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Marijuana and High Altitudes

09/9/2021
Hand holding dried cannabis flower against forest trail background

Cannabis and hiking seem like a perfect match – being out in nature, it seems only natural to want to partake.  Especially here in Colorado. Breathing in the fresh mountain air, hearing the wind in the trees, feeling the clarity and rush of really getting away – the perfect next step, it seems, would be to fire up a joint.

Colorado Trail sign in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado

Before stepping onto the awesome trails here in Colorado though, make sure to plan and prepare in order to stay safe. Laws regarding cannabis use in state and national parks and campgrounds vary. High altitude can cause adverse reactions, and hiking in unfamiliar areas with natural hazards requires great planning.

Staying Legal

While recreational cannabis is legal in Colorado, it is prohibited in specific public spaces, i.e., some campgrounds and all state or national parks. Additionally, some localities in Colorado are still “dry” and have their own laws that supersede state laws. So check local laws before your lace up your hiking boots!

Hiking Rules

Here are some rules of thumb for a great hiking experience.

Mind your manners. Being thoughtful of others helps ensure that everyone has a good time. As with cigarettes, not everyone likes cannabis. When you’re around crowds, or especially families with children, it’s best not to smoke, and to keep other cannabis products tucked away.

Leave no trace. This cardinal rule of hiking applies to enjoying cannabis in the wild. Don’t leave old roaches along the trail. Pack it in – pack it out.

A Hand rolled Joint being smoked on a roach clip in a recreational use setting

Be very cautious when using fire. Especially in this era of frequent and uncontrollable wildfires, it’s essential to be extra careful with any fire-starting. Tossing an old roach could quickly start a fire in dry areas. If you do get stoned, you still need to make sure your campfire techniques are impeccable. Check for any specific fire advisories for the area where you’re hiking or camping.

Mind the gaps. Traversing mountainous terrain means there are more hazards to be mindful of. Be prepared for emergencies. In fact, overpreparation will make it more possible for you to relax and enjoy your trip.  Bring much more water than you think you’ll need. High altitude is dehydrating, as is cannabis. Drinking double your normal ration of water is advised at high altitudes.

african american woman taking a break to drink from water bottle while hiking

Know your hiking route. Make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you plan to be back. Bring a map or GPS and take note of natural landmarks as you hike. Being in the great outdoors while high can be a fantastic experience. Just make sure you can navigate effectively at the same time, so you can get back safely.

Does High Altitude Create a Higher High?

Contrary to popular belief, higher elevations don’t help you to get more stoned. But other impacts from high elevations may make you winded and lightheaded, so it could seem like the pot is more potent.

If you live most of your life at lower elevations, visiting the mountains can make you feel a little weird and out of it. Factor this in if you choose to partake. It takes some people a couple of days to adjust to the effects of high elevation.

What About Edibles or Tinctures?

Edibles are an excellent, smoke-free option for enjoying cannabis outdoors. Just make sure to choose small doses and proceed slowly for a nice body high that’s relaxing but still allows for some activity.

Cookies with cannabis and buds of marijuana on the table

Tinctures are easier to dose than edibles, with faster onset and milder effects. In addition, tinctures are easy to carry and discreet to use, so they can be an excellent choice for camping and hiking excursions.

Prepare for and Prevent Altitude Sickness

When your body moves to a higher elevation quickly, it doesn’t have time to adjust to reduced oxygen and changes in air pressure. This can cause altitude sickness for many people. Symptoms include heart palpitations, headaches, dizziness, nausea and insomnia.

But there are several steps you can take to avoid altitude sickness. Prevention is always best!

Ascend slowly and give yourself time to acclimate. If you want to have a great experience in the Rocky Mountains, hanging out in Denver for a few days first can make that much more possible.  Drink double your average amount of water. The air is arid at high altitudes, which can dehydrate you.

Cookies with cannabis and buds of marijuana on the table

Eat extra potassium. Potassium helps your body acclimate, so eat potassium-rich foods like bananas, avocados, dried fruit, or chocolate.  Take it easy. Any exertion will be much more difficult at higher elevations, so even if you’re in terrific shape, don’t overdo it the first day or two.

Keep in mind that drinking alcohol can make altitude sickness worse. Alcohol can be a respiratory depressant, diminishing the amount of oxygen in your body.

Can Marijuana Help with Altitude Sickness?

Some research has shown that cannabis helps improve respiration rates for bronchial asthma, indicating it could help with oxygenation.

Cannabis can certainly help with many symptoms of altitude sickness, like insomnia, nausea, headaches, and reduced appetite.

A Great Trip

Many of the reasons we enjoy cannabis are similar to the pleasures of hiking and being in the mountains. Hiking can help reduce stress and clear your mind. It can help us to feel happier and sleep better. The contemplative nature of a long hike can reduce anxiety and depression and help us find solutions to our problems. Some people enter a meditative state while hiking, while others just find they are more able to live in the moment.

It’s natural that you would like to add cannabis to a hiking adventure. Make sure to plan ahead, and you will enjoy the journey!

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