Welcome to WeEdu 201! This is our first 200-level lesson. So far our 100-level courses have given you a general overview of the biology behind the cannabis plant and how it interacts with the human endocannabinoid system. We’ve also discussed some of the most common medical symptoms/conditions that are treated with cannabis, the pathways inside your body through which cannabis actively manages those symptoms, and how federal laws have stifled medical cannabis research over the past century. Today, we’re going to zoom in on the most common method of cannabis consumption: smoking flower.
Whether you first experienced cannabis in the 60s and 70s or you’re fairly new to cannabis altogether, there’s a good chance that your first encounter with cannabis involved smoking flower. Smoking may seem relatively crude and antiquated in the age of dabbing and digital cannabis devices, but smoking flower has stuck around for a reason: it’s one of the cheapest, easiest ways to consume cannabis.
How Does Smoking Flower Work?
Freshly-picked cannabis has to undergo a drying process before it can be smoked. That’s because the cannabis is still very wet from the plant’s life cycle. However, when you buy cannabis flower from your local dispensary or through Blackbird, it’s ready to smoke as soon as you get home. Store-bought cannabis flower has already been dried and cured, meaning the moisture has been removed without rendering the plant brittle and crispy. It should still be a little sticky to the touch when you break up a bud, and you should see glittering trichomes on the surface of the flower.
To smoke cannabis, you simply grind up the buds or break them apart by hand. You can then smoke the ground-up flower in a pipe or in a joint.
What Happens When You Smoke Flower?
When you light a pipe or joint with a flame, it heats up the plant matter to approximately 1,472oF. Once that happens, the plant’s non-psychoactive THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) undergoes a chemical conversion and turns into its psychoactive form, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is what makes you feel “high” when you smoke cannabis. Let’s break down how that happens.
THC interacts with your body’s endocannabinoid system. You may remember from our previous WeEdu lessons that cannabinoids like THC mimic the size and shape of your body’s naturally-occurring compounds, called endocannabinoids (“inner cannabinoids”). THC then over-activates the parts of your brain responsible for:
- Your body’s senses
- Your mood
- Your sense of time
- Your motor coordination and reflex time
Do these effects sound familiar? It’s why smoking cannabis makes you feel euphoric while helping you manage unpleasant physical symptoms like pain. It’s also why you should never drive a vehicle or operate heavy machinery after consuming cannabis.
Smoking cannabis also tricks your body into thinking that you’re hungry. THC causes the body to release ghrelin, a peptide hormone that regulates the sensation of hunger. This is why many people with severe nausea from HIV/AIDS or patients undergoing chemotherapy rely heavily on cannabis to prevent extreme weight loss - they feel hungry, even if they’ve been too sick to eat. Cannabis also helps relieve pain and digestive problems associated with Crohn’s disease and other irritable bowel diseases.
How Long Will I Feel The Effects?
You will begin to feel the initial effects of cannabis almost immediately after smoking. This is why many medical patients prefer smoking cannabis over oral ingestion - the effects come on quickly, making it easier to dose how much you consume. Your body will experience peak THC plasma levels approximately 10 minutes after you’ve smoked cannabis, with the effects tapering off relatively quickly after that. Over the course of several hours, your body will pull THC out of your plasma and deposit it in fatty tissues throughout your body. THC will then remain stored in your fatty tissue for several weeks (though you will not feel the effects of these stored cannabis metabolites), which is why it’s possible to fail a drug test even if it’s been several days or weeks since you last smoked.
Everyone’s body chemistry is different, but generally speaking, the effects of smoked cannabis tend to wear off after one to three hours in most people. Regular cannabis smokers may feel the effects wear off more quickly than someone who is new to cannabis.
The type of cannabis you smoke (sativa vs. indica) as well as the terpene profile of that batch of cannabis will determine the specific effects that you feel. For example, sativas tend to produce a more euphoric “head high,” while indicas are better at relieving pain and providing you with a strong “body high.” Depending on the type of cannabis you smoke, you’ll probably feel happy/uplifted for a period of time before feeling relaxed and eventually getting sleepy.
Will People Near Me Get High From Secondhand Smoke?
Studies have shown that secondhand cannabis smoke does not cause others to feel the effects of cannabis. The main exception in those studies was in individuals who remained in a small, enclosed space while being exposed to large quantities of cannabis smoke over a period of several hours. Likewise, unless you’re in a small, unventilated room while others chainsmoke joint after joint for a couple of hours, you are not likely to fail a drug test from secondhand cannabis smoke.
With that said, you should still always avoid smoking indoors around children. In fact, smoking around children may even constitute child endangerment in your state or city. Always be responsible with where, when, and how you use cannabis, and always keep your cannabis safely locked away in childproof containers if you have children or pets in your home.
What Are The Downsides To Smoking?
Smoking may be the easiest way to consume cannabis, but this consumption method does have its drawbacks. Smoking any kind of plant matter, including cannabis, can irritate the throat and lungs. This may lead to a persistent cough, phlegm, and difficulty breathing - symptoms many cigarette smokers also experience.
However, unlike tobacco, cannabis is not considered a dangerous carcinogen. Researchers studying the long-term effects of smoking have yet to find an increased risk of cancer in the lungs, neck, or head of individuals who only smoke cannabis.
Because smoking cannabis can still irritate the lungs, some experts recommend using a vaporizer to avoid the extreme heat and smoke that combustion causes. We’ll talk more about vaporizers in a future WeEdu lesson.
What Else Do I Need To Know About Smoking?
Now that you know the basics of smoking cannabis flower, tune into our next WeEdu lesson where we’ll dive into the specific tools used to smoke cannabis. We’ll also be discussing the various pros and cons of those tools so you can find the best consumption method to meet your needs!