Not getting high the first time you smoke is more common than you think. According to a study done in the late sixties, 41 percent of first time smokers reported not feeling anything the first time they tried cannabis, the other 13 percent weren’t even sure if they did or not .
For some people it can take several times to finally experience the effects of cannabis. On the other hand, some people have the opposite experience with a very strong first-time effect! So what’s behind this common yet widely-overlooked occurrence? Well, nobody seems to be sure, but there are some intriguing theories out there.
Not Inhaling Correctly
This is the most common reason first-timers might not get high. Even people who have smoked cigarettes have issues with this. There is quite a difference between taking a drag off of a cigarette, versus smoking a joint or taking a hit off from a pipe. When smoking a cigarette, you inhale a short drag and exhale quickly. Smoking cannabis is different because the key to getting a good hit is how long you hold the smoke in. Some people don’t even inhale the first time they smoke it. You might remember President Clinton claiming that he smoked cannabis when he was younger, but he never inhaled. Not inhaling properly seems to be especially prevalent among people who’ve never smoked anything in their lives, simply because they don’t know that they are supposed to. If you don’t get high the first time you try cannabis, try holding your hit in as long as possible. You should feel something if you do it correctly.
Not in the Right Frame of Mind
THC alters your state of mind, but to enter an altered state of mind you need to be aware of this state in the first place. Now bare with us here, simply put if you don’t know what getting high feels like then how do you know your high? Slightly far fetched I’m sure you’ll agree, but like all psychoactive substances your mind can alter the effectiveness they have depending on your mood. Many users claim the best way to enjoy cannabis is sat back in a comfy chair with your favourite chill out music playing. In this situation, your body and mind are already relaxed with the logic being that your brain is more receptive to the cannabinoids and their effects. Being nervous, uptight or stressed can all lessen your enjoyment of getting high and your ability to feel high, as your mind is focused on other things.
You Might Not Know You’re High
When some people smoke cannabis for the first time they actually are getting high, they just don’t recognize it. People who’ve never tried cannabis usually expect to feel a huge difference between how they feel normally, versus how they expect to feel after smoking cannabis. They might expect to hallucinate as one would on psychedelics, or feel tipsy like they would drinking alcohol. It is common for first time smokers to feel a slight head change, but they might not even realize it if they are expecting something more obvious. If you don’t think you feel anything, try standing up and walking around. Standing up f directly after smoking gives a lot of people an immediate head rush. If it’s harder for you than it usually would be to do a normal activity like walking to your bathroom, you’re probably high. If you find yourself staring at your hands or some trees, you’re high. If you laugh at everything, you’re definitely high.
So maybe the brain just can’t get high at first?
This really is an intriguing concept. The ability to get high from cannabis (specifically, from THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) depends on the availability of cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Specifically, the high requires CB₁-receptors, which bind to THC and regulate its psychoactive effect.
Even more specifically, this process requires CB₁-receptors in the areas of the brain related to psychoactivity, stimulus and reward—areas such as the hippocampus and amygdala. If these areas are low in CB₁-receptors, then there may not be enough binding sites to process sufficient THC to produce a noticeably altered state of consciousness.
There are various possibilities to account for why an individual may be lacking in CB₁-receptors. Perhaps presence of certain compounds (such as medications, dietary supplements, or other psychoactive drugs) could cause low CB₁-receptor density, or perhaps pre-existing medical conditions could play a role, or perhaps it’s down to individual genetics, or even a combination of multiple factors.
There’s one study out there showing that CB₁-receptor density in key brain areas is reduced when certain hormones are present. In this case, the study investigated a steroid hormone known as glutocorticoid, which has various medical applications including treatment of asthma, allergies, and inflammation.
Another study has shown that low CB₁-receptor density figures heavily in Huntington’s disease, and while no-one would suggest that everyone who didn’t get high the first time must have Huntington’s, it opens the door to other similar neurological abnormalities having a part to play.
It also implies that after just a few uses of cannabis, the density of the CB₁-receptors must significantly increase. That sounds somewhat far-fetched, but astonishingly, there is actually a piece of research out there that shows exactly that. In this study, CB₁-receptors exhibited a “drastic increase” when exposed to THC for just 48 hours! Admittedly, this study was looking at immune cells, not brain cells, but the same logic may very well apply in both cases.
Dr. Russo tells us that “low doses of THC may jump-start the endocannabinoid system, which becomes more sensitive subsequently.” Perhaps this is the process at work here — as Dr. Russo puts it, a form of “reverse tolerance”, whereby the individual becomes more sensitized to cannabis over time.
The Strain You’re Smoking
If you didn’t get high your first time, it might have been because the strain you were smoking had a low THC content. Every strain of cannabis is different and some people have a naturally higher tolerance than others. Some strains have higher THC content and some have a higher content of CBD. If you are smoking a strain higher in CBD than THC, then you will naturally feel less of a change in your mental state. This is because strains high in CBDs are more physical than mental, which is why people suffering from chronic pain often use them as treatment. Next time you try to smoke, try a sativa blend. Sativas are known for giving the user a more energetic and mentally focused high, the type that people more often associate with smoking cannabis.
If you don’t get high the first time you smoke cannabis, don’t stress. This happens to a lot of people, many of whom reported having more success the second or third time they tried. This is why it’s helpful to ask questions and educate yourself on the subject of cannabis. As with most things: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Why doesn’t it happen to everyone?
Well, if this phenomenon occurs due to abnormally low CB₁-receptor levels, individuals with healthy levels should be spared. It may also be possible that individual genetics plays some role, as is the case for so many cannabis-related phenomena.