The first time I smoked weed was pretty uneventful. I was about 15 years old. Many of my friends were already very well-versed in the art of smoking marijuana and they had a warning for me: I might not feel anything the first time.
“No one gets stoned the first time they smoke,” I remember my friend assured me. The anticipated effect would happen the next time I smoked, they told me. Being a 15 year old, I didn’t spend much time wondering why that might be. I took a few hits from a colorful glass bowl, coughed like my lungs were about to explode, and then waited. And waited. As my friends hoovered up a salad bowl full of Lucky Charms, I realized they were correct: This whole smoking weed thing — at least the first time — was pretty unremarkable.
Since then, other friends have shared a similar anecdote It seems to be a common experience to not feel the psychoactive effects of cannabis the first time you try it. So much so that there’s a (now archived) Reddit thread about why people don’t get high the first time they smoke, as well as assorted blog posts asking the same question. But how much truth is there to the claim? Inverse spoke to Jordan Tishler, a medical doctor and founder and president of the Association of Cannabinoid Specialists, about the reality of first-time cannabis experiences.
Is it common for people to not get stoned the first time they smoke cannabis?
Tishler is unequivocal. “No. While this is often talked about, it’s not common,” he tells Inverse. “It’s not clear among those few who have experienced this whether it’s a physiological issue or a dose-related one.”
Tishler says many people are nervous the first time they smoke or have minimal experience inhaling anything, so they may only get a tiny dose of the drug, “leading to the perception that nothing happened.”
Another possibility, according to a Redditor, is not having enough experience with the drug to understand how much it affects you. Redditor threemethoxy recalls their first experience with the drug:
“The first time I smoked, I didn't even think I was high. That is until I got into the shower wearing my clothes.” Shocked to find themselves standing in the shower fully clothed, threemethoxy realized they must have been much more affected by the drug than they first thought.
What about other drugs?
The first time I drank alcohol, there was no question in my mind about the effect. A friend and I took a tiny sip from one of our parents’ liquor bottles, and we immediately decided two things:
- It was disgusting, and we would never do it again
- It was a great time to walk around our neighborhood singing show tunes at the top of our lungs
We only followed through on one of those ideas. You can probably guess which one.
The reason for the difference between cannabis and other drugs, Tishler suggests, is simply that “most other drugs are taken orally, and so a better-defined amount is actually ingested.”
Tishler says there’s a theory that some people need to “prime the pump,” meaning “that the first time they use it starts something that allows them to feel it next time.” But, Tishler says, “there’s absolutely no sense or evidence to support this idea.”
Drugs taken orally — as a pill or liquid, for example — instead of inhaled seem to be a bit more consistent in terms of the effect they induce.
“I’ve never heard of someone saying they took an edible and felt nothing,” Tishler says. “But if you take 5 [miligrams] and have some genetic difference that makes your tolerance higher, maybe you wouldn’t feel it.”
He has encountered some patients who claim that edibles don’t work for them at all, but “those people are often seeking my permission for them to smoke. Almost always, they seem to do just fine with edibles once we actually start them,” he says.
Where’s the research?
Perhaps understandably, Tishler says this is not a high-priority area of research. Cannabis is a Schedule 1 drug under federal law, and as such, there are significant barriers to researching it.
“This is just not a priority among the vast sea of as-yet-unanswered questions in cannabis,” he says, explaining that there are some investigations into “individual genetic metabolism differences, but these do not yet have clear implications for people.”
There may also be differences at the level of cannabinoid receptors— the neurotransmitter receptors responsible for the therapeutic and psychoactive effects of cannabis — but those disparities haven’t yet been isolated, Tishler explains.
In other words, the effects of first-time cannabis use — or even cannabis use generally — may vary from person to person, but they’re likely due to non-cannabis-related factors. While research into metabolic differences is a burgeoning field of study, there’s no evidence to suggest those differences play a significant role in how people perceive the effects of the drug—especially within such a narrow window as first-time use.