Ingesting marijuana, whether in tinctures, sprays, or food and drink, leads to a different high than smoking. Theoretically, the effects are less intense, as THC is released into the bloodstream over a longer period of time.

For example, in a 2017 study that compared the effects of smoking, vaporizing, and ingesting cannabis, users reported weaker drug effects when cannabis was ingested.

However, there are anecdotal reports of edibles producing a strong and sometimes debilitating high. This might be due to the dose.

Other sources suggest that when ingested, THC reaches the liver faster, where it’s broken down into another psychoactive compound. The high might change depending on the concentration and ratios of THC and its metabolites in the bloodstream. More research needs to be done to understand these differences.

It can take between 30 and 90 minutes before you start to feel the effects of marijuana edibles. Edible highs tend to last longer than a smoking or vaping high. The effects are typically gone within 24 hours .

The duration of a marijuana high depends on a variety of different factors, including the dose and potency. In addition, how you consume marijuana can drastically affect how long you feel high.

A 2017 review identified the following times for the onset, peak, and total duration of a marijuana high.

Method Onset Peak Total duration
Smoking and vaping Within minutes 20 to 30 minutes 2 to 3 hours
Edibles 30 to 90 minutes 3 hours Within 24 hours

Keep in mind that other differences, such as whether you smoke marijuana using a bong or a joint, can also affect how long the high lasts.

A marijuana high is associated with feelings of relaxation and contentment, though negative reactions are also possible. Learn about what the sensations feel like.