Getting High When You’re High: How Does Denver’s Altitude Affect the Cannabis Experience?

At Denver’s high altitude, does the potency of marijuana increase as well? This is a question that has been debated for many years and even more so since the dawn of recreational cannabis in Colorado. Some people firmly believe that marijuana gets you higher at high altitudes, but there hasn’t much, if any, scientific research to back that belief up. In this blog post, we will explore the science behind the effects of consuming cannabis at altitude.

Since the Dawn of Recreational Cannabis . . .

It’s common knowledge that alcohol has a stronger effect at altitude, right? So when marijuana was first legalized recreationally in the United States in Colorado, speculation quickly began to build as to whether the same was true for THC. It must be easier to get high when you’re high, right?

It’s a reasonable assumption and one that many people desperately wish to be true. But . . . hold on to your dab rigs . . . the reality is that higher altitude does not allow one to get high more easily. And oh yeah, that thing about alcohol hitting harder at altitude? That’s not true either.

Do you Get Higher at High Altitude than at Sea Level?

Say what? That’s right. Being higher doesn’t higher, or drunker.

In fact, there has been a study conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration regarding alcohol and altitude. They conducted tests on humans in a pressurized chamber that could replicate the air and air pressure of any altitude, and there was no difference between alcohol’s effects at sea level and those at high altitude locations like Denver. Your body can only metabolize alcohol so fast. The feeling of getting drunker more quickly most likely comes from the alcohol interacting with the impact of higher and dryer climates on your body, which includes dehydration and tiredness. That isn’t restricted to high altitudes, though. If you are dehydrated and your blood contains less water, adding alcohol means you’ll get drunk faster, regardless of whether you’re in Miami or Denver.

The same would be applicable to marijuana. No, it’s not at all difficult to become winded and lightheaded while smoking a joint at 10,000 feet due to the lack of oxygen; nevertheless, you aren’t going any higher. The amount of alcohol that your stomach can process and the amount of THC that your lungs can process is a set amount for every individual, and altitude has no effect on this.

Marijuana and Altitude Sickness

So why does the myth that getting drunk or high comes easier at altitude? If you’re from a lower-elevation area, a visit to a higher elevation site may already make you feel dizzy and out of breath. The drop in pressure that rises with higher elevations is the primary explanation for this. A lack of pressure allows our lungs to receive less O2 molecules. Dizziness or a sense of breathlessness might be experienced as a result of the number of O2 molecules being reduced. As we become more accustomed to higher elevations (often over several weeks), our bodies get better at utilizing the restricted O2 molecules, and those feelings subside.

It’s easy to see how mixing cannabis or alcohol with existing side effects may create some misunderstandings. At high elevations, smoking isn’t getting you higher; it’s simply as if you smoked after exercising when you had difficulty breathing and felt tired. Because you’re already in a weakened condition, the THC may hit harder.

Young man smoking cannabis, man with sunglasses and mountains background

Specifically in regards to smoking cannabis, there is significant research that smoke in the lungs can significantly increase the effects of altitude sickness. So there’s that. If you are going to be indulging while at high elevations, you might want to use an alternative method of ingestion, such as edibles, if you are prone to altitude sickness. The budtenders at Frost Dispensary in Denver would happy to help you find the best smokeless consumption method if you are visiting or new to the area.

The Last Toke

So there you have it. You aren’t actually getting higher (or drunker) in Denver; you just might be experiencing the marijuana more intensely due to your already weakened state. But if that’s the result you’re looking for, does it really matter that you are technically not “higher” than you would be at sea level? Probably not.

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