Edibles have been a beloved form of cannabis consumption for many years. Tasty and available in a wide range of varieties, edibles offer cannabis users an alternative to smoking, which can be smelly and lead to some lung damage.
However, many new cannabis users will often mistakenly assume the effects of edibles will be similar to those felt from smoking. In reality, ingesting edibles is a very different experience than smoking flower. They take more time to kick in, and their effects last longer and are often more powerful.
The reason? The metabolic process that occurs inside the body when consuming edibles is completely different than what occurs when smoking flower. As usual, we’re here to explain the science behind it.
Understanding the Metabolic Process
First, it’s important to understand what is happening inside the body when you consume cannabis, whether through inhalation or orally. When we use cannabis, compounds from the plant called cannabinoids (among others, like terpenes) are released into our body. Where these compounds are processed in the body has a huge impact on what kind of effects will be experienced and how fast those effects will be felt.
This is called the metabolic process, and this occurs for all the compounds entering our body, not just when we are consuming cannabis. You’ve probably heard of the metabolism, and how this system is responsible for converting the food we eat into energy. Our metabolisms do the same thing with cannabis.
When we smoke cannabis flower, the effects are nearly instantaneous and taper off within 2-3 hours. This is because we are introducing cannabinoids directly into our lungs, which transport chemicals rather rapidly and efficiently to the brain. To be specific, the psychoactive cannabinoid responsible for the high is Delta-9-THC. However, there are hundreds of other cannabinoids that may be present and contributing their own host of effects.
Because the effects are felt almost instantly, smoking flower is one of the more effective ways to dose, as individuals can assess in the moment whether they need another puff or two.
When ingesting edibles, cannabinoids are processed in the liver. In this case, THC is converted into the metabolite 11-hydroxy-THC.
This metabolite is not only more potent than THC, but more effective at crossing the blood-brain barrier. So while its effects may take longer to kick in, it is ultimately a more intense high. The experience is also more likely to be a “body high,” as the metabolite is believed to interact with cannabinoid receptors throughout the body while traveling to the brain.
Because of the long onset time and intense effects, edibles can be tricky if one is not already aware of their proper dose. That’s why it’s so important to “take it slow and start low” with edibles.
The rate at which cannabinoids are processed and absorbed after ingesting an edible is also highly dependent on the individual’s metabolism, weight, gender, and eating habits. The slower the metabolism, the longer it will take to feel the effects.
Genes are also thought to play an important role in how affected an individual may be when consuming edibles. Variations in the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors, as well as the CYP enzymes in the liver, may not be as adept at interacting with cannabinoids as other mutations are. This theory would explain why some cannabis users report needing extremely high doses to feel any effects, while others might need a mere 5 milligrams.
Both methods of cannabis consumption have their own pros and cons, and it’s up to the individual to decide what type of experience they are seeking. Knowing exactly how cannabis interacts with your body and what kind of high to expect can help you make informed decisions about your consumption habits. To learn more about cannabinoids and terpenes, and what kind of effects you can expect from them, check out our collection of studies The Cannabis Review.