The psychoactive effects of cannabis can vary depending on the strain, the method of consumption, and other contributing factors. Some cannabis strains produce more of a head high and some strains produce more of a body high. Sometimes you can experience both head and body highs at the same time. It comes down to the ratio of individual cannabinoids within each variety. Smoking, edibles, vaping, and taking oil can all affect the quality of the high differently.
Another factor is the sativa vs. indica debate: cannabis sativa strains are often associated with a head high and cannabis indica is often associated with a body high. These associations are purely anecdotal as we would need more formal studies to truly understand the psychoactive differences between sativa and indica. That being said, it’s good to take note of how both sativa and indica affect you differently, so that you can tailor your selection to meet your own personal cannabis needs. Cannabis experiences vary from person to person based on tolerance levels and individual body and brain chemistry. One can only ever really know how something will affect them after trying it themselves.
Straight to the head: a head high explained
A cannabis experience that produces more of a head high can offer enhancement in many ways:
- Enhanced creativity
- Sense of humor
- Elevated moods
- Mental focus
- Mental endurance
The science behind enhanced creativity is intriguing. The frontal lobe of the brain is stimulated during cannabis use. This promotes a creative flow state by helping to uninhibit the mind and invoke other thought processes associated with creativity. Increased blood flow to the frontal lobe allows neurons to fire more freely, which allows the flow state to occur.
Another contributor to creativity is that activity in the brain’s dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is slowed down. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is responsible for inhibition and self-censorship as well as cognitive control of emotions. By suppressing this part of the brain, a mindset more conducive to imagination and divergent thinking is made possible. Imagination, focus, awareness, connection, and reflection are all enhanced by a cannabis head high and these qualities greatly contribute to the creative process.
THC cannabinoids are responsible for elevated levels of dopamine and endorphins. These are the same treasured neurochemicals that get released when you exercise, fall in love, complete a project, or do anything else that feels exciting. THC also triggers the release of more serotonin, also known as the “happy” chemical. These brain chemicals being boosted as well as the stimulation of the above-mentioned frontal lobe create a lack of inhibition and impulse control. This can contribute to increased laughter, wit and humor that may not normally be present without THC being involved. It can also be the reason why many cannabis users become more chatty after getting high. Increased release of serotonin in the brain is responsible for the euphoria and elevated moods sometimes experienced while using THC.
Because a head high is more often stimulating, strains promoting a head high are popular for day use of cannabis.
Read our blog on how long being high lasts here.
The embodied experience: a body high explained
Body highs produce a deep sense of relaxation in the physical body. People who use cannabis for treating pain, stress, and sleep issues often seek out strains that promote a body high. Muscle relaxation, tension release. and enhanced deep sleep are all benefits of a body high.
There are many cannabinoid receptors in the peripheral nerves that detect sensations of pain. Studies done on animals show that cannabinoids block nerve pain. Cannabis is an effective way to treat pain and is less habit-forming than opiates and other pharmaceutical drugs.
Cannabis is highly effective for stress reduction. It mimics the effects of SSRI medication by increasing the signals through serotonin receptors, elevating mood and reducing anxiety. This results in less mental and emotional stress. We often store our mental stress in the physical body so using cannabis for stress relief can have a significant healing effect on the physical body.
Cannabinoids from cannabis bind to receptors in the human brain and increase levels of the sleep-promoting neurochemical adenosine. They also suppress the brain’s arousal system. These two effects work together to create a sleepy and sedated feeling. Strains that promote a body high work to relax the body and promote a deeper sleep.
Body-high cannabis strains are best used in the evenings. They can be a great tool to unwind after a long work day or a strenuous physical workout. They can be also used before bedtime to encourage the sleep process. Experiment with timing when using cannabis for sleep, as some body-high strains can still stimulate the mind enough to prevent falling asleep. Many people find that taking cannabis an hour or two before bedtime allows enough time for the “high” to pass, leaving a nice relaxed body high, perfect for sleep.
Sativa vs. Indica – the non-identical twin sisters
Cannabis sativa is the variety of cannabis most associated with head highs. Its effects are thought to be cerebral and much more psychoactive. Sativa grows tall and lanky and the fan leaves are large with narrow blades. Sativa is known for its higher levels of THC.
Cannabis indica is the variety most associated with body highs. Its effects are thought to be sedating and relaxing. It grows much shorter than sativa and is bushier with wider leaflets. Indica is known for its higher levels of CBD than found in sativa.
The two different genuses were classified by botanists based on their appearance and growing patterns. There is very little scientific evidence backing the common perception that sativa is a more energizing and creative high, and that indica is a more relaxing, sedating high.
How do you like your cannabis?
Methods of consumption also play a role in providing either a head high or a body high.
When cannabis is smoked, the decarboxylated compounds pass through the lungs directly into the bloodstream, through the blood-brain barrier to the brain. This results in a rapid, more cerebral high.
When cannabis is consumed as an edible, the compounds pass through the digestive tract and liver at a slower rate, resulting in more of a prolonged body high.
Education is the safest way
Most strains of cannabis out in the world are a hybrid of sativa and indica varieties. This makes it harder to determine the psychoactive effects of a particular strain. One can only truly know the effects by experience. As usual, start slowly when trying new strains or methods of cannabis consumption. Keep a journal of your experiences with each strain so that you can reference it based on your needs for future cannabis use.
The staff at The Green Dragon CBD are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to cannabis strains, cannabinoid content, and the varying effects of each strain. Also, they are super friendly! Contact The Green Dragon CBD here and we will do our best to answer any cannabis questions you may have.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, JEN OLSON
Jennifer Olson is a copywriter with a deep knowledge of the cannabis industry. She was born and raised on an island in BC, Canada and currently resides in the Slocan Valley, BC. She is passionate about science and research and could potentially bore you with talk of mycelium, neurochemicals, you name it. Connect with her on Instagram or read other posts by Jen.