BY JESSICA CASTILLO | Original illustration for Ember by Simon Diago
You wake up to a dry mouth and pounding headache. Your head is swimming, and the world around you feels fuzzy. But wait—you didn’t drink alcohol last night. In fact, you only consumed cannabis. Is it possible that you have a “weed hangover”?
There are a number of conflicting beliefs about whether or not cannabis can cause you to feel hungover, and what that kind of “hangover” can feel like. The studies that focus on how people feel in the hours and days after consuming cannabis are few and far between, and not have they typically focused on small sample sizes, but they often directly contradict each other: One study conducted in 1985 suggested that people might experience a so-called “weed hangover” after consuming cannabis, while a 1990 study found that “marijuana smoking was not associated with a ‘hangover’ syndrome similar to those reported after use of alcohol or long-acting sedative-hypnotics,” Vice noted.
So what should you believe before you partake in cannabis? Here’s what you need to know:
While the studies contradict themselves, anecdotal evidence suggests that any “hangover” feeling isn’t caused by your cannabis consumption. “I’m just going to be honest: I haven't really heard many cannabis users speak about how they've experienced a weed hangover,” Dr. Tory Spindle, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who has studied the effects of cannabis, told Ember. “In fact, it's more likely that people say that they use cannabis because they don't like getting hangovers from alcohol.” And given how painful hangovers can feel, who can blame them?
But what about the studies, then? “There have been some studies done that have tried to determine, ‘Are there lingering effects the morning after use?’ and that kind of thing. Basically the results have been mixed,” Dr. Spindle notes. “Some studies have found that the morning after use, or the day after use of cannabis, there can be some slight cognitive impairments relative to baseline. Then other studies have found no such effects.” Given that cannabis is still classified as a schedule-1 drug at the federal level, it may be a while until studies can more definitively get to the bottom of the issue.
“It seems like some people have a mild cognitive impairment the next day. Some people don't, and it really depends on the study and it probably has a lot to do with the dose given and just the characteristics of the people in the study,” Dr. Spindle says. He also points out that women are more likely to experience cannabis withdrawal symptoms than men due to neurobiological differences (we’ll get to the point of withdrawal in a minute).
If you do wake up and feel groggy or slower on the uptake, it might be because of the amount of cannabis you consumed or how you consumed it. If you’ve got a big meeting the next day, it might be worth seeking out something with a smaller amount of THC in it, or in a way so that you can control the amount of cannabis you actually consume, such as through inhalation or a vape that measures out each dose.
“I would imagine if you use a higher THC dose or use something that's going to be a longer lasting effect, like an edible, then you'd be more likely to experience some kind of lingering cognitive deficits the day after,” Dr. Spindle says. “But I don't know that I've really ever heard of it being a common thing, at least among the cannabis community.”
Edibles—whether you favor gummies, brownies, or some other homemade treat—take a while to kick in, and they take a while to leave your body. That’s because they first metabolize in your liver, which then creates a metabolite called 11-hydroxy-THC that is also psychoactive, Dr. Spindle says. It’s essentially a 1-2 punch of compounds acting together to make you feel high.
“When you eat cannabinoids, they’re absorbed through the intestines and then move through the liver before going into blood and spreading throughout the rest of your body,” Matt Elmes, PhD, Director of New Product Development at CannaCraft, previously told Ember. That’s why edibles can take an hour to kick in, and why people may feel the effects of their edible up to eight hours after consuming.
If you inhale your cannabis, on the other hand, the active compounds travel almost immediately from your lungs to your bloodstream and into your brain, where it binds to receptors. “It's basically a very rapid onset,” Dr. Spindle says. “And then within four or five hours, people are basically back to normal.”
So if you have a big meeting the day after consuming, smoking or vaping cannabis may theoretically give you more time to sleep off the effects of the THC and other compounds, and therefore feel more alert the next day. Because edibles take longer to leave your system, you might want to allow for more time to feel “back to normal.”
As for whether different strains are more likely to make you feel hungover, there simply isn’t enough data to tell. The potency and quality of strains can vary wildly, too, which is why it may be helpful to make sure you’re sourcing your cannabis from a reputable source.
It’s entirely possible that you woke up with a dry mouth because you were simply dehydrated, and that might or might not have something to do with the cannabis you consumed the night prior. And if you or a friend swears by a remedy to “stop” feeling the effects of cannabis, there is plenty of reason to believe that will work. It’s called the expectancy effect—basically, if you believe something will help, or will make you feel a certain way, it just might.
“People have any kind of things they swear by as far as coming down off of a high, and honestly, you name something, and people seem like they've tried it,” Dr. Spindle says. “There's just really not any hard evidence to say that one thing works over another.”
There’s also the possibility that what you feel isn’t a hangover so much as it is withdrawal symptoms, especially if you consume a lot of cannabis regularly and are adjusting your dosage. “There have been plenty of studies that have shown that people who are regular daily cannabis users do develop withdrawal symptoms after stopping use,” Dr. Spindle says. “So that could partially explain it. If you were using every single day and then all of a sudden you're abruptly stopped, that could be accounting for some kind of mental deficits that you would experience afterwards.” How you experience withdrawal can vary from mood changes to an upset stomach to headaches.
Staying mindful of the kind of cannabis you’re consuming is key, and it’s just as important to watch out how much cannabis you’re consuming, especially if you’re a new user.
“The advice that a lot of people give when someone is new to cannabis products is that you should start low and go slow,” Dr. Spindle says. “If you're new to cannabis products, and you don’t really know what the effects are going to be for you, you might be hypersensitive to the effects of a dose that someone else might handle very easily.” That especially comes into play with edibles, because as Dr. Spindle notes, “you can't really titrate your dose that well. Once you consume an edible, the horse is out of the barn. Whereas if you're smoking it or vaping it, you can take a less strong puff the next time.”
Edibles also tend to be made with sugar—and while those cookies are certainly delicious, the addition of sugar may result in your feeling even more dehydrated and out of the loop. Not only are you coming down from a high, but you’re also dealing with the after-effects of a sugar high. (HelloMD likens this to how a hangover the night after you drink a lot of sugary cocktails is almost always more brutal than a night of only clear alcohol, in moderation.)
It can also help to source high-quality, lab-tested products from a source you trust, such as your local Med Men dispensary. That way, you know exactly what kind of strain you’re consuming, as well as what to expect when you do consume.
So you wake up and you feel crummy. The good news is that many people swear by the same remedies they use to feel “less high.”
Take a walk: If your head is foggy but you aren’t feeling dizzy, try going for a short walk to breathe in the benefits of fresh air.
Drink water: If your mouth feels dry, you might have already reached for water. Try taking smaller sips than usual to avoid upsetting your stomach.
Take a shower or a bath: You might even want to fill your bath water with CBD-infused bath salts or a CBD bath bomb, given that the compound has been shown to help calm you down and soothe the anxiety caused by cannabis more broadly.
Eat something filling: Just as different foods may help you soak up the hangover effects caused by alcohol, eating a nutritious meal can help you feel settled and give you energy so you feel more alert. Avoid added sugars if you can, and if you have a sensitive stomach, foods like oatmeal or whole-grain toast might stay down better than others.