Community & Current Events

What to expect if you're consuming cannabis for the first time—and tips to do it safely

What to expect if you're consuming cannabis for the first time—and tips to do it safely

Illustration by Genevieve Pizzale Image by: Gett

Community & Current Events

What to expect if you're consuming cannabis for the first time—and tips to do it safely

Whether you're a newly registered medicinal marijuana user, or you're interested in trying cannabis recreationally once it's legalized, here's what you need to know.

What was once viewed as the substance of choice for only potheads and hippies, both medical and recreational cannabis is now being hailed for its potential wellness benefits. According to Statistics Canada, 22 per cent of Canadians aged 15 to 44 have reported using some form of cannabis within the first quarter of 2018, as well as 7% of Canadians over the age of 45. Yet, despite the number of us currently imbibing, there are still those looking to try cannabis for the first time—and they aren’t sure where to start or what to expect. Here’s what some experts had to say if you’re a cannabis newbie, who wants to try this soon-to-be-legalized plant. 


How will it feel?
The first thing to keep in mind is that everyone experiences cannabis differently. “It also depends on the strain that you’re using,” explains Jenna Valleriani, Ph.D. and Post-Doctoral Fellow at the BC Centre on Substance Use. There are thousands of different cannabis strains and each has its own profile and promised effects based on the amount of THC (the psychoactive “high” compound), CBD (the non-psychoactive physical-based compound) and terpenes, (responsible for fragrances and health benefits) in each strain. 

Still, the overall “high” associated with THC-dominant cannabis is generally that of euphoria, and is often the most immediate effect.

Other likely effects include: 
-    Drowsiness
-    Increased appetite 
-    Happiness
-    Laughter 
-    Increased relaxation 

What are the negative side effects?  
“Cannabis use is so individualistic,” Valleriani explains, which will mean that negative reactions will vary and are dependent on how much cannabis is consumed, what the strain is and what the person’s experience level is. “Some typical [negative] experiences include managing some of the side effects of cannabis,” says William Hyde, senior subject matter expert at

This includes: 
-    Dry mouth 
-    Dry eyes 
-    Headaches (particularly if you aren’t properly hydrated) 

Cannabis has also been found to cause anxiety and paranoia in some cases. For that reason, it’s always important to start low and go slow. 

If you do start to feel adverse reactions, Hyde advises that you stop consuming and find a comfortable place to rest. “The only way for a cannabis high to stop is for time to pass,” says Hyde, “but find comfort knowing cannabis is a safe, non-lethal substance.” Other possible ways to cope with adverse effects include drinking water (to rehydrate) or sugary beverages like soda or juice (if you feel a blood sugar drop), and sniffing or chewing black peppercorn (the terpene beta-coryophyllene present in black pepper calms, counteracting negative or anxious side effects). 



What are your options? 
The two most common administration methods are to either smoke or vaporize the cannabis or to eat a cannabis-infused food product, otherwise known as an edible. While an edible may seem like the most appealing option for beginners, Valleriani says it can also lead to incorrect dosing or over-consumption. “When you consume an edible, it can take somewhere between 20 minutes to up to 2 hours to kick in,” says Valleriani. “So, sometimes what ends up happening is people aren’t patient enough and they consume more before they feel those initial effects.” This can lead to someone having a negative reaction to cannabis or feeling too high because they've consumed too much—which can lead to those feelings of anxiety and discomfort. Edibles also lend to a more “full-body” high and can potentially last for several hours. Smoking or vaporizing has a much quicker effect, which can help prevent over-dosing. Although it is important to be aware of the risks of smoking cannabis—medical professionals tend to recommend vaporizing as it uses less heat, which is safer than smoking.  

How much should you take?
While there aren’t any official dosing guidelines available yet, Valleriani and Hyde both suggest sticking to the cannabis golden rule of starting low and going slow. “If you’re consuming through smoking or a vaporizer, my advice would be to start with one inhalation and see how you feel because generally when you're smoking the onset is really quick,” says Valleriani. “It’s somewhere between 30 seconds to 15 minutes.” Once some time has passed, decide whether you’re ready to increase your dose. Strains with a THC concentration as low as 12 per cent are a good place to start if you’re nervous about any psychoactive effects. 

When and where is best for consuming cannabis? 
First and foremost, when consuming cannabis, never operate heavy machinery or vehicles, and check to see what the other legal parameters your province has put in place for cannabis consumption. For example, in Ontario, cannabis consumption is okay wherever cigarette smoking is allowed with some exceptions. Then, choose a crowd and setting that leaves you feeling comfortable. If you tend to avoid large crowds regularly, don’t pick one to try marijuana for the first time. Stick to people and scenarios that you trust to bring you comfort and support. Finally, keep good accompaniments on hand before starting—water for a dry mouth, snacks for potential munchies and any other items required for your choice of administration.



-    Only consume licensed, lab-tested cannabis from reputable growers.
-    Don’t be ashamed to say no or to take a pass while you figure out where you’re most comfortable and how much you want to consume
-    Remember to be safe, but don’t overthink it. This is supposed to be a positive experience. 



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What to expect if you're consuming cannabis for the first time—and tips to do it safely