For thousands of years, humans have smoked and eaten cannabis. Both result in a “high.” From a biological perspective, however, edibles versus smoked pot are very different. The length of time required to begin feeling a psychoactive effect (onset), as well as the duration of the potency of the high, vary in a big way between edibles vs. smoked cannabis and when the herb is vaped.
Edibles vs. smoked cannabis
Smoking involves the inhalation of cannabinoids, special molecules that provide medical efficacy. The most famous cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. This is because of the “high” that it produces in all mammals (not just humans).
When eaten, cannabinoids like THC obviously never touch the lungs. Instead, they enter via the stomach and are digested by the liver. But the resulting cannabinoid isn’t the version of THC that is delivered to the brain when cannabis is smoked.
When cannabis is eaten and travels through the stomach, it is converted to a different molecule.
Understanding THC molecules
The molecules resulting from smoking or eating THC, delta-9 THC and 11-hydroxy-THC, respectively, possess different characteristics, including their ability to permeate the blood-brain barrier. This results in significantly different efficacy for the two avenues of consumption.
There are three major areas in which eating and smoking/vaping cannabis result in very different effects:
Smoked cannabis: 2.5 minutes
When cannabis is smoked, it produces delta-9 THC, which within seconds travels from the lungs to the heart. From the heart, THC is pumped directly to specialized CB1 receptors in the brain.
The onset of the psychoactive effect when smoking/vaping is relatively short, at only about 2.5 minutes. While individual efficacy varies based on physiology, body weight, and other factors, smoking delivers the fastest onset of all types of consumption.
Edibles: 45 minutes-2 hours
Cannabis edibles are metabolized via an entirely different mechanism than when the herb is smoked or vaped. Edibles enter the stomach and are passed on to the liver. It is in the liver that THC is converted to 11-hydroxy-THC.
The onset of your high is roughly 30-40 times longer for eaten versus smoked cannabis! However, the potency and duration of the psychoactive effect from edibles are considerably greater than when it is smoked. This is because of the relatively slow absorption of 11-hydroxy-THC from the gastrointestinal tract.
In fact, edibles can result in a high that lasts between six and ten hours, depending on how much is consumed and one’s tolerance level. This is three to five times the duration of the herb’s high when smoked.
Your takeaway? When consuming edibles, start low and go slow. The biggest mistake made by those eating pot is taking too much at once. This is especially true of newbies. All because they don’t feel the effect as quickly as when smoking. Unfortunately, this causes them to assume that they require a higher dose to get high.
When it comes to eating cannabis, patience is definitely a virtue.