Eating Edibles vs. Smoking Cannabis: How They Compare

Multicolored cannabis gummies surrounding single pot leaf

If you’ve ever indulged in edibles, you probably feel that the buzz you get from those pot brownies is noticeably different than the one you get from smoking weed. But maybe you’re a little apprehensive about sharing this to your buddies, thinking they’ll look at you like you’ve lost it. So what’s the deal? Is it your imagination, or is an edible high different than the high you get from your heady glass?

We’re here to tell you that the difference isn’t all in your head. There is a distinct difference between the buzz you get from edibles and the one you get from a bong hits or joint. Below, we’ll explore the primary distinctions.

How Cannabis Is Absorbed: Smoking vs. Edibles

Smoking Cannabis

When you smoke cannabis, the smoke enters your lungs, where it encounters what are called the alveoli. These are tiny air sacs on the walls of the lungs lined with capillaries. The THC – technically delta-9-THC – is absorbed through the walls of these capillaries and enters the bloodstream. From there, it binds with the endocannabinoid receptors in your blood and then it makes its way to your brain.

Cannabis joint rolled in RAW papers with nugget and pamphlet

Eating Edibles

Cannabis cookies and pot leaf on oak table

With edibles, the absorption process is a bit different. The delta-9-THC encounters the saliva in your mouth, which immediately begins to break it down. After the broken down delta-9-THC passes through your stomach, it moves on to the liver where it’s converted into 11-hydroxy-THC – a cannabinoid with more potency than delta-9 THC.

About 11-Hydroxy-THC

11-hydroxy-THC is one of many known cannabinoids, but not one that is native to the cannabis plant itself. It’s created within the body as a byproduct of digesting delta-9-THC. Not only does 11-hydroxy-THC have more potent effects than delta-9-THC, it also appears in higher quantities in the body’s bloodstream. In other words, edibles produce more potent THC and more of it than inhaled cannabis.

Onset Time Comparison: Smoking vs. Edibles

When smoking a joint, a hand pipe, or heady glass you bought from our online head shop, the effects of the THC will usually take no more than a few minutes to kick in. That’s because the THC in the smoke is absorbed directly into your bloodstream through the walls of your lungs.

On the other hand, when you eat cannabis the THC takes a much longer route to your brain. First, you gnash it in your mouth, your stomach acids break it down further, then your liver changes it to 11-hydroxy-THC, and only then does it move into your bloodstream.

When all is said and done you can expect an edible high to take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to kick in. So, don’t get impatient and start scarfing more edibles trying to hurry things up. Just be patient.

Edibles vs Smoking Infographic

SOURCE: The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction

Click the PDF icon to download the full PDF of the infographic above:

Reasons an Edible High Feels Stronger

Many cannabis users eat an edible and expect to feel a buzz as quickly as they do from a bong hit. After five or more minutes with no effects, you may eat more to try and kickstart the buzz. By the time the edibles finally kick in, much more THC has been consumed than in a typical smoking session.

The intensity experienced from an edibles buzz likely results from the added potency of 11-hydroxy-THC. Eating a higher dosage of THC than you’d typically smoke will also increase the impacts of an edible high.

Lastly, psychoactive effects typically last several hours longer after eating edibles than smoking cannabis, which could also amplify your sense of their intensity.

“The real difference between edibles and smoking or vaping is that with edibles, a much larger fraction of Delta-9-THC makes it to the liver first. There it gets converted to 11-hydroxy-THC…if you smoke or vape, the ratio of 11-hydroxy-THC to Delta-9-THC is quite low, and if you take an edible it’s much higher.” —Dr. Nicholas Jikomes, Harvard University PhD & Principal Research Scientist at Leafly

Can You Speed Up the Effects of Edibles?

We get this question a lot at the 710 Pipes headshop and the answer is always the same: not really. Each person’s metabolism is what it is and takes as long as it takes to digest food. There’s no real way to speed that up. Perhaps the only thing that might help a little bit is if you consume your edibles on a very empty stomach.

Is It Possible to Overdose on Edibles?

Because of the more intense high they experience, some people worry they might overdose on edibles. But is that even possible? Typically a single bowl of weed contains about 0.25 grams of THC. To experience a THC overdose you would have to consume something in the neighborhood of 10-15 grams of THC, or about half an ounce of THC.

Symptoms of a THC Overdose

Even if you did manage to consume half an ounce of THC in one sitting, you can take some comfort in knowing that it won’t be fatal. According to the Center for Disease Control, nobody in history has died by overdosing on THC alone.

The symptoms of a THC overdose typically include:

  • Extreme anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Impaired perception of one’s surroundings
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Shaking

How to Reduce the Effects of THC

If you experience one or more of these symptoms simultaneously, there are several steps you can take to reduce the intensity of your symptoms, including the following:

Blonde-haired woman drinking water from clear glass
  • Drinking water – Opt for water or other nonalcoholic beverages. Staying hydrated is essential, especially since cannabis can leave you with a dry mouth.
  • Have a snack – Consuming a light snack can help regulate blood sugar levels and potentially reduce the high.
  • Taking a shower – The warmth of the water and the soothing steam can help to relax your body. Additionally, you can use the time spent in the shower to work through any bothersome or anxious thoughts that may be interfering with your experience.
  • Going for a walk – When your mind won’t quiet down, consider changing your surroundings and stepping outside for some fresh air. The change of scenery can invigorate you. Just be sure to stay within familiar surroundings and bring a friend along—no wandering off while feeling anxious and paranoid!
  • Taking a nice, long nap – To quickly reduce the effects of being ‘high,’ consider sleeping. Whether it’s a short nap or a longer rest, sleep allows time to pass, which in turn helps the THC effects dissipate. However, if someone feels anxious after using cannabis, falling asleep might be challenging. Before attempting to sleep, they can try one or more of the methods mentioned above.

For additional ideas, check out Healthline’s guide on How to Stop Being High

Our Best Advice for Edibles? Start Slow

Edibles can be great fun but there’s no doubt they can also produce a pretty intense buzz. So the best advice we can give if you’re thinking about jumping into the edibles pool is to start slow. Wade into the shallow end and see how it feels. If you like it, try a little more next time and see how that rests with you. There’s no need to jump into the deep end right off the bat. You might wind up having an unpleasant experience that could have been avoided if you’d just taken your time.

The most important thing to remember is that you will be okay. So take a breath, relax, and try some of the things on the above list.

Stop by Our Denver or Northglenn Smoke Shops

The bottom line is that if you feel like your edible high is different from your smoking high it’s not your imagination. It is. If what you’ve been experiencing is too intense you can mitigate the feelings by either mixing less weed into your edibles or eating smaller amounts of edibles.

And if you’re looking to upgrade your cannabis hardware and accessories either peruse the vast selection in our online smoke shop or stop by our brick-and-mortar location just outside of downtown Denver. We’re open seven days a week.

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