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Every cannabis user's experience with the plant is unique, but there are a few telltale signs that someone has been smoking weed. There are the uncontrollable giggles, munchies, and of course, bloodshot eyes. Whether you've been consuming marijuana for a week or a decade, odds are you've looked in the mirror after a smoke session and wondered "why are my eyes red?"
The answer to that question delves deep into marijuana's medicinal properties, the varying effects of different cannabinoids, and exactly what happens when weed enters our bodily system. And because so-called stoned eyes are a natural occurrence for both novice and experienced potheads, we'll cover edibles, vapes, and the best options for eliminating marijuana eyes when you need to be presentable in public.
So why does weed make your eyes red? Without getting too far into the science, it all comes down to blood pressure and blood vessels. When THC - the main psychoactive chemical in cannabis - enters the body, it causes an immediate increase in heart rate and blood pressure. The jolt to your circulatory system is akin to a jog around the block or a quick game of pick-up basketball. Unlike prolonged exercise, though, only ten minutes or so after the THC is processed, blood pressure and heart rate will return to normal resting rates.
As blood pressure begins to lower, blood vessels begin to dilate. This phenomenon happens all over the body but is most visible in the ocular capillaries. With more blood rushing to your eyes, they quickly begin to look red and glossed over. At the same time, that increased blood flow to the eyes relieves intraocular pressure. Because intraocular pressure is a key agitating symptom of glaucoma, marijuana's quick-relief has made the plant a mainstay in the treatment of the common eye ailment since the 1990s. So while the increased blood flow to your ocular capillaries is what causes red eyes, it is also the sensation that causes relief for thousands upon thousands of glaucoma patients using medical marijuana.
The eye-reddening effects of cannabis are tied directly to THC consumption. It is THC that causes increased blood pressure and heart rate, and the subsequent expansion of ocular blood vessels. In practical terms, that means that the more THC you consume, the redder your eyes will become.
As users build a tolerance to THC, though, they may notice a significant decrease in eye redness. In the same way that frequent cannabis consumption will eventually decrease the strength of intoxication, regular pot users experience less fluctuation in blood pressure and heart rate, and in turn lower levels of capillary dilation. Likewise, cannabis users who prefer CBD, CBG, or CBN-dominant strains will experience significantly less eye redness than THC consumers. Unlike the immediate rush of THC, CBD, CBG, and CBN have far less psychoactive effects, and can even decrease blood pressure, eliminating the cardiovascular reaction and eventual red eyes of traditional, full-strength THC cannabis.
Just like smoking flower, the eye-reddening effect of cannabis edibles depends entirely on the amount of THC in the infused product. If your favorite edible has 50mg of THC, there is a high chance that you'll end up with bloodshot eyes. If your next magic brownie is full of CBD and only a few milligrams of THC, you likely won't look nearly as stoned in public. Because the THC from traditional edibles is processed through the liver and not directly through the bloodstream it takes a little bit longer for edibles to get you high, and the bloodshot eye effect is similarly delayed.
The same general principle goes for vape cartridges, dabs, tinctures, topicals, and other cannabis products. If your chosen consumption method contains a fair amount of THC, the cardiovascular system chain reaction we've been discussing will likely cause your eyes to turn red and give away your heady habits. If you use a CBD vape cart or take a CBN tincture, you won't let on about your cannabis secret.
Now that we know the science behind red eyes and which cannabis products do and don't result in bloodshot selfies, it's time to break down how to eliminate the pesky pot side effect. After all, cannabis is still a Schedule I drug, and sometimes it helps to hide your love affair with Mary Jane. If you need to hit a dinner party or office function after a smoke session and you don't want to let on that you need a little weed to make the function fun, there are a few options for masking your red eyes.
First, hit up your local convenience store or pharmacy and find the eye drop aisle. Basic eye drops are a great way to quickly and easily clear the stoned look off your face. For even quicker relief, redness-reducing eye drops contain active ingredients like Tetrahydrozoline or Naphazoline that artificially clamp down the blood vessels in the eye. These products are entirely safe to use sparingly, but if used frequently, can cause eyes to dry out and could even increase eye redness if used too often.
If you're using eye drops too often and need an all-natural cure for stoned eyes, try to up your water intake. Increased hydration won't make your red eyes clear immediately, but it will help relieve any dryness that might keep your eyes bloodshot. Lastly, you can let your body work its course and get rid of your red eyes with the help of father time. Sure, you might need to avoid your in-laws or professors for a couple of hours, but you won't be looking wide-eyed and paranoid into your front-facing camera, either.
Do you have a super-secret technique to cure cannabis-induced red eyes? Spill the beans and let us know in the comments below.