The Science of the Weed Hangover

There’s a reason your mouth is so goddamn dry.

Pixabay / Phee

Everyone’s done it: you smoke enough that you forget who, where, or what you are and end up smoking everything in the room. Or maybe you decide that your brownie isn’t kicking in quickly enough so you eat three more.

Regardless of the how, you did it, and when you woke up in a pile of snacks you didn’t understand how life could be so cruel as to make you feel this way. “What the hell?” you may think. “I didn’t even drink last night, why does my head hurt so bad?”

Sorry, nerd, you went and gave yourself a pot hangover.

First off, yes those are probably real things, though the science surrounding them is weak at best, relying on very small sample sizes (read: thirteen dudes who smoked then went to bed for the sake of research) and pitifully-weak weed.

If you’ve never felt hungover after a night of dabbing the devil’s lettuce, then congratulations to you — either your tolerance is higher than some of your drug-doer peers or you’re just better at knowing when to call it a night. But for everyone else, the experience can be quite unpleasant. It’s usually not as bad as a real, alcohol-induced hangover, but a lot of the symptoms are pretty similar. Headaches, dehydration, fatigue, and feeling foggy are all par for the course.

But it’s also important to make sure that you’re not actually just still high, which is often the case. If you’re smoking, you should have come down overnight: that’s because inhaled drugs, whether it’s weed or asthma medicine, are faster acting but pass through your body quickly as well. But if you became impatient with edibles, it’s possible that you accidentally got so baked off your ass that this supposed hangover is just the ongoing high that some scientists took the time to argue will make you an irritable and inefficient laborer. While it takes longer for ingested drugs of any type to be absorbed into your bloodstream because they need to progress through our digestive system then survive being filtered by your kidneys, they will last in your system longer and the effects are stronger. That’s why edibles have been described as giving people a “creeping high” that builds slowly until it hits them like a really chill, relaxing freight train.

But let’s say you’re feeling a real weed hangover. What’s going on inside your head? Pot can weaken your memory, and even though some people smoke before bed to help them combat insomnia, they often experience restless sleep while high. This combination is what makes you feel foggy, exhausted, and drowsy after a long night of drug-doing, especially if you stayed up all night playing the new Mario Kart.

Beyond that, most of your hangover comes from weed-induced dehydration, so you should be pounding water if you want to prevent or cure that headache. It turns out that your salivary glands have built in receptors for cannabinoids like THC, the stuff in weed that actually gets you high. When you smoke or otherwise consume pot, these receptors activate and turn off the valve for saliva production. So even though you’re not becoming dehydrated in the same way you are when you drink, it will feel like that because you’re not making any spit or tears. This is why your mouth and throat feel perpetually dry and your eyes can get irritated.

Over a long enough period of time, like overnight, this dehydration can give you a pounding headache. Do yourself a favor and give high-you a gift — stash a bottle of Gatorade in your bed so you don’t have to move in the morning.

Aside from that, you should be eating well (loading up on carbs only works for alcohol hangovers) and getting some exercise to boost blood flow.

Most importantly, the hair of the dog that bit you will only make matters worse. Smoking, even just a little bit, won’t balance out your hangover but in fact will aggravate things. Just hold off for a bit, yeah?

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