Explore the stoned spectrum, aka the 10 stages of being high


Each person’s endocannabinoid system is specific, like a fingerprint, so there is no such thing as a universal cannabis experience. An edible with 5 milligrams of THC can shake one person’s consciousness, while barely registering on another person. Even so, there is one point that all cannabis enthusiasts can agree on: THC gets you high, and the high is a journey.

Before we get into the typical stages of this trip, however, we should delve into the timetables. A 2017 study published by the National Health Institute established two main schedules for maximum THC levels: smoking or vaping and ingesting. Smoking or vaping usually results in an onset that occurs minutes after use, a peak that occurs 20 to 30 minutes after onset, and a high that can last up to two hours. Ingestion, on the other hand, filters THC through the liver before it enters the bloodstream. The resulting onset can occur up to two hours after ingestion, with the peak of the high occurring 2 to 3 hours after it begins. The effect can then last up to 24 hours, depending on the dosage.

Whether inhaled or ingested, both heights can be hypnotically intoxicating or mild and manageable. Knowing your dose is key.

If you’re willing to compare notes with your own experiences, or if you’re new to cannabis and unsure of what to expect, the stoned spectrum can bridge the gap between the effects you and others may feel in a similar way. Explore the 10 levels of being high below and see if it all adds up.

Stage 1: The first step before the high

Your nose and mouth are usually the first to interact with cannabis. Even with food, traces of terpenes can predict the direction, duration, and intensity of your high.

The smell and taste of your weeds can have a significant impact on your cannabis journey. So take a whiff and enjoy the taste. And while you try and smell your herb, you can base your plans – and snacks – on when your high takes off.

Level 2: the first sign of a high

Once THC crosses your blood brain barrier and binds to your CB1 receptors, the high is triggered. This activation can occur seconds after hitting a grease stain, minutes after blowing a dense stump, or hours after eating an artisanal edible.

There are many variables that determine activation, but aside from variables, the primary effects of cannabis can gradually perish after breaking your blood-brain barrier. These effects often begin with a sensation of flare in the limbs and a slight shift in perception that brightens and smooths rough edges and slowly blooms throughout the body.

Level 3: Climb the high and feel slightly stoned

In the time between activation and onset, the user can expect an intensification of the physical and cerebral effects that have started to seep away. The duration and intensity of this moment depends entirely on the method of consumption, strain and DNA of the user.

As THC concentrates in the bloodstream, the high develops and shows effects such as creativity, relaxation or pain relief. Levels 2 through 3 are the perfect time to connect with your body. We recommend doing some gentle stretches or other low-effort physical activities during this phase.

Level 4: flames

Levels 2 through 4 can occur in such rapid succession and with such seamless flow that you may not feel many nuanced effects between a deep hit and a strong start. However, there will be a moment when your blood reaches its maximum concentration of THC, and that is when your high will pass out – sometimes overwhelming.

Calibrating your dose to your tolerance is critical to ensuring a manageable faint. This phase is the best time to ground yourself with a few deep, mindful breaths.

Stage 5: Tension begins to build up

When your body readjusts to the THC in your bloodstream, users sometimes feel a pull between gravity and ascent, which can lead to anxiety or tension.

The easiest way to avoid feeling crippled right now is to have some pre-planned activity ready as well as some THC-softening CBD. This would be the time to start a hike, turn on a game console, or take a bath to keep your mind occupied and get your high going.

Stage 6: reaching the summit

Once your high has solidified, the effects of your chosen strain or product should sharpen, and any unique traits that you have drawn to that strain or product will become substantial and tangible.

Stress that affects focus can provoke wild creativity, euphoric stress triggers giggling fits, talkative stress loosens your jaws and chill-out stress locks you on the couch. For some, this is considered to be the peak when the THC blood concentration is highest and the body is comfortably accustomed to that concentration. Level 6 is the time to get introspective with your high, let your mind wander, and maybe have a revelation – or ten.

Level 7: When the high levels are off

At this point you were high for a while. Your eyes are likely bloodshot, your eyelids are likely to be heavy, and if you’re demanding, your nibbles are likely to show up. And despite popular belief, nibbles don’t accompany every single cannabis high. In fact, many strains are appetite suppressants. However, if your strain is known to induce cravings for stoner, prepare accordingly during Stage 1 so you don’t end up high and dry without a burger or fries.

Aside from the nibbles, at this stage consumers will feel a gradual lightening of the effects as the THC in the bloodstream becomes more diluted. This phase can last anywhere from an hour to most of a day. During this phase, best practices dictate that you lean into the stoned activity you initiated in phase 5 and enjoy the ride.

Level 8: the cooldown

The vacuum created when THC slowly releases from your body can quickly be replaced by discomfort. For Joint Tokers, Bong Rippers, and Dab Hitters, level 8 is usually when another session is initiated. For edible enthusiasts, level 8 is a good time to make a cup of tea and relax to the point of decompression and evaporation.

Level 9: decompression

A particularly intense level 7 can lead to disorientation, which can be comparatively dizzying and / or lethargic than the rest of the high. In these cases, it’s quite common to feel burned out. If the feeling arises, don’t fight it: give in and take a nap.

Level 10: evaporation and rest

The best, and by far the most common, scenario is that your high evaporates in a timely manner and your perception changes slightly and your body remains a little more responsive, but your consciousness is more or less intact. By this point, THC’s psychotropic effects have worn off, but the myriad other cannabinoids have affected you less than THC in many ways.

Effects like calmness, physical ease, and general friendliness are common remnants of a weed high that lingers long after giggling, head excursions, and nibbling. Level 10 is a good time to evaluate your high, what you liked about your stress, what worked best, and what you may be adjusting before your next session.

Featured image by Gina Coleman / Weedmaps



Robert Dunfee