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Elevating at Elevation

Saturday October 01, 2016

Getting lifted in the Mile High City? Here’s what you should know….

by Randy Robinson

If you’re planning a trip to Colorado, and that trip includes picking up some legal cannabis, there’s a few things you should know. Even if you’re from here, it’s always good to refresh this information.

You should know that getting high while you’re, ahem, already high up comes with some complications. Luckily, these complications are easy to handle.

Despite a popular myth, Colorado’s mile-high status does not automatically make it easier for people to get intoxicated. We know this because of a 1985 study from the FAA where pilots swilled booze in pressure chambers that simulated high altitudes (~12,000 ft. above sea level). The FAA found no difference in performance or BAL between the group that drank at a sea level environment compared to the group that drank in the high elevation environment.

So why is it that out-of-state visitors seem to get more inebriated on Colorado’s cannabis than residents? The answer is related to elevation, but it’s not as clear-cut as the myth makes it out to be.


When you travel from sea level to the Rocky Mountains, the air’s humidity drops considerably. Because it’s much drier up here in the Denver area, that means your body loses more water, too. Every time you speak, perspire, or even breathe, you’re losing small amounts of water.

The result? You’re dehydrated.

When you’re dehydrated, your entire body goes haywire. Your neurons stop firing correctly. Your blood sugar goes wonky. Your metabolism gets shot.

And yeah, you’ll get intoxicated much harder and much faster than you would if you were hydrated.

The solution? Take your tour guides seriously, and drink plenty of water during your stay.

Lack of Oxygen

Our red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen throughout our body. If you come from sea level, your red blood cells have adapted to that oxygen-rich environment.

However, up here in the Rockies, there’s less oxygen. It can take anywhere from six to eight weeks for your blood cells to acclimate to our low oxygen levels. And chances are, if you’re just here for vacation, that won’t be enough time for you to adapt.

The myth surrounding a low oxygen environment is that it somehow gets us elevated faster. But that’s not true, either. What may happen is an episode of lightheadedness, which can make you dizzy or, in some extreme cases, faint.

How does that happen? Well, if you’re milking a bong or taking a massive 30-second dab, you’re depleting precious oxygen to your brain while inhaling all that delicious THC. If you’re from sea level and your body isn’t prepared to the low-oxygen environment of Colorado, you go blank.

The solution? Take smaller and shorter hits.

Rookie Status

This may offend some of you, especially if you’re an experienced cannabis user back home. But most of you aren’t prepared for Colorado’s cannabis products. That’s not meant to be an insult or a challenge, it’s just the truth.

Colorado’s cannabis is some of the most potent in the world. That’s not an opinion; that’s verified science. On average, our buds tend to be 18-25% THC by weight. Chances are a lot of the lower-grade stuff you smoke back home is closer to the 5-15% range. In other words, assume our nugs are at least twice as strong.

If you’re planning to dab or eat some of our infused edibles, be doubly cautious. Concentrates can reach as high as 80% THC. Read that again. That’s 80-freakin’-percent. You may be able to scorch an entire gram of flower on your bong back in Kansas, but please think twice before inhaling that same amount through a dab rig in Colorado. You may be in for a wild ride that won’t end for several hours.

With edibles, keep in mind our digestive systems process THC more efficiently than our lungs do. The liver does some rather fascinating chemistry tricks to the THC we eat, which makes a single serving of edible far, far more potent than an equivalent amount being smoked.

If you try our edibles (and you really should), start with just 5-10 mg. Wait an hour or so. If you really need more, then go for it. But remember to take it low, and take it slow.

One last thing about edibles: most of them aren’t made with “bud butter” these days. A lot of them are made with “hydrocarbon extracted hash.” That’s a fancy term for “dab oil” (you know, the stuff that can be 80% THC). Many of our biggest edible manufacturers (but not all) switched to hydrocarbon hash because it’s easier to consistently measure the THC for each serving. However, that means these edibles are infused with nearly pure THC rather than the whole-plant mix you’d get with bud butter. Some people can’t tell the difference; some can. Only you can gauge your limits, so again, take it low, and take it slow.

Mixing with Alcohol

Ah, back to the booze. If you’re old enough to smoke cannabis in Colorado, then you’re old enough to drink, too. And boy-oh-boy is it tempting to mix the two.

If you plan to combine alcohol with your cannabis, again, just take it easy. Alcohol will trigger dehydration, so ensure you’re drinking lots of water (not soda, not fruit juice – but plain ol’ water) if you mix the two. Also, do mind your smoking/dabbing/edible consumption while you’re drunk, as alcohol can lower your inhibitions, causing you to forget/not care about the caveats I’ve already laid out.

What To Do If You Did Too Much

So let’s assume you got a little carried away. That’s okay. It happens. Even to us locals who brag about slamming 3-gram dabs.

First, remember to drink water. I know, I keep driving that one home, but you’d be surprised how many visitors forget about that essential rule.

Second, keep your stomach full. There’s some evidence that gorging on sugar can help counteract the effects of a way-too-intense high. If you’re diabetic (or just watchin’ ya figure), keep your tummy loaded on low-glycemic foods to cushion your blood’s THC levels.

If you got ripped on edibles, drink a glass of whole milk. The milk fats will absorb the THC. If you go the milk route, you may end up extending the high’s duration, but the effect won’t hit so hard.

Third, if the world starts spinning, feel free to lay down and close your eyes. Take a nap. It’s okay, you’ll wake up perfectly fine (albeit a little fuzzy-headed).

Finally, there’s some folk treatments you may consider. Mind you, these haven’t been tested in any controlled studies, so attempt these cures at your own risk.

Black Pepper: Terpenes in black pepper will bind to the same receptors as THC. Hypothetically, eating a few black peppercorns (if you can stomach it) could keep some of the THC from reaching your brain.

Acetylcholine Tablets: Without giving you an entire lesson in biochemistry, just know that acetylcholine is one of your nervous system’s most prominent neurotransmitters. Acetylcholine levels drop once we get lifted on cannabis. In theory, if you pop a few acetylcholine pills (which you can buy at most vitamin stores), the increased levels of acetylcholine could counteract the effects of too much THC.

Maximum Responsibility = Maximum Fun

In the end, have fun, but do it responsibly. Take it easy the first couple of days. Know your limits rather than pushing them.

Food, water, and a little knowledge is really all you need. Have a blast out there, and stay safe.


Randy Robinson
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