Contact Highs
3 min

What Are Contact Highs (And Where Do They Come From)?

3 min

A contact high is a unique phenomenon occurring in sober individuals, detailing the psychological impact of socialising with intoxicated people. In these cases, non-drug users report feeling "high," despite having not ingested any psychoactive substances. Read on to discover what a contact high really is.

There is some confusion as to what a “contact high” really is.

This phrase refers to a strange psychological condition where sober people report feeling high, despite not ingesting any psychoactive substances. This condition is defined by changes in behaviour after socialising with those under the influence of drugs and alcohol. The phrase details the supposed “transfer” of the state of intoxication to the sober individual.

In other words, “contact highs” are more psychological than they are physiological.

For example, someone who is not on LSD might find themselves influenced by the behaviour of a companion who is tripping. In this vein, someone else’s high has the potential to induce a kind of placebo effect on the sober individual. In fact, some individuals even cite contact highs as influencing trip-like experiences simply from being around high friends. They even may begin to experience pseudo-hallucinations or suddenly laugh at otherwise everyday occurrences.

This example is also frequently observed when someone is given a placebo, but claims to feel the effects of a drug anyway. This of course occurs in medical and research-based venues, but also in events revolving around the use of illicit drugs. As a favourite trick of unscrupulous drug dealers, particularly in clubs, contact highs represent a way for scam artists to sell placebos to unsuspecting customers who believe they are purchasing the real thing.


The reason for this phenomenon is very simple. Intoxication effects are subjective, varying from person to person. Furthermore, contact highs aren’t just limited to the impact of one group of individuals; rather, it is a broader behavioural paradox which some people are naturally more susceptible to. It is still unclear whether those who experience this sensation really undergo perceptual differences or not.


“Contact high” is also frequently used to describe getting high from secondhand cannabis smoke. In actuality, this is an incorrect usage of the term. A contact high is possible to achieve from being around cannabis users themselves. However, it is possible to get legitimately high from secondhand smoke, which is a different phenomenon altogether.

There is a lot of debate on this issue. Clearly, secondhand tobacco smoke can have negative health impacts. Concerning cannabis, studies are yet inconclusive. It seems, however, that people can get slightly “high” from secondhand smoke, especially in “hotbox” environments where smoke is trapped inside an enclosed space.

In these cases, THC has been known to show up on drug screenings in those who simply sat in the same room as cannabis smokers. Since this culminates in noticeable levels of cannabinoids in the blood, it cannot be considered merely a "contact" high.

There is another kind of experience that is also described (incorrectly) as a contact high. This concerns workers in constant contact with cannabis plants who can suffer from overexposure to cannabinoids. Indeed, cannabis can be ingested through the skin and other organs in different concentrations, at varying rates.

In other words, contact highs only refer to the social/psychological phenomenon and not the actual ingestion of any substances.


The answer here is that just about all psychoactive drugs known to man can incite contact highs. The reason is less about the drug itself and more about socialisation and group mentality. If everyone around you finds something hilarious, you are more likely to feel the same way.


People hanging around cannabis users may be no match for suppressing the giggles or munchies once the joint starts being passed around. However, cannabis exists in a slightly different category than the other drugs on this list. Most of the time, people who are sitting with pot smokers are in fact ingesting secondhand smoke. As a result, they feel a much milder impact from the drug, yet, it is a real high all the same.


LSD (and magic mushrooms) are frequent perpetrators of contact highs. Those who report “contact high” experiences suggest alterations in their perceptions similar to tripping. LSD and shrooms can dramatically alter the way users interact with reality. It stands to reason that sober individuals hanging around those ingesting psychedelic substances may report behavioural differences.

However, contact highs extend even beyond socialisation. Indeed, many readers recount contact highs after reading literature about being intoxicated. This includes novels like William S. Burroughs’ “The Naked Lunch” which was partly written while the author was tripping on LSD.

Related article

Drawing On Acid: How Hallucinogens Inspire Creativity


The jury is definitely out on this one. Those assigned the role of designated driver for the night will swear alcohol has no contact high. However, those who have attended raves in packed clubs while sober will sometimes report feeling a bit intoxicated when surrounded by a heavy drinking crowd. This may also be due to the release of endorphins when dancing and listening to loud music.

Luke Sumpter
Luke Sumpter
With a BSc (Hons) degree in Clinical Health Sciences and a passion for growing plants, Luke Sumpter has worked as a professional journalist and writer at the intersection of cannabis and science for the past 7 years.
Facts News
Search in categories