Cannabis 101: What New Users Need to Know

If you’re interested in using cannabis recreationally but don’t know where to begin, this page is for you.

What’s Here

One this page you’ll learn about:

  • What cannabis is

    There are many misconceptions and myths tied to cannabis. Let’s clear some up. Learn More

  • The different types of cannabis

    Sativa, Indica, and Hybrid… who’s who in the zoo? Learn More

  • The basics of how it affects you

    Know what you’re getting into before your whole night goes up in smoke. Learn More

  • What it means to "get high"

    Mood changes, physical experiences, and mental effects all come into play. Learn More

Let’s Address the Elephant in the Room

For many Canadians, cannabis is more “reefer madness” than it is medicine or a recreational substance. More than a century of prohibition has ingrained negative perceptions and dramatized attitudes in the hearts and minds of many. We get it.

The good news is that most of the “reefer madness” surrounding cannabis is unfounded. In fact, since legalization efforts in North America began to see success, numerous new studies have been released identifying potential medical and recreational benefits.

Like anything else, understanding cannabis is important to determine whether or not it’s right for you.

Something to Remember

Whether or not cannabis is suitable for your lifestyle is a choice that only you can make. While researching and creating this article, we sourced information from a variety of reputable websites and articles with a focus of being unbiased and non-partisan.

Our goal with this article is to educate you so that you can make responsible and informed decisions with respect to cannabis.

Speaking to Effects, Medical Benefits, Etc.

Unfortunately, peer-reviewed studies surrounding cannabis are only just now beginning to provide meaningful and scientifically relevant data for many aspects of cannabis. Most of the effects discussed in this article are based on anecdotal experience and information that is generally accepted as true but not yet appropriately validated by the scientific method.

Remember, cannabis was under extreme prohibition for the past 100 years or so. Science will need some time to catch up.

Don’t Use Cannabis Until You’re Over Age 21

Cannabis use among teens has been shown to have impacts with respect to cognitive ability and brain development. These links are not yet 100% established (studies are ongoing), but there is good reason to believe that underage use may be harmful.

How Common is Cannabis in Canadian Society?

Some notable statistics from Stats Canada:

  • 42.5% of Canadians age 15 or older have used cannabis at least once in their life
  • 17% of Albertans age 15 or older have used cannabis in the past three months

The bottom line: cannabis is fairly ubiquitous in Canadian society, and always kind of has been.

It is important that you know that the information on this page is not meant to advise you with respect to medical conditions or treatments. We have done our best to provide information that is as accurate as possible at this time.

It is always recommended that you speak to a health care professional before beginning cannabis use.

What is Cannabis, Anyway?

Cannabis (AKA, marijuana, weed, reefer, etc.) is a plant that grows in the wild all over the world. It has a long and interesting history of use and exploitation within many societies. Its outright prohibition is a relatively recent outcome.

Cannabis happens to be a good grower, flourishing in just about every climate and continent. Because of its natural propensity to grow and flourish, it is also responsive to deliberate cultivation efforts and can be grown in nearly any setting, from expansive outdoor fields to small indoor hydroponic setups.

Quick Facts

  • It is generally accepted to have originated from South Asia.
  • There are three varieties of cannabis plants: cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and cannabis ruderalis.
  • Cannabis can grow as high as 5 metres / 18 feet tall.
  • The human relationship with, and use of, cannabis dates back to as far as 3000 B.C.
  • Cannabis does not have to get you high- many strains of the plant contain little, if any, of the primary psychoactive compound THC.

Indica & Sativa

This summary is a good start but is far from complete. We haven’t even discussed terpenes and how they influence your experiences with cannabis. We’ll go into this subject in more detail in the future.

Indica cannabis plants are shorter and more bushy compared to sativa and are known for:
  • Relaxing and calming effects
  • A generalized feeling of euphoria
  • Pain management
  • Nausea reduction
  • Sedative effects
In general, indica’s are best used in the evening.
Sativa cannabis plants grow taller (as high as 18ft) with tall stalks and long, thing leaves. Sativa is known for:
  • Increasing focus/creativity
  • A generalized feeling of euphoria
  • Pain management
  • Anti-anxiety/depression qualities
  • Uplifting/energizing sensations
In general, sativas are best used during the day.

There are two main varieties of cannabis found in the Canadian marketplace: sativa and indica. Think of these two types as siblings- while related, they are not identical and can produce different effects.

