The first question most of us are asked upon entering a dispensary is the age-old, “Are you looking for sativa or indica?”, but is that information really all that’s needed to find your desired high? Not likely. Turns out it’s much more complicated than that.
Cannabis affects each individual differently for quite a few reasons, and none of those have to do with sativa or indica classifications—those are just phenotypes of the cannabis plant (characteristics of what the plant looks like). Science proves it’s time to ditch indica and sativa; below are six REAL factors that influence your high.
Photos by Angelica Alatorre
Genes are one crucial factor that shape how we experience cannabis. Cannabis applies its effects through many targets within the brain and body, most notably the CB1 and CB2 receptor sites. Research shows that genetic mutations, especially within the CB1 (the target for THC and main site of cannabis intoxication) and CB2 receptors, play a huge role in why people feel the specific effects of cannabis. For instance, there are people with a certain genetic variation that make them more likely to feel anxious, paranoid, and experience psychotic effects from cannabis.
“But genetic mutations that affect the cannabis experience aren’t restricted to the genes involved in our endogenous cannabinoid system. For example, some people have mutations in the Akt gene (Protein kinase B, not an endocannabinoid-specific gene). This gene can keep cells from dying and inhibit tissue growth and is associated with many types of cancer. People with this mutation are more prone to make errors in judgement and motor responses after consuming cannabis. That’s because the individual’s Akt mutation changes how cannabinoids affect them.”
The science behind how cannabis works in synergy with our genes is still being researched, but we can bet that future findings will lead to more cures and remedies being discovered. Yay canna-science!
The takeaway: Your high is kind of predetermined by your genes (some people are just wired to get higher), so the best thing to do is take it slow and try different strains and products for yourself. Remember what works and what doesn’t.
2. Biological sex
Another factor that influences our experience with cannabis is our biological sex. Scientists are finding that cannabis affects men and women differently. For example, men are more likely to get ‘munchies’, yet women are more sensitive to the plant overall. Females also tend to feel more pain relief from cannabis, as research shows males typically need to consume more of the plant to get those same pain-fighting effects.
How does cannabis know whether you are female or male? It doesn’t—but your brain does. As Liana Fattore, President of the Mediterranean Society of Neuroscience explains, interactions between the endocannabinoid system and the brain level of dopamine (the neurotransmitter of ‘pleasure’ and ‘reward’) are sex dependent.
However, this research is still fairly new and based on experiments with animals. Scientists are working to conduct more human studies and research to further these findings.
The takeaway: Effects vary due to our biology—so don’t base your purchase solely on what your partner likes, especially if they are the opposite sex.
3. Unique biochemistry
You’ve heard it your whole life and it’s true, there’s no one quite like you. Each of us has a unique endocannabinoid system (ECS)—a network of receptors that cannabis acts on to bring about its therapeutic effects—causing our reactions to substances to vary from person to person. This explains why some people become intoxicated quickly when others can finish a whole bottle; or how some people bounce up and down from one cup of coffee while others can finish 2 pots and still be tired. Cannabis is no different in that some people are just more sensitive to the effects.
Our ECS plays a big role in key life processes like sleep, mood and memory, so it’s no surprise that when your endocannabinoid tone becomes imbalanced, many issues can occur. What throws our endocannabinoid tone off balance? Many factors influence our ECS, such as stress, diet, environment, and lifestyle. For example, a person lacking omega-3 fatty acids in their diet is going to have an ECS that is out of wack since endocannabinoids come from fatty acids. Cannabis tends to feel amazing for those lacking endocannabinoids, but can feel slightly overwhelming to those who don’t need a boost (so make sure to pass the weed to your plant-based friends).
The takeaway: Our ECS influences our high, but our ECS is always changing, therefore, our experience with cannabis is constantly changing too. Be patient as you continue to learn while you burn.
4. Overall health
Of course, our mental and physical health influences how we experience most things, cannabis included. For those with health issues or conditions, cannabis can help to improve your overall well-being by altering and balancing out your ECS. As explained by Herbco.,
“Let’s say you have PTSD or fibromyalgia. Cannabis is going to feel wildly different for you than it does for someone without any health issues. If you have a medical condition, chances are your biochemistry is altered in some way. When you consume cannabis, a substance that produces a chain of chemical interactions in your body, you alter your biochemistry.”
For people with PTSD, fibromyalgia, or other medical conditions, the ‘altered’ effects from cannabis are the desired effects, and help to improve what’s referred to as endocannabinoid tone. Rather than feel entirely high off their rocker, people with these conditions are more likely to feel normal when using cannabis.
The takeaway: A person who uses cannabis for a medical condition is going to have an extremely different reaction from someone who uses cannabis recreationally. Take this into consideration when choosing a strain or product—some people actually need the most potent concentrates, but you might not.
Most long-time tokers are familiar with this one. If you are a heavy cannabis user, your reaction will be extremely different than that of someone who rarely smokes, or even more, has never tried cannabis. This goes for smoking, vaping, and ingesting cannabis orally through edibles. Typically the more you consume, the less extreme the effects will feel (which can be a relief to some and a bummer for others).
The takeaway: Your tolerance will affect your high. Base your buying decisions on your tolerance, not your friend’s or Budtender’s.
Terpenes are the compounds responsible for your favorite strain’s aroma, taste, and effects. They are not unique to cannabis, as terpenes are found in hundreds of plants, herbs, and foods. Similar to cannabinoids, terpenes bind to receptors in our brain and produce various effects. Once you know how specific terpenes affect you, you can start to look for strains that contain those terps.
There are a few things to consider when shopping for terpenes, as explained by Leafly.
“When choosing a strain based on its terpene content, keep in mind that different harvests may demonstrate dramatically different terpenoid profiles due to variances in growing and curing techniques. Lab-tested products are the only surefire way of knowing a strain’s terpene potency – without it, you’ll have to rely on your nose to guide you.”
Once you know which terpenes work best for you, learning how to keep those terps in top-quality shape is next. When choosing your method of ingestion, keep in mind that the beneficial qualities of terpenes can be severely damaged if heated past their boiling point. It is best to try a low-heat device in order to experience the full benefits and flavor of your terpenes.
The takeaway: Terpenes are important and terpenes are slightly sensitive, so how you ingest them is important—keep your heat low!
Before you shop
Cannabis is not “one size fits all”—and that’s a beautiful thing! There are many factors that influence the different ways we each experience the same strains or products. Once you start to factor in these elements along with the entourage effect, you’ll have a better understanding of both yourself and your weed.