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Edibles vs. smoking: how consumption methods affect your experience

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Contents

  1. How smoking works
  2. How edibles work
  3. How your consumption method affects your high
  4. How to smoke weed
  5. How to consume edibles
  6. Choose the consumption method that works for you

There are many different factors that come into play when determining what kind of experience you have with cannabis. Different strains, terpene profiles, CBD to THC ratios – all of these elements can have a huge impact on your experience, including how high you feel and for how long.

But one of the biggest elements that impacts your cannabis experience is consumption method.

How you consume cannabis plays a large role in your ultimate experience. For example, smoking weed and eating a cannabis edible deliver two entirely different experiences.

But how, exactly, do smoking cannabis and eating an edible work within the brain and body and what’s the effect of each consumption method?

How smoking works

Smoking is one of the most popular ways of enjoying cannabis, but how does it work?

When you inhale cannabis smoke into your lungs, the active compounds, such as THC, are almost immediately absorbed into the bloodstream, making their way to the brain.

When you inhale cannabis smoke into your lungs, the active compounds are almost immediately absorbed into the bloodstream. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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Once the THC hits the brain, it binds to receptors in the endocannabinoid system, most notably the CB1 receptors, which produces the euphoria typically associated with getting high.

Because the time between inhalation and THC reaching the brain is so short, smoking cannabis has a rapid onset. You’ll feel the effects of smoking weed almost instantly.

How edibles work

Edibles will get you just as high as smoking weed, or more! But when you ingest cannabis in the form of edibles, the process of getting high is a bit different.

When you eat an edible, it passes through the digestive tract where it’s then absorbed by the stomach. Cannabis’ active compounds are then metabolized in the liver, where the THC is converted into 11-hydroxy-THC, a compound that is both more potent and longer-lasting than THC.

Because an edible has to go through the digestive tract and liver before getting absorbed into the bloodstream, it takes significantly longer for the THC to hit your brain. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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Because an edible has to go through the digestive tract and liver before getting absorbed into the bloodstream, it takes significantly longer for the THC to hit your brain. But once it does, it’s stronger and has a longer half-life.

How your consumption method affects your high

Now that you understand how both smoking weed and edibles work, let’s cover how each consumption method affects your high.

As mentioned, the process of metabolizing THC is significantly longer when you ingest an edible, typically anywhere between 45 minutes and three hours. The delayed process of absorbing and metabolizing THC means it takes longer to feel the effects.

But because 11-hydroxy-THC is both more potent and has a longer half-life than THC, once you do start feeling the effects, they’re typically going to feel stronger and last longer than if you hit a joint.

When you smoke weed, on the other hand, the THC almost immediately travels to the brain. That means you’ll feel high almost immediately, but because of the rapid absorption of THC, your high has a shorter duration than with edibles.

While the intensity and length of your high depends on a variety of factors (including quality, dosage, and potency), a high from smoking weed typically lasts one-to-two hours whereas an edibles experience can last four-to-six hours or more.

Another way consumption method affects your high is how much you consume. Because smoking weed creates almost immediate effects, users can gauge how high they’re getting in real time. As a result, they are typically less likely to overconsume.

On the flip side, people can run into trouble with edibles and overconsumption. The process of metabolizing THC can take up to three hours, and some people may think the edible isn’t working, leading them to ingest another edible, increasing their dosage and the intensity and duration of their high. With edibles, it’s always recommended to start with a low dose and wait a full 24 hours to gauge the edible’s effects. Only then should you try increasing the dose in small increments (between 2.5 and 5 mg) every 24 hours until you reach your desired experience.

How to smoke weed

If you decide smoking weed is the right consumption method for you, there are a few things you’ll need to get started: cannabis flower, a tool or method for smoking the cannabis (rolling papers, a bong, pipe, etc.), and a lighter. Add the cannabis to your smoking tool and use the lighter the ignite the flower. Inhale the smoke and voila, you’re smoking weed.

There are a few things you’ll need to smoke weed: cannabis flower, a tool or method for smoking the cannabis, and a lighter. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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(Want to learn more about the ins and outs of smoking weed? For more information, including full instructions on smoking options, be sure to check out the Weedmaps guide How to Smoke Weed.)

How to consume edibles

Most dispensaries have a selection of edibles, including different types of edibles (like cookies, gummies, and chocolate bars), different dosages, and different CBD to THC ratios. You can also take the DIY route, whip up some cannabis-infused butter or oil, and make your own edibles at home. Just be careful. While making cannabis-infused edibles at home is fairly straightforward, it’s much harder to control potency and dosing. For more consistent dosing and a more consistent experience, stick with professionally manufactured edibles purchased at a reputable dispensary.

While making cannabis-infused edibles at home is fairly straightforward, it’s much harder to control potency and dosing. Photo by: Gine Coleman/Weedmaps

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(Looking for more information on all things edibles? Make sure to check out the edibles section of Weedmaps Learn.)

Choose the consumption method that works for you

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to consuming cannabis. Different consumption methods, like smoking or ingesting an edible, will deliver different experiences. The best consumption method for you depends on what kind of experience you seek. Now that you know exactly how smoking and edibles work, and how each method affects your high, you have everything you need to choose the consumption method that’s best for you.

