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May 21, 2020
The Truth Behind Head Highs And Body Highs

BY JESSICA CASTILLO

Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

Just as sauces can change how a dish tastes, different strains of cannabis can influence the kind of high you experience. If you’re working on a deadline, you might prefer to reach for something that clears your head and helps you focus. If you’re at the tail-end of a stressful day, maybe you’d like to bliss all the way out. The former rush is commonly known as a head high, while the latter is often referred to as a body high. And depending on what you’re looking for, both may be able to provide benefits to your mood and symptoms, especially if you’re using cannabis medicinally. 

But how do you determine which high is right for you? And how do you know which product will give you the kind of buzz you’re looking for? 

The great sativa vs. indica debate

To get to the bottom of the different kinds of highs, it’s helpful to refresh our memories about the different kinds of cannabis plants. Generally, there are two major classifications which cultivars group their plants: sativa and indica. Each has different appearances and properties. Plenty of people believe that the effects of each are binary: Sativa plants will give you the pleasant brain buzz of a head high, while indica will result in a chilled-out body high. 

While it’s true that sativa and indica plants each contain different combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes (which we’ll get to in a minute), it’s not always that simple. “A lot of people will say indica strains will produce a ‘couch-lock,’ or make you more relaxed, whereas a sativa strain will get you energized,” Dr. Tory Spindle, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University who has studied the effects of cannabis on adults, tells Ember. But he says that is anecdotal evidence. “There’s never been a scientific study that has given someone [one of each] and asked, ‘How does this make you feel?’” 

He also points out that plenty of cannabis plants these days are hybrids, which means they’re the result of the two crossbreeding. “The majority of products out there are probably not a pure indica or pure sativa,” he notes. That isn’t to say you won’t experience the same effects as a pure strain if you consume a hybrid, but it can explain why you might experience either a benefit or downside (or both) that you weren’t quite expecting.

How do the chemicals in cannabis affect your high?

Just as there are a few major classifications of cannabis strains, there are some key things to know about the chemical compounds that make each strain distinct. 

First, there’s the matter of cannabinoids, which vary from strain to strain (researchers have identified over 113 distinct cannabinoids in cannabis plants, including THC and CBD). These compounds mirror the endocannabinoids in our bodies, so they “unlock” different kinds of highs when the cannabinoids meet the receptors in our bodies. 

Terpenes, which are also known as terpenoids, largely affect the scent or flavor of a plant, but they’re not exclusive to cannabis alone. They’re found in plenty of other plants including spices, lavender, and more. They offer a range of effects ranging from relaxation to euphoria to anti-anxiety, depending on the terpene. According to Dr. Spindle, a theory called the entourage effect might explain the different ways compounds combine and result in different highs. 

“[The entourage effect] means that what you feel from cannabis is driven by more than just THC,” he says, “Terpenes and all the other cannabinoids aside from THC are interacting to produce an effect that is different from the THC itself.” 

So wait! Is the high, um, all in your head?

It depends on who you ask and even then, that doesn’t mean what you feel isn’t real. 

“It might be the case that different types of cannabis produce different effects because there are a lot of different compounds in cannabis,” Dr. Spindle says. “But in terms of saying, ‘this is what causes that’ — it’s hard without a controlled study to say there’s not some expectancy effects going on.” 

An expectancy effect is similar to the idea of if you believe it, you can achieve it: If someone tells you something will happen, you accept it, and then it’s possible that said outcome happens because they told you so. “[There may be] some truth to it,” Dr. Spindle says. “It’s just that in terms of a research perspective, we haven’t really pinned down what might be causing people to feel different effects.” 

Does how you consume cannabis affect how you feel?

Absolutely. If you smoke or vape cannabis, you’re more likely to feel its effects more quickly than by eating an infused food product. An edible can often take at least 45 minutes to an hour before you feel the effects. 

“Sometimes you might not get your peak effects or feel as high until two hours later,” Dr. Spindle says. “People end up eating one dose, they don’t really feel anything for maybe 30 minutes, and then they eat another dose. It catches up to them.” He warns that when that happens, people might experience panic attacks, which is a downside most commonly associated with sativa products and associated head highs. 

As with anything, it’s best to be patient, and be prepared to sleep off the high or wait out the feeling if you need to come down. And before you take a hit from your friend’s vape, do your research: it’s always best to know both the product and the vape itself came from a licensed, legal dispensary that passes state-level regulations.

How do I know if I’m getting the right high and what does it feel like?

That depends on a number of things, and Dr. Spindle notes it’s not likely that your body will be predisposed to one kind of high over another. Because it’s notoriously difficult to research cannabis, the most info many people have to go on is anecdotal advice.

If a friend says they experienced a head high with a certain sativa strain, the expectancy effect might lead to you experiencing the same. That’s the more energizing kind of high, where you feel productive and focused. A lot of people use sativa to achieve a head high when they want help to calm their anxiety or depression but remain alert — it’s the buzzed version of a high. Often you’ll see sativas and head highs recommended for daytime use. You may be giggly or feel euphoric, which is a fancier way of saying that you’re extremely happy and nothing will get you down. However, this same euphoria and buzzed feeling can also lead to anxiety and paranoia when you consume too much.

By contrast, the body high often feels like the ultimate melt, when your muscles relax and all you want to do is sit on the comfiest couch available and veg out for the rest of the day. If you’ve ever experienced what people call “couch-lock,” you know what we’re talking about: a blissed-out, total body relaxation that may tingle all over. Body highs also work well for combating anxiety, but you might want to save them for the end of a stressful workday, after you finished that project or met that deadline. You may get so relaxed that you nod off, which is why most users recommend body high products for evening use. Also, another side effect (besides feeling tired) is an increased appetite, which could be helpful for those using cannabis to stimulate their desire to eat.

If you’re looking for a body high, try:

Connected Cannabis Co El Jefe: Featuring citrusy limonene, which has anti-anxiety properties, myrcene (found in hops) which can be euphoric, and linalool (found in lavender) to relax, this strain balances the happy with the couch-lock. 

Satori Strawberries in Milk Chocolate: More of an edibles fan? Each of these delicious strawberry and chocolate flavored bites has 3mg of THC and is great if you prefer a low dose, relaxing treat.

Heavy Hitters Granddaddy Purple Cartridge: Fans of this vape call it the perfect product for Netflix and chill or a light, stretchy yoga session. You can literally feel your muscles unwind, which is probably much needed since professional massages are out of the question at the moment.

If you’re looking for a head high, try: 

[statemade] ca max flower: Consider this your secret helper when you’re faced with mind numbing tasks like cleaning out your closet or scrubbing down the bathroom — it’s an energetic high made for focus.

WYLD Sativa Raspberry Gummies: Worried that you’ll experience paranoia or anxiety from overconsumption but still want something energetic? Go for a low dose gummy like these that contain 10mg. And if you’re still not sure, split it in half and start slow.

AbsoluteXtracts Sour Diesel Cartridge: One of the most popular strains in California, this classic sativa is ideal if you’re looking to socially smoke. It’s also a favorite among medical patients for its ability to help with depression and anxiety issues.

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