How Cannabis Affects You

An Intoxicating Allure

Most people that use cannabis use it recreationally, seeking the euphoric high that it produces. Like other recreational substances, such as alcohol, responsible and moderated usage of cannabis is something that millions of Canadians enjoy responsibly. This fact was a major driver behind cannabis’ legalization.

The medical benefits of cannabis continue to be explored as recent legalization efforts have empowered scientists and researchers to take a deep dive into the most ubiquitous drug in the world.

Note Regarding Underlying Health Concerns

You should consult with your doctor before using cannabis, especially if you have underlying health problems (cardiovascular problems, diabetes, etc.).

We are not doctors and this page is not medical advice. There is no better way to understand your risks associated with cannabis use than to talk to your medical provider.

Typical Cannabis Effects

The effects of cannabis use are well documented and often stereotyped in popular culture. They include:

  • A feeling of euphoria, overall well-being, and happiness – AKA, “the high”
  • Changes to inhibitions and risk tolerance
  • Loss of coordination, especially when trying new things or undertaking unfamiliar tasks
  • Increased appetite – AKA, “the munchies”
  • Red eyes
  • Dry mouth and throat – AKA, “the pasties”
  • Decreased nausea
  • Drowsiness and mild sedation
  • Increased energy and mental stimulation
  • Anxiety, paranoia

Many of these effects contradict each other. How can something be both a sedative and an energizer, for example? The particular strain of cannabis you are consuming – and the breakdown of its cannabinoids and terpenes – play a big role here.

How cannabis affects you may different than how it affects others. It is important to consume in moderated dosages, especially as a new user.

What Does it Mean to “Get High”?

When using cannabis, cannabinoids (such as THC) enter the bloodstream and ultimately find their way to cannabinoid receptors in the brain (and other parts of your body).

Most recreational users enjoy the “high” that cannabis produces. However, as was just touched on in the above section, getting high can mean different things to different people (even if they are consuming the same cannabis).

For new users, getting high can be a confusing and sometimes scary thing. If you are unfamiliar with the effects, you may find yourself panicking if the sensations come on too quickly. We’ll touch on what to do about that further on in this article.

What to Expect From Your First High

If you are a new user, the effects of cannabis will be totally foreign to you. Bear in mind the list below may not completely describe your experience. Some of the positive effects include:

  • An increase in bodily sensation - You may feel your lips tingle, arms and legs get heavy, or other types of sensations.
  • Recurring sounds or thoughts - Auditory hallucinations are a common effect of cannabis use, especially for new users. Many people describe this as “having their own soundtrack”.
  • An increased sense of humour - You might start to find a lot of things funny.
  • A reduction in your awareness of chronic pain - Many people use cannabis for pain relief. While cannabis doesn’t “make the pain go away”, it can be quite effective in reducing your awareness of it.
  • The sensation that time is slowing - This is challenging to describe. Many people find that cannabis slows their perception of time, especially when doing menial activities such as walking to the store or watching a movie.
  • Prepare to be hungry - Marijuana makes many people want to eat… and eat… and eat.

Some potentially negative effects:

  • Anxiety and paranoia - Most often, this is a result of “getting in your own head” and over analyzing or hyperfocusing on specific situations or events.
  • Difficulty speaking or communicating - If you get too high you may find it near impossible to communicate.
  • Loss of coordination - More than just being clumsy, you may find it difficult to move normally. A temporary loss of dexterity is not uncommon among new users.
  • The spins - A tell-tale sign of too much cannabis, the spins can be devastating to new users. This is where the room has the sensation of spinning around you and can lead to feelings of dizziness and vertigo.

How to Avoid an Unpleasant Experience

The best and only way to avoid an unpleasant high is to use cannabis with caution and moderation. Try:

  • A small amount of cannabis for your first use
  • Taking a small inhale and waiting several minutes before taking another one
  • Using a lower-THC strain until you understand its effects and your tolerance
  • Ensuring that you have a blend of THC and CBD in your cannabis. CBD helps balance out the effects of THC.
The term “low and slow” is a great metaphor for cannabis use: you can’t un consume cannabis you’ve consumed, so it’s best to start small and work your way up vs. jumping in too aggressively.

Use a small amount - a single inhale/toke, for example - and wait 5 minutes and see how you feel. If you feel the effects coming on, let it ride without using more. Build your familiarity with cannabis. Using small doses to gain understanding is the best way to avoid a bad experience.

Last tip: avoid concentrates and edibles until you are familiar and comfortable with cannabis.


Websites and sources referenced: