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Why Do Edibles Have A Different High?

To Eat Or Not To Eat – The Edibles Dilemma 

Ever notice that consuming cannabis edibles is a drastically different experience than smoking cannabis? Or maybe you are a longtime cannabis smoker and are “canna-curious” about trying edibles. With the legalization of recreational cannabis in California, more and more people are turning to the plant for a variety of reasons. One opportunity some consumers are looking for is alternative ways to consume cannabis that doesn’t involve smoking.

Maybe you enjoy the calming effects of cannabis, but don’t want to smell like it at social functions. Then there are the benefits to cannabis use in the professional realm as well. Many creative professionals utilize various strains of cannabis to aid them in their day-to-day work. Or you might have kids at home and you would rather not smoke around them. In each case, edibles present a great alternative to smoking. A potential drawback to making the switch from smoking to edibles, though, is that people can have vastly different experiences ingesting cannabis orally than they do when smoking it. That is where Mankind comes in.

Mankind Dispensary’s staff is a team of self-proclaimed “weed science nerds” and longtime cannabis professionals. When we asked them to explain why ingesting edibles is so much different than smoking cannabis, a couple were kind enough to kick some science our way. Here’s what the team had to say.

Smoking and THC

When you smoke marijuana, THC gets sucked into your bloodstream via the alveoli in the lungs. However, THC is an oil-soluble compound, meaning that it doesn’t break down well in blood, which is mostly water. So within seconds, it looks to bind with the endocannabinoid receptors in the body, never really having a chance to be metabolized by the gastrointestinal tract. 

But when you ingest cannabis in the form of an edible, your saliva immediately starts to break down the THC. Once it hits the stomach and then the liver, it is converted into 11-hydroxy-THC. What is 11-hydroxy-THC? It’s one of the dozens of cannabinoids we’ve been able to study. Interestingly enough, it does not naturally exist in the cannabis plant. Rather, it is formed within the human body after the digestion of THC.

What is especially interesting about THC metabolites is that their levels in your body can be more than 10 times higher if you take cannabis in an edible form rather than through other routes. This accounts for the biggest difference between edibles vs smoking. With edibles, a much larger fraction of Delta-9-THC makes it to the liver before being broken down. The liver is where it gets converted to 11-hydroxy-THC. 

If you smoke or vape, the conversion ratio is negligible. There really isn’t enough research available for review on 11-OH-THC, other than what amounts to scientists having injected people with varying levels of Delta 9-THC and 11-OH-THC before recording their responses. What we can review says 11-OH-THC can have effects described as “psychedelic and highly intoxicating in high doses.”

Too Much of a Good Thing

Essentially when science references “highly intoxicating” we assume they are referencing stories of people calling an ambulance for themselves and sleeping for 14 hours. Something that occurs after eating an entire 500 mg edible. Not something any experienced, wise cannabis connoisseur would recommend doing. 

It is important to note the actual lethal levels for cannabis, called an LD50 rating, would require a 175-pound man in good health to ingest somewhere around 53 whole grams of pure THC. (53,000 mg for those who paid attention in math class.) In just about any commercially available edible – if you consumed the necessary amount – the sugar or salt would actually kill you first. Salt and sugar both have a lower LD50 than cannabis. (It’s possible to get decarbed wax in a high potency and consume 53 grams of it but it wouldn’t be an easy thing to accomplish.)

How Do Sativa Edibles Feel vs How Do Indica Edibles Feel?

As for edibles being considered indica, sativa or hybrid…there’s some room for debate. When referring to the starting plant material you can definitely classify what the origins of the cannabinoids are. However, does that really matter when judging what the effects will be? 

During decarboxylation and the processing of the plant material into an edible, most times, a good amount of the complex terpene and cannabinoids are lost. A large portion of edible producers are using cannabis distillate in their edibles so as to avoid giving the edible an unpleasant “weedy” flavor. What makes the edible feel sleepy or not has more to do with your metabolism and the environment you took it in, along with the presence of compounds like CBN to help sleepiness along.

That doesn’t mean that an edible can’t still demonstrate similar effects to the type of plant it was sourced from, but it isn’t a guarantee. At a baseline, you should expect edibles marked as indica to make you more relaxed or sleepy, and edibles marked sativa to make you more stimulated or euphoric.

Edibles vs Vape or Smoking: Onset Time & Duration

One of the other things that give edibles a different high is that their effects can take a while to kick in, and tend to run for much longer than an inhaled cannabis high. The effects of smoking cannabis usually hit you within a few minutes at most. But can edibles hit instantly? Not usually.

When it comes to edibles vs smoking onset time, an edible can take anywhere from 30 mins – 2 hours to begin producing noticeable effects. This is an important distinction when asking: how do edibles work?

Inhaled cannabis hits your bloodstream almost instantly through your lungs, but when you eat cannabis you have to digest it first. This slow digestion process also means that your edible trip is likely to last between 6–8 hours as the cannabis gradually hits your bloodstream and works through your system. As a result, you can expect an edible high to take longer to kick in but also last for much longer when comparing edibles vs smoking effect duration. 

Some people who visit Mankind dispensary want to know…can edibles hit instantly if I do something differently? Truthfully, not really. There are some kinds of edibles and infused beverages that have been specially made with nano-emulsification technology to allow them to produce effects much more quickly, but still not instantly.


Are Edibles Stronger Than Smoking?

If edibles can hit you so hard then it’s fair to ask…are edibles stronger than smoking? It’s possible. But, as previously mentioned, many more THC metabolites are created by your body when you smoke, but this isn’t the whole story. In reality, people also have a tendency to simply eat too much THC. 

This happens because oftentimes it’s really tough to gauge just how much THC is in any given edible. This is especially true if you’re making your own at home, in which case it’s nearly impossible. This leads people to sometimes ingest too much THC at once, believing that the dose of THC they took is simply more potent in edible form. It may be, but are edibles stronger than smoking? Probably not by much, if at all.  

Edibles vs Smoking: Anxiety

Some people can experience feelings of anxiety when they ingest cannabis, especially if they have consumed large amounts of THC. It’s especially important to be careful with your edible dosage if you think you may get anxious during your trip since the high lasts for so long and can feel more intense.

How Do Edibles Work: Eat Right, Eat Smart

There’s still so much that science has yet to uncover in the cannabis world. Until cannabis is completely decriminalized we simply can’t understand every last complexity. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t lots of smart people out there working every day to learn what they can, with years of professional experience behind them. 

As they say, a little knowledge can go a long way. The first piece is understanding how your body reacts to the different ways you ingest cannabis. Edibles are much different, as we can see, than inhalation. When done right, oral consumption is a great way for people to partake in something that can offer a ton of benefits.

If you are unsure of how much edible cannabis to take, then the smartest thing you can do is ask your budtender about how edibles work next time you see them. These are folks who live cannabis daily. They immerse themselves into understanding how to safely consume it in all of its forms so that you don’t end up sleeping for 14 hours or freaking out. 

Today, cannabis is used not only for medical purposes but also to help people unwind from long days at the office or enjoy an evening with friends. It aids in relieving anxiety, recovering from athletic training, enhancing work productivity, and socializing. Learn what works for your needs, talk to a professional, and enjoy the lifestyle enhancing effects of cannabis. You’ll be glad you did.

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