Edibles vs. smoking: how consumption methods affect your experience Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents How smoking works How edibles work

The Real Difference Between Smoking and Eating Marijuana

There might be a simple explanation for why edibles make some people so paranoid.

A decade ago, I finished my first year of grad school in Los Angeles, and my boyfriend and I went on a short getaway to celebrate. He recommended Ojai, a New Agey town a couple of hours’ north, because some famous person he liked had lived there. After an afternoon of hiking among the orange trees, we returned to our motel room to get ready for our fancy dinner, the kind of white-tablecloth place we could never afford to eat at normally.

I wore my grad-school finest, which is to say I looked like the assistant accounting manager at a medium-size business. My boyfriend brought out something special for the occasion: a cookie infused with marijuana butter. I had smoked joints before, and I wanted to seem game, so I eagerly ate my half. It tasted like your standard Nestlé Toll House, maybe a little grassier, and I swallowed it without asking key questions such as, “Where did you get this?” or “Why are we doing this?”

As soon as we pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant, Earth and its atmosphere began to whisper to me that all was not right. Everything seemed like it had been rotated 45 degrees, but in meaning, rather than appearance. I looked at my boyfriend and realized that I could no longer be sure he was him. What if he was an imposter, and I had come to this strange restaurant in this strange town with a strange man?

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I decided to proceed with the dinner anyway—which quickly turned out to be a huge mistake. The tossed salad conjured dead leaves, reminding me that everything is picked, pruned, and fallen. The meat reminded me that we are all for slaughter. Then the dessert came out. The waiter placed it on the table, flashed us an impish grin, and lit it on fire. That’s when I started weeping.

My boyfriend paid and hustled me out. We returned to our room, where I lay motionless on the bed and clung to its edges so I didn’t fall up. I had, it turned out, gotten too high. Ever since, despite my live-and-let-live attitude toward most things, I’ve considered edible pot to be slightly suspect, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

This seems to be a common dichotomy when it comes to eating, rather than smoking, cannabis. People who can smoke a bowl and go about their day will find that when they eat a weed candy (or two—is it even working?), they feel like their hands are about to detach from their body. Though cannabis is safer than many other drugs, edibles feel scary to some people because of the heightened delusional symptoms they seem to induce. Famously, the writer Maureen Dowd took a nibble of a pot chocolate and “became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.” Indeed, in Colorado, edibles are responsible for a disproportionate share of emergency-room visits, relative to their sales.

The refrain you’ll hear from a more seasoned stoner is that people like Maureen and me simply ate too much. We should have had just a little, then waited, then only had more once the initial high wore off. That may be true. But some marijuana researchers (few though they might be, given restrictions on the drug) told me that something else might be happening, too. Edibles and smoked weed are processed into different substances in the body, and they say this allows the two to affect the mind in totally different ways.

According to Nick Jikomes, the principal research scientist at the cannabis website Leafly, the discrepancy comes down to the type of THC, the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana. When you smoke a joint, what goes into your bloodstream is called delta-9 THC. When you eat cannabis, meanwhile, the drug gets processed by your liver into a different compound, 11-hydroxy THC. The two forms are very similar to each other, but the small differences between them can mean they affect the brain in dramatically disparate ways. The 11-hydroxy THC affects you more intensely once it crosses the blood-brain barrier, Jikomes says.

Mike Tagen, a scientific consultant for cannabis companies who has a pharmacology background, agrees that 11-hydroxy THC is far more potent. The molecule, he says, can activate certain receptors in the brain more fully than delta-9 can. It’s “more like the synthetic cannabinoids, like Spice or K2,” Tagen told me. “Those are associated with bad reactions, things like anxiety attacks, paranoia. That might be why you see the strong reaction with edibles.”

However, this is weed we’re talking about. Despite its growing acceptance, it still has an air of illegitimacy that can induce snickering and shame. There’s not much research to back this 11-hyrodxy-THC theory, and thus, it’s not certain that 11-hydroxy THC is the real culprit here. Ethan Russo, a psychopharmacology researcher, says that though studies from the 1970s suggested that 11-hydroxy THC is more psychoactive than the regular kind, unpublished experiments later performed by his former company, GW Pharmaceuticals, didn’t bear that out. These more recent results showed that the two compounds are basically equivalent. Instead, Russo says the reason edibles affect people more strongly is simply because more THC—of any kind—gets into the body when pot is eaten. When a joint is smoked, only 10 to 30 percent of the THC is absorbed into the body, he says. A lot—quite literally—just goes up in smoke.

Regardless of who’s right, there are things you can do to protect yourself from being overpowered by edibles. Jikomes recommends that people new to edibles start with no more than a 2.5 milligram dose of THC—lower than the amount in many packaged confections—and work up from there. Generally, you wouldn’t want to consume a second dose until you’ve gone through the first “experience,” which means you wouldn’t want to have two edibles on the same day. And because mind-set matters so much to how you experience cannabis, Jikomes recommends not experimenting with weed for the first time if you’re feeling especially anxious or depressed.

Waiting to be perfectly emotionally content before you smoke weed might defeat the purpose. But that is, alas, the price of not thinking your legs have turned into bacon.

There might be a simple explanation for why edibles make some people so paranoid.