Traditionally, tolerance to a substance works like this: The more you use the substance, the more you need to increase your dose to feel effects. This certainly holds true with cannabis; experienced stoners can and do take much higher doses, using cannabis products like dabs to get pleasantly high, whereas newbie cannabis users can barely manage a couple hits before they are good and stoned.
However, sometimes, someone who has never before sampled weed won’t feel anything from their first toke. This utter lack of high works completely counter to what we have all come to expect from cannabis tolerance — and it is more common than you might think. Do researchers know why this happens, and can first-timers do anything to ensure it doesn’t happen to them?
We Don’t Quite Know
Frustratingly, the answer to this question is the same answer as you will find for many questions about cannabis: We aren’t certain yet. Because cannabis prohibition has been dominant for much of the last century, researchers have not found it easy to study any aspect of cannabis, from the short- and long-term effects of cannabinoids on the human body and brain to why so many cannabis users experience vastly different effects from the same plant.
Before states began permitting recreational use — and using some of the tax revenues collected to fund cannabis research — researchers had to cut through red tape and jump through federal hoops to get access to low-quality weed. Federal grant money for these studies was even harder to come by, and many private research funds were loath to combat federal law.
Fortunately, looser cannabis regulations have opened up the world of cannabis research. Every purchase at a dispensary in Reno contributes to the state’s funds for research, which Unfortunately, we don’t yet have access to what researchers are discovering. We might have an answer to the question about first timers not getting high within the next decade, but for now, we have to rely on some educated guesses.
We Have a Few Theories
Just because researchers can’t say for certain doesn’t mean they don’t have a few good ideas. Some leading theories explaining why first-time cannabis users sometimes don’t experience any effects include:
Cannabis produces effects by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which has many important jobs. Some scientists theorize that the endocannabinoid system doesn’t always know what to do with cannabinoids once they enter the blood stream, so instead of binding them to receptors, they allow them to float on by. It might take a few interactions with cannabinoids for the body to understand where to put them. This period, called sensitization, might happen faster with some users and slower with others, leading to some first timers being utterly unable to get high.
Not Consuming Properly
Consuming cannabis isn’t exactly like consuming other substances, and it is easier than you might think to get it wrong. When it comes to inhalables like joints, pipes and vapes, you need to bring the smoke (or vapor) deep into your lungs and hold it there for a moment for the cannabinoids to seep into your blood stream. Cannabis smoke (or vapor) doesn’t do much in your mouth, and if you exhale too quickly, you might not get a large enough dose to feel effects. Similarly, you might need to take a larger bite of your edible — but you should be careful not to consume too much, as effects tend to be delayed with edibles and you don’t want to overdo it.
Expectations vs. Reality
Some first timers have very clear expectations about what a cannabis high will be like — but those expectations might not be realistic. The media isn’t great at depicting a weed high with accuracy; often, movies and TV shows featuring stoners make the experience seem more like psychedelics (mushrooms, LSD), which weed certainly is not. Coming into your first high with the wrong expectations might cause you to overlook the effects you do experience. To make sure this isn’t the case, you might talk to a more experienced weed user — or the budtender at your local dispensary — to better understand the effects to look for.
Just because your first exposure to cannabis doesn’t live up to expectations doesn’t mean you won’t learn to love this little leaf. With patience and more practice, you should become a pot pro in no time.