The Real Difference Between Body Highs and Head Highs
Weed is great but weed is also a mysterious creature. Why is it that sometimes, no matter how long you keep your greedy hands on your friend’s joint and take many deep and very serious inhales, you just can’t get high? Then other times, maybe even the very next day, after a half puff from a one-hitter, you’re sitting there in a cold-sweat and completely baked?
While smoking can yield unpredictable results, edibles are another complicated monster. Rest assured, if you’re planning to drink an entire bottle of weed lube, then you’ll absolutely be fucked up fast. Since that isn’t a predicament most of us will face, your biggest edible-related issue is likely waiting for it to kick in; this can turn into an intense test of self-control, where you’re tempted to overeat yourself into a stupor, later realizing you’ve been staring at a blank wall for hours.
Beyond this delicate recipe of finding the right way to attain a successful high, there are even different kinds of highs, with the most common being head and body highs. The two are very different, with head highs described to me by Lola* as “incredibly trippy and fun, everything becomes more vivid. Everything is interesting and TV is amazing,” and body highs described to me by Kara* as “extremely relaxing from my fingers to toes, it’s like my insides are glitter and my chronic back aches go away.”
While most people have experienced the two different highs, there’s surprisingly very little available literature about them, aside from weed forums where contributors are busy educating lurkers that indica means “in da couch.”
Broadly spoke to Dr. Aury Holtzman, a medical doctor based in Huntington Beach, California who specializes in marijuana and has evaluated over 11,000 patients to determine their medical marijuana needs, and asked him to explain the difference between those glorious head and body highs.
In order to understand why we get different kinds of highs, we need a cursory understanding of how our bodies get high in the first place. The human body has evolved to include an endocannabinoid system with various neurotransmitters and receptors. “It’s like a lock and key,” said Dr. Holtzman describing how neurotransmitters, the messenger chemicals in the brain, bind with receptors. Some neurotransmitters are believed to regulate specific processes—serotonin for mood, sleep and learning, and dopamine for the brain’s “reward system.”
In 1988, a cannabinoid receptor was discovered in the brain and its peripheries, suggesting that our brains already have a naturally-occurring neurotransmitter similar to those found in marijuana. That neurotransmitter native to the body is called anandamide and comes from the Sanskrit word for “bliss.” It plays a role in the body that impacts pain management, depression, appetite, memory, and fertility. Dr. Holtzman simplifies it by saying, “It tends to make people feel good.” Cannabinoids from cannabis plants bind with our natural brain receptors, activating the overall system and getting us high.
So, what happens in our bodies to make us experience different head and body highs?
One of the biggest factors is the way you ingest your weed. “When you smoke, the cannabinoids go straight into your lungs,” said Dr. Holtzman. “They go right into your blood supply, into your brain, across the blood-brain barrier and then you get the high.” It’s different when you eat that phat pot brownie. “[The cannabinoids] don’t go into your blood, they go to the liver and then the liver will convert the THC,” said Dr. Holtzman. “You get a slightly different effect on the receptor.” So basically, when cannabinoids go straight to your lungs, you’re more likely to feel a head high. When they go through your liver, it’s more of a body high.
Another thing that can affect your high is marijuana strain. Dr. Holtzman believes marijuana plants are very smart and over time they have evolved to contain different terpenes, which are essential oils that impact a plant’s smell and strain. “The head versus the body high is due to the different terpene levels,” explained Dr. Holtzman. Historically, there are two species of cannabis with different terpenes: indica and sativa. “Indica is known as the body high, with a focused calm feeling and sativas were known for the head high, used for more cerebral things,” said Dr. Holtzman. “When you think of sativa, you think of enhanced, raised elevated but the side effects of sativas can be too much anxiety or panic attacks.”
And while it may sound easy to determine your highs by your strains, it’s become tougher over the years as all weed plant strains have become hybridized. “There are very few plants that would be pure indica or sativa,” said Dr. Holtzman. “All these strains out there are hybrids but some give you more indica effects, other mores sativa effects.” So if you’re smoking an indica and experiencing more of a head high, there’s a chance that your strain is more hybrid than your dealer led you to believe.
