Personal Experiences with High-THC Cannabis

Learn About Cannabis 5 Personal Experiences with High-THC Cannabis

On this page you will hear directly from parents, health care providers, and individuals who share how high-THC products have affected their families, their clients, or themselves. While these stories do not represent all people who use high-THC cannabis products, capturing negative experiences is important because many people believe that cannabis use is completely safe, and that there aren’t any health risks. Listening to people who have experienced harm from high-THC products will help us better understand the possible effects and risks of using these products.

This information is intended to help people make more informed choices around their cannabis use and reduce the risk of having a bad or unintended experience. Especially when trying new or unfamiliar products, the key advice is to “start low and go slow”.

Why high THC products? Cannabis concentrates made up 35% of the Washington cannabis market in 2020 and their popularity continues to increase. Learn more.

Not your parents’ weed. This is something different.

Twenty years ago, most of the cannabis people consumed was under 10% THC, and anything higher was considered very potent. Today, cannabis flower can be as high as 25% THC. Before legalization, the most popular cannabis product was flower. Now highly concentrated products that were not even imagined a couple decades ago are readily available and are growing in popularity.

Not familiar with hyperemesis? Visit our Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome page to learn more.

Adverse reactions

According to the International Cannabis Policy Study, almost half of cannabis users in Washington in 2021 (43.1%) reported experiencing at least one adverse (negative) health effect after using cannabis. Among these people, 17.6% sought medical help for the health effects they experienced. People sought help at emergency departments, poison centers, walk-in clinics, helplines, addiction support services, and from other doctors or health professionals.

According to the Washington Poison Center, cannabis concentrates often resulted in more severe harm. For people who called about the effects they experienced from cannabis in 2021, concentrates were the most used cannabis product among people reporting moderate or major health effects.

Physical Health

n 2021, cannabis users in Washington reported the following negative physical health reactions (listed from most to least common):

  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Feeling dizzy or passing out
  • Lung or breathing problems
  • Heart or blood pressure problems

Mental health

In 2021, cannabis users in Washington reported the following negative mental health reactions (listed from most to least common):

  • Panic reactions/anxiety
  • Dissociation or depersonalization
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations or psychosis.
  • Flashbacks

Research shows that frequent cannabis use, especially of high THC products, increases the risk of developing psychosis. For people who are at risk of psychosis due to family history, frequent cannabis use, especially of high THC products, increases the risk of symptoms beginning at an earlier age.

Reducing unwanted effects

There are some practical strategies for reducing unwanted consequences of cannabis use. Many experienced cannabis users talk about how they know the right dose of cannabis to consume at a given time to get the effects they are seeking. However, new users or those trying new products don’t always know how to adjust their use to reduce their chances of having a bad experience with cannabis. In the clips below, cannabis consumers and providers share some tips on how to reduce risks when using cannabis products.

Accessibility for youth and young adults

Young people (under age 25) are particularly at risk of negative effects of THC consumption, mainly because their brains are still growing rapidly. Young people who use THC products may experience issues with learning, memory, and problem-solving, which can contribute to poor academic outcomes. Teen and young adult access to these products was a concern of many of the people interviewed.

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Why High-THC products? (Continued)  

Many products manufactured from the cannabis plant contain high concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Some of the most concentrated cannabis products (e.g., oils, wax, shatter) contain THC concentrations over 80%.

New products with THC concentrations higher than found in the plant are being introduced to the recreational market faster than researchers can understand their health effects. What we do know is that THC dose levels matter. Using highly concentrated products increases the risk of certain mental health disorders, such as cannabis use disorder and psychosis. View a summary of health risks related to high-THC cannabis.

A main theme that emerged through the stories we heard was that some people are experiencing different and unwanted results after consuming high-THC products than they had when using lower-THC products such as flower. Additionally, several people interviewed spoke about how easy it is to get high-THC products and were concerned about new users and teens.

How were these videos made? 

Researchers at the Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute’s Cannabis Education and Research Program at the University of Washington wanted to learn more about people’s negative experiences with high-THC products.

Individuals were invited through direct emails and online advertising to share their stories. All interviews were recorded, and participants were given the option of how they wanted their stories shared (i.e. by video, audio, or text). They also had the opportunity to not share their information publicly.

These videos do not represent all high-THC cannabis use. Because researchers were focusing on potential bad experiences from using high-THC products, they only talked to cannabis users and health care providers who experienced or observed negative effects.Documenting negative experiences is important because many people believe that cannabis products are safe, and that there aren’t any health risks. These stories are vital for changing general perceptions about cannabis, particularly high-THC products, and for guiding public health policy.

Project led by Robin Harwick, PhD, MS and, Lexi Nim, BA. ADAI, Cannabis Education & Research Program (CERP). Funded by the Washington State Legislature through SB 5092 2021-22.

Last updated 2024.