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Ingest or inhale? 5 differences between cannabis edibles and flowers

July 17, 2014

Muffins, candies, hummus, bacon, tea, pizza, guacamole, vegetable medley…the virtually endless list of cannabis-infused foods opens up fascinating possibilities for the adventurous consumer. As you venture deeper into the exciting world of marijuana, you may find yourself wondering what to expect from these edibles. Maybe you’ve already given them a go and are wondering why they induce that intense, almost psychedelic high that lasts so long. Speculate no longer, curious ones: we’re going to break down the differences between psychoactive snacks and the more familiar inhaled forms of cannabis.

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1. THC Is Absorbed Differently

Why are marijuana-infused edibles typically so much stronger than smoked or vaporized cannabis? When you consume cannabis in an ingestible form, its THC is metabolized by the liver, which converts it to 11-hydroxy-THC. This active metabolite is particularly effective in crossing the blood-brain barrier, resulting in a more intense high. Inhaled THC undergoes a different metabolic process because rather than passing through the stomach and then the liver, the THC travels directly to the brain. This is why the effects of smoked or vaporized cannabis come on faster and diminish quickly.

2. Effects and Duration

The Golden Rule of edibles: start small and be patient. Because of the way edibles are metabolized, it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours to kick in, and the effects can last several hours. These effects vary between edibles, but generally, consumers report stronger body effects coupled with an almost psychedelic head high in large doses. Smaller amounts yield milder and arguably more comfortable effects, which is why we reiterate: start small and be patient.

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Edibles may be strong, but compared to inhaled cannabis, they actually deliver a smaller concentration of cannabinoids to the bloodstream. Ingesting edibles introduces only 10 to 20 percent of THC and other cannabinoids to the blood plasma, whereas inhaled cannabis falls closer to 50 or 60 percent. The effects of smoked cannabis tend to peak within the first 10 minutes and rapidly dissipate over the next 30 to 60 minutes.

3. Edibles Are More Difficult to Dose

Determining the THC content of a homemade batch of edibles is no easy feat, and even professional distributors sometimes have difficulty capturing the advertised dose in their products. Because of the delay between ingestion and onset of effects, consumers may sometimes overestimate the dose. Inhaled cannabis, with its instantaneous effects, allows the consumer to gradually dose as needed.

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In legal markets, 10 milligrams of THC is considered a “standard” dose that normally delivers mild effects. A 100mg edible is considered much (much, much) more potent and should be split into several doses over time. Colossal amounts of THC won’t kill you, but trust us: you will enjoy the next several hours of your life more if you dose responsibly and patiently.

4. Disparities in Advertised Potency

In unregulated markets without meticulous testing, it’s possible that an edible’s potency does not match the label. Keep in mind that your go-to distributor may have a batch that varies from the last one you tried, so if you think, “The last time I tried this, it was fairly weak, so this time I’ll eat twice as much,” you may find out the hard way that this latest batch is a lot stronger than what you expect.

Legal cannabis systems are moving toward stricter regulations for edible testing and THC content maximums, but if you’re living in a state without these guidelines in place, be sure to ease into your edible expedition slowly and cautiously until regulations and testing pave the way for consistency and accurate labeling.

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5. Edibles as a Healthier Alternative to Smoking

Many people become interested in edibles because they don’t enjoy the harsh experience of smoking or are worried about the long-term health concerns associated with it. Vaporization is another health-conscious alternative commonly recommended, but edibles can oftentimes provide longer lasting relief to chronic symptoms like pain, often making them a preferred choice for medical patients.

Edible recipes don’t always have to consist of the stereotypical pot brownie or a sugary sweet treat; nowadays, you can transform most dishes into a cannabis-infused concoction. Try some cannabis-infused granola or quinoa salad, or make your own cannabis butter and douse your kale chips with it if that’s what you’re into. We don’t care, as long as you stay cautious and remember our parent-y voice in your head when it comes time for feasting.

Image credit: Niharb via Photopin cc

  • Sheri Brooks Gallagher

    Recently got off prescription morphine and am able to have a life with the vape…..but I really enjoyed the edibles we just tried, longer lasting and a more all over body relief not obtained by smoking/vaping. My opinion. Our state does not allow MMJ so off to the Rockies….. can kill myself with rx but no mmj…smh

    • hanscom

      You can easily make your own edibles from with cannabutter. I made cornbread and even root beer candy. Put 3/4 oz commercial in 2 cups oil. Gonna last me months–had to freeze most of it. Get molds and flavors at craft store (Micheals). Just have to use a candy thermometer and heat it to about 280. If you go for 300 it will likely burn the candy and taste like crap. I get a real nice effect from 5 or 10 mg. Make them for about 30 cents a dose. See Cannabist Web site.