So what do you do when you’ve smoked or eaten too much? Kara* told me that when she needs to not be high anymore, she exercises. “It makes me feel like I’m burning out all the THC in my system,” she said. I asked Dr. Holtzman if there is any validity to that and surprisingly, he said yes. “The exercise mobilizes your blood which helps you excrete [THC] faster.” Which explains why you might not feel that edible if you’re out skating or doing anything that isn’t lying immobile on your couch while listening to Fetty Wap on vinyl.
“While medicating with THC, it’s really important to stay hydrated and keep your electrolytes in balance,” adds Dr. Holtzman. So the next time you got too baked and need to go somewhere and not seriously weird everyone out, do some jumping jacks and chug some water before heading out.
Get a personalized roundup of VICE’s best stories in your inbox.
By signing up to the VICE newsletter you agree to receive electronic communications from VICE that may sometimes include advertisements or sponsored content.
Weed can make you feel euphoric and buzzed, or it can just make you want to melt into the couch like that girl in those anti-drug commercials. We asked a doctor about what causes different highs.
7 cannabis strains with body-focused effects
C annabis can be divided into a few broad categories based on the way its effects are experienced. On one side are strains that spark a mind-centric head high; at the opposite end are strains with effects that are characterized as a body high. Then there are strains that fall somewhere in between, coupling mental stimulation with an equal measure of physical relaxation to create a balanced blend.
Many people are primarily interested in cannabis’ corporeal effects, and this may be true for a variety of reasons. For some consumers, chronic pain, arthritis, or another medical condition necessitates bodily relief. Others simply don’t enjoy the feeling of mental intoxication as much as they do the physical relaxation.
Whatever the reason, it’s easy to find the right cannabis strain to fit the bill. The following are seven strain recommendations that offer body-focused effects.
Golden Goat wasn’t bred intentionally, but for those seeking a body-centric high, this genetic cross is a happy accident. This tropical-tasting, high-octane strain washes over the entirety of the body, and though its potency is nothing to sneeze at, the mind tends to stay relatively clear (and return to normal relatively quickly), while the physical high is relished in the meantime.
Find Golden Goat nearby
Naturally, non-intoxicating CBD will leave the mind alone and let the body reap the subtle rewards of Harle-Tsu. Among those are a soothing of pain and swelling, and an earthy, herbal flavor profile, but the best thing about Harle-Tsu’s body high is how it allows you to melt into your couch without locking you there.
Find Harle-Tsu nearby
On your way to reaching Platinum OG’s heavy, full-body sedation, you’ll experience a temporary mental buzz, but it’s worth waiting through. The initial high will open into a deep-seated physical sensation, which makes this strain a popular smoke right before bed—you’ll find yourself downright relaxed and drifting off in seconds.
Find Platinum OG nearby
Previously known as Gorilla Glue #4, this strain by any name has always been renowned for a hefty physical impact that practically glues the consumer to whatever they happen to be sitting on at the moment. Be prepared for that before consuming this sticky, pungent herb known as Original Glue .
Find Original Glue nearby
White Fire 43
The power of this White Fire OG phenotype is hinted at the moment you open the jar: A heady, sour whiff of earth mixed with citrus zest will immediately fill your nose. Once White Fire 43 enters your lungs, expect a quick onset of body relaxation brought on by the strain’s prodigious production of cannabinoids and terpenes.
Find White Fire 43 nearby
Key Lime Pie
Key Lime Pie is a tasty treat comprising flavors of lime, sugar, and herbs (in fact, it smells a little like a mojito). When it hits, you’ll feel this GSC phenotype affecting every part of your body: It’s a little floaty, a little numbing, a little tingly, and increasingly relaxing with every puff.
Find Key Lime Pie nearby
An old school strain that has reappeared after many years, Mr. Nice’s body high is less intense than many others, but still noticeably physical. It leaves your mind relatively unencumbered while addressing pain and discomfort from medical conditions and everyday stresses alike.
Some strains’ effects are felt most acutely in the mind, while others are experienced throughout the body. For full-body physical effects, try these seven strains.