Dive right in

Becoming a Marijuana User: Advice for new consumers

For those who have been using cannabis for a while, it may be tough to remember that first time and what could have made it better...
Written by
Dr. Amanda Reiman
April 23, 2024

“You don’t get high the first time you smoke pot”. This was an urban legend/old wive’s tale, when I was growing up. The idea was that it took a few times of consuming cannabis before the user actually experienced a high. And while this might sound like that other urban legend, “you can’t get pregnant the first time you have sex”, the one about weed actually has some truth.

In 1953, sociologist Howard Becker published an article in the American Journal of Sociology called, Becoming a Marihuana User. Becker interviewed 50 marijuana users to learn more about their experiences using cannabis for the first time, and the process by which they went from someone just trying it, to enjoying the experience. His subjects reported that this process involved three steps: 1) learning to use cannabis in a way that produced real effects; 2) learning to recognize the effects and connect them with their cannabis consumption; and 3) learning to enjoy the sensations that cannabis produces. Furthermore, Becker suggests that these steps are made possible by observing other, more experienced users to learn how to use cannabis correctly, recognize the effects, and learn what “being high” looks and sounds like. In this way, the experience of using cannabis is very much related to Bandura’s theory of social learning, which “emphasizes the importance of observational learning, where individuals acquire knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs by watching the actions of others and the consequences that follow, leading to the modeling and adoption of observed behaviors.”

What can Becker and Bandura offer those who are looking to experience cannabis for the first time? Here are some tips for new consumers who are about to embark on the path to becoming a marijuana user.

Consume with other, more experienced users. Social learning theory suggests that we learn behaviors by observing others and imitating what we see. Think about learning a sport like tennis. Instructors show you how to do a backhand, serve, etc. They don’t just tell you, they demonstrate it. They can also point out what you might be doing wrong, especially if it could lead to injury. Cannabis use is much the same. Experienced consumers can not only demonstrate how to smoke cannabis or how to time your edible consumption, they can point out things that may cause harm, or unwanted effects. Such as holding in the smoke too long, or consuming too many edibles because you don’t feel the effects right away. Experienced users, like tennis instructors, can also help new users make the most out of the consumption experience as well as help mitigate any feelings of anxiety that arise by assuring the new consumer that they are ok, and not in any danger. When I have seen situations where a group of people all consume edibles and experience anxiety, it is usually in part because they are all inexperienced consumers.

Choose your method of consumption carefully. Related to Becker’s first finding, you need to effectively get the cannabis into your body in order to start the process of enjoying it. Choosing the right method of consumption is important. While smoking was nearly exclusively the method of choice when Becker did his study, today there are a myriad of ways to consume cannabis. And, each has its benefits and risks. Consumption via inhalation gives the fastest effect, the shortest duration and the easiest titration. But many people do not want to smoke, and vape pens can be of varying quality. Inhalation may also not be allowed in many venues. Methods like eating edibles or drinking beverages can be done in most locations, but the time of onset is longer, and the transformation of Delta 9 THC in the liver can yield a stronger effect than from smoking or vaping. The recent advent of nano-emulsified or fast-acting edibles and beverages provides a new option. With these products, the effects are felt quickly, and because the THC is not processed through the liver, the effect is more akin to smoking or vaping.

Make it an occasion. Becker found that, in addition to consuming correctly, the user needed to connect the effects with the idea of being high on cannabis. While this connection happens automatically for more experienced consumers, newer users can benefit from a distraction free environment and the time to sit and contemplate how they are feeling, as well as the opportunity to express and discuss these feelings with others. A loud, chaotic festival may not be the best place for this journey. Instead, it is recommended that the first cannabis experience happen in a low key environment, with a small group of trusted friends, or even 1 on 1. Sitting outside, going on a picnic, listening to music and other safe, sensory experiences in nature or a comfortable setting can help a new user make the connection between their consumption and the effects it produces. It also reduces the chance of having an anxious reaction or a feeling of being overwhelmed. Cannabis should be the only intoxicating substance on the menu so that the user can isolate how cannabis makes them feel without muddying the effects with alcohol or other drugs.

Embrace the euphoria and practice mindful consumption. We live in a society that demonizes euphoria. It is ok to use a drug to keep us from feeling bad, but not ok to use a drug to make a person who is already feeling fine, feel amazing. Cannabis produces feelings of euphoria. For some, this is the experience of creativity, enhanced senses and elevated mood. For others, it is related to the absence of pain or anxiety. Mindful consumption involves paying attention to how cannabis is making you feel and sitting with that experience. For new users, the first hit of euphoria might be a little scary. They may not know what to do with this sensation. To return to social learning, the experienced consumers in the group should be prepared to show the new user how to make the most out of these feelings. If you are the experienced user in the group, what do you like to do when you consume cannabis? Color a picture? Look at clouds? Listen to music? Bring some ideas and activities to share with the new consumer so that they connect the experience of cannabis induced euphoria with something fun and enjoyable.

For those who have been using cannabis for a while, it may be tough to remember that first time and what could have made it better. For me, I was in my friend’s dorm room my freshman year of college. I had taken some puffs of cannabis at parties before this occasion. But, this was the first time I sat and consumed with a small group of people in a quiet, intimate environment. My friend started telling a joke, one of those intentionally long jokes with a really stupid punchline. I sat completely mesmerized by the telling of this joke. I remember every minute of it, and that was my entry in the world of being a cannabis consumer. But it can go another way. When I was teaching at Berkeley, countless students would approach me and tell me tales of their first times that were scary, fueled by overconsumption, complicated by the addition of alcohol. The result was a relationship with cannabis based on anxiety and uncertainty of outcome. I guess the moral of the story is to take the lessons from Becker and Bandura (and me!) and set yourself up for success in your journey towards becoming a marijuana user.  

Stay in the loop

I'm ready to have a relationship with plants.

Bringing it into balance...

Do you want to learn more about how to develop and maintain healthy relationships with psychoactive plants? Sign up for our email list for tips, stories, support and more!