First time using cannabis?

New or returning user to cannabis? Understand the effects on your body

Whether you’re new to cannabis or it’s been a long time since you’ve last used it, it’s important to understand the effects it has on your body. It's also important to note that potency levels in cannabis products available today are higher than they were in the past.

Roughly speaking, potency back in 1995 was around 5% and 14% in 2014. Today, current products are often 20% and higher. Because of this, first-time and returning users should know that today’s higher-potency cannabis products have a greater chance of creating unwanted effects due to the increased levels of THC. This is not the same stuff you smoked back in the day!

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What's in cannabis?

Cannabis contains two key chemical compounds called THC and CBD, which are cannabinoids. THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive component—this is where the “high” is comes from. The higher the levels of THC in the product, the more of a psychoactive effect it has.

CBD (Cannabidiol) is not psychoactive, but it does affect your body. CBD can counteract some of the effects of THC. Most cannabis products come in differing ratios of THC to CBD and can be shown as 2:1, meaning there are two-parts THC for every one-part of CBD. There are also many CBD-only products, such as CBD oils.

Effects by methods of consumption

Apart from THC and CBD levels, how you consume cannabis can also determine how your body reacts.

Smoking and vaping are two of the most popular forms of cannabis consumption. Vaping involves using a "vape" or electronic cigarette to heat oil (with THC and/or CBD) until it is turned into vapour that you inhale. The effects of inhaling can vary depending on the potency of the strain or concentration, as well as how much you smoke. Cannabis vapes are a higher potency cannabis that is not recommended for people new to cannabis. For new users, even one or two puffs from a vape can cause unpleasant effects.

Inhaling smoke through your lungs carries its own risks, as it is carcinogenic, in addition to any psychoactive features of the drug. The long-term effects of vaping are unknown - research is ongoing.

Dabbing, a more concentrated form of inhalation, involves consuming high-potency cannabis extracts. If you’re new to the world of cannabis, it's not recommended to start with either dabbing or vaping as the risk of unpleasant side effects, like nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and dizziness, are high. Like smoking and vaping, dabbing affects the health of your lungs. Dabbing can include side effects such as rapid heartbeat and skin irritation.

Consuming cannabis through edibles and other concentrated products is increasingly popular. Edibles are smoke free and don't expose your lungs to any unwanted health effects. You can find 2.5 mg servings as a first-time low potency serving. Remember, edibles can take up to four hours to kick in so make sure don’t over do it your first time. The recommended serving for new and returning users is the same, coming in at 2.5 mg.

When you eat, drink, or swallow cannabis, the THC and CBD are processed by your liver. The result is a "slower burn," meaning it takes longer for you to feel the effects and they last longer. This is why it’s important to avoid driving or any other safety-related tasks. It’s better to just sit back and take as much time as possible.


  • Edibles
    • You’re most likely to see edibles come in the form of chocolate, candies, baked goods or beverages. Always read the label and follow the recommended serving size so you don’t end up consuming too much. Be careful not to trick yourself into thinking it’s not working. It can take up to four hours for the effects to kick in.
  • Oils
    • Oils are even more versatile and diverse, as they can be taken by mouth, put into food or beverages or swallowed as capsules. If you want to choose your own amount, you can do that with a dropper. If you’re looking for exact consistency with each amount, go with the capsules. Note: If you have allergies, be sure to double-check the ingredients, as some carrier oils contain nut products.
  • Topicals
    • Since legalization, product availability has grown and topicals are increasing in popularity. Typically produced as a lotion, cream, or oil, these products are infused with cannabis extracts and are absorbed into your bloodstream through your skin. You typically just rub them into your skin. Don’t expect any intoxicating effects, though. It’s unlikely to happen if the topical is used as recommended.

Canada's Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines

No matter how—or how much—cannabis you consume, there are always risks associated with using a drug. So, make the best choice for you and be sure to consider the Canada's Lower-Risk Use Guidelines.

Avoid high-potency products

The lower the THC, the lower the risk of negative health effects. Look for products that have a higher ratio or amount of CBD to THC, especially for your first time.

Avoid smoking

No matter what you smoke, your lungs will be affected—which is a risk. Edibles are a way to enjoy cannabis without smoking but remember this doesn’t mean there aren’t potential side effects and risks.

Don't consume cannabis and drive

Driving or operating heavy machinery while impaired is illegal, whether it's cannabis or alcohol. Impaired is impaired. While the length of time you'll feel the effects of cannabis can vary, assume that cannabis will be in your system for six hours or more.

Limit your frequency

The more frequently you use cannabis, the more likely you are to develop health issues, especially if you use on a daily or near-daily basis. Limiting your cannabis use to occasional use at most, such as only using once a week or on weekends, is a good way to reduce your health risks. Try to limit your use as much as possible.

How long does cannabis stay in the body?

The length of time cannabis ­—that is the THC, CBD and all other cannabinoids—stay in your system depends on a number of factors. There's also a difference between how long you might feel the effects and how long it would be detectable in your system (e.g., in a blood or urine test).

  • Your body: Your sexweight and overall health can change how long cannabis stays in your body. THC is stored in fatty tissue, so the higher your body fat percentage the longer the THC will remain in your system.
  • How often you consume: If you were to casually (less than once per week) smoke cannabis, the THC would be detectable in your system right away and can remain in your system for up to three days. Recreationally using edibles causes THC to remain in your system longer than smoking. Edibles may be detected up to a week after ingestion.

Everyday or even every other day use, regardless of what you choose to use, can cause THC to be detectable in your system for up to a month.  


Light green cannabis leaf

Conclusion: Take one step at a time

There’s no need to take a deep dive into recreationally using cannabis. Go at a speed that is both comfortable and slow. Sometimes that speed will be at a complete stop and waiting for the right time instead. Consume in a mindful and moderate way, and know what you are getting into.

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