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How Does Taking Edibles Differ from Smoking Marijuana?

Even though Canada has already legalized recreational marijuana, and there’s no legal issue with baking your own edibles at home, commercially sold edibles are still illegal. However, this will change before much longer – Health Canada has stated that edibles will be able to be sold legally no later than October 17th, 2019. Edibles and bowls of bud share the same psychoactive compounds, but smoking and edibles can be somewhat different experiences. In fact, Global News has gone so far as to write that edibles are “a totally different drug.”

Edibles have a stronger effect than smoked or vaped marijuana does, particularly when it comes to the physical aspect. The effects also last much longer. When marijuana is smoked, the effects are felt almost immediately, and taper off over the next two or three hours. Edibles kick in thirty minutes to two hours after you eat them, and can last for around six hours.

With this in mind, it’s important to treat edibles with a bit more care than you would a joint. There’s a reason why nearly every time someone has too much weed and calls the police, they’ve been taking edibles and not just smoking. Often, the issue is that someone underestimates the edibles from the beginning. Other times, they commit the (somewhat common) rookie mistake of taking edibles, deciding they don’t feel anything after an hour, taking more, and then spending the next few hours in a state of discomfort and confusion. However, if you use edibles safely, it’s easy to avoid outcomes like that. Start with small doses, and always wait for the edibles you’ve already taken to kick in before you take more.

What Makes the Difference?

If edibles and bud contain the same cannabinoids – THC, CBD, and others – what exactly is responsible for the huge difference in effect? One might assume that more THC gets absorbed through the GI tract than through the lungs, but actually the opposite is true. The body absorbs and metabolizes cannabinoids most efficiently through the lungs. The real difference is in where the THC and other cannabinoids get absorbed, and how they are processed by the body.

If you eat an edible, a larger portion of the THC will make it to your liver before it gets metabolized. In the liver, the THC (or Delta-9-THC, to be more precise) is converted into 11-hydroxy-THC. This compound is distinct from THC, which mean that it’s quite literally a different drug. This is likely the primary reason why edibles and smoking feel so different. Compared to basic THC, 11-hydroxy-THC is a fair bit stronger, at least according to one small study. In addition to the difference in raw “power,” though, 11-hydroxy-THC absorbs differently as well. THC is oil-soluble, but blood is mostly water, so THC doesn’t absorb into the bloodstream well. That’s why it takes effect so quickly when smoked – instead of going into the bloodstream, inhaled cannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors as quickly as possible. Usually, this occurs within seconds.

If you take an edible instead, the chemical breakdown of THC and other cannabinoids begins with the enzymes in your saliva. When they reach your stomach and liver, the THC is converted into 11-hydroxy-THC. This compound is water-soluble. Considering that the human body is 70% water, this means that the new 11-hydroxy-THC will be absorbed much more completely. It diffuses easily across the blood-brain barrier and can travel to cannabinoid receptors all throughout the body.

Some people debate whether smoking or eating edibles is better, but the answer is neither. They’re just different – and now you know why. You may find that whether you prefer flower or edibles depends a lot on the time and place. If you need to be sober in four hours, it’s probably a bad time for an edible. But for a lazy Sunday afternoon, or (shhh!) a sneaky pick-me-up at a family gathering, 5-10mg might be just right. Just remember to be safe while you enjoy!

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