When the Colorado weed rush happened a few years ago, I remember friends of mine heading out there from Los Angeles, speculating at how much harder the weed would hit at higher elevations. As much as I am grateful for science, I am not really much of a Bill Nye myself so I sort of just accepted what they said. I mean alcohol is more potent at higher altitudes (more on that later), so why not weed? But when a friend recently brought the subject up once again, I started to ponder whether there’s actually any truth to it. So are weed effects more extreme at higher altitudes?
Higher Won’t Get You Any Higher
Instead of tiptoeing around the answer, we’ll just come right out with it: a higher altitude isn’t going to add more potency to your favorite strain. The Colorado Mountain Gods aren’t waving their cannabis wands to magically increase the THC count the higher you go. Your body is still processing the THC just the same. A joint’s worth is a joint’s worth whether on the beach of the Dead Sea or at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. In fact, remember in the last paragraph when I reminded you that alcohol has a stronger effect at higher elevations? It turns out that’s bullshit
. Now that we’ve nipped that in the bud, we can get to the caveat: the weed effects may be the same but the experience can be pretty different. This relates to the effects the elevation has on your body, regardless of the presence of weed.
Altitude and Your Body
If you’re used to lower elevations, a trip to a higher altitude locale can already leave you feeling lightheaded and out of breath. The reason for this is somewhat complex but it has to do with the drop in pressure that accompanies higher altitudes. The lack of pressure results in our lungs taking in fewer O2 molecules. The marked decrease in O2 molecules can result in feelings of dizziness or a perceived shortness of breath. As we acclimate to higher altitudes (sometimes over the course of several weeks), our body becomes more resourceful with the limited O2 molecules and those feelings level out. You can probably already see how mixing weed or alcohol with these already present effects could lead to some confusion.
Regular Weed Effects Combined with the Effects of Higher Altitude
Research into weed effects on bronchial tubes indicates that smoking the right dosage of marijuana can actually reduce swelling of the bronchial tubes
while combustion from smoking pretty much anything can irritate the bronchial tubes. In this way, it’s feasible that a combination of smoking weed and decreased pressure could result in difficulty breathing and even an increased sense of disorientation in some cases. But it doesn’t sound very euphoric.
Legitimate research into weed effects at high altitudes is lacking as you can probably guess. While an experiment devoted specifically to this question will probably never get the federal greenlight in our lifetime, we can safely deduce that you won’t feel any enhancement to your smoking experience by going from sea level up into the mountains. If you do, it won’t be because of the weed and it probably won’t be particularly pleasant.