      • Sheri Brooks Gallagher

        Thanks!

    • Jim Harvey

      Fly into Seattle, there are MJ stores (like 7-11s) near the airport. Do your research before you come. Stay a day or three, visit the Needle and the Markert, get stoned riding a ferry…

    • Howard Weldon Moore

      yep RX verses MMJ is a bitch the pharma companies pay to keep MMJ unavailable i didn’t realize just how effective it was for me until i ended up with a bad burn on my leg A freind of mine gave me a little and it helped tremendously and I noticed my arthritis pain subsided greatly. In some ways I think it more effective then the RX
      for pain management and depression the doctors prescribe me I have been in a pain management situation for over 20 years and at this point I’m on disability

  • Neil Henry

    I say make your own hash oil. 95% THC, and dose orally responsibly. Then the dosage is known and the effects are known. Im gonna make the oil out of indica and sativa and try both once I dose slowly for a couple of weeks.

  • hanscom

    I am able to get a effective dose around 5-7 mg. Have made my own candy and cornbread from a commercial herb about 16% THC. Ended up with 2100 mg THC (3/4 ounce) in cannaoil (made it with canola oil instead of butter). At these levels I get hundreds of doses for about 30 cents a piece!

  • cat007

    I can’t smoke anymore because I smoked cigarettes for thirty years and my lungs are shot. I really miss the high I get from smoking that I just don’t get from edibles. I wish there was some way I could get the same high from edibles that I can get from inhaling. What can I do to make the high from edibles as much like the high from smoking as possible?

    • Tash

      Have you ever tryed vaping ur weed instead is smoking it in a bong or joint ? It’s alot easier on the lungs and gives you the same high as you would smoking it

      • cat007

        It gives me bronchitis

        • Conan Cimmerian

          Thats not bronchitis you are experiencing from vaping. If you have been been a smoker in the past and have started vaping your lungs will naturally start to clean themselves out. Vaping opens the lungs and helps the cleansing prosess.

          • bob

            wanna put your money where your mouth is on this one???

          • loaded

            Not true. Any form of smoke irritates the lungs and is not good for the human body.

          • Christophe Smee

            They’re the sort of myths we got told when we were about 14 years old. Like, smoking hash will clean your lungs out.. That’s why you start coughing up and spitting out big balls of phlegm. That is a sign your lungs are being cleaned out haha.
            I know this isn’t exactly what you are saying. But the other poster below is correct in saying – no smoke is any good for our lungs.

  • janvier25

    The question everyone wants answered is “which method of ingestion is going to make me feel better for longer and what effect depending upon whether I consume on an empty stomach or full?” You didn’t answer it.

  • 54pandora

    Why does the mj have to be added as a butter in the edibles? I don’t have enough to make the canna butter

    • Anonofied

      You can make some cannaoil with small amounts. t. You can eat the oil raw, it doesn’t taste too bad, just chase it with something, well. But BE CAREFUL. There is a reason that every cannaxxxx recipe out there has a disclaimer saying to be careful on dosing!! It’s cause it is as easy as, anything could possibly be, to do. If you use the standard ratio, {( 1oz-2 cups…or 7grams -1/2 cup….}) start with 1/2 teaspoon(2.5ml) or up to 1tsp. But 1/2tsp is probably best…then wait 2 hours before you take more. Better safe then sorry until you get more experienced with edibles!

    • janvier25

      Cannabis is fat-soluble; it needs oil to work. The real question should be why make edibles rather than a concentrate in oil in a capsule.

  • Mike Curnutt

    I wish I could get the effects of edibles with the small dosages they allude to It’s takes at least 300mg in an edible for me to even feel it, and 500mg is more of an appropriate dose. This makes edibles cost-prohibitive for me and an occasional luxury. I guess I just don’t absorb it well through that route. It always takes about 2 hours before it kicks in too.

    • Christophe Smee

      I’m exactly the same.

      I get 100 mg RSO capsules. It takes me at least 5 to really feel it. I also prefer the buzz via ingestion, rather than smoking… Yet it would be a very expensive habit if I were to go back to being a full time stoner (Which I don’t want)