The Science of Digestion: Why Edibles Offer a Different High Compared to Smoking

Key Takeaways –

  • Edibles and inhaled cannabis offer distinct experiences, with edibles often producing a delayed but longer-lasting effect.
  • The body metabolizes THC differently when consumed through edibles, leading to a more potent form, 11-hydroxy-THC, which results in stronger cerebral effects.
  • Utilizing nanotechnology, these edibles enhance cannabis compound bioavailability, ensuring faster absorption and a quicker onset of effects.
  • Especially for beginners, starting with a low dose is crucial to gauge individual response and minimize potential adverse effects.

In recent years, the cannabis industry has witnessed a surge in the popularity of edibles. This shift in consumption patterns has sparked a growing interest in understanding the physiological effects produced by edibles as opposed to inhaled cannabis.

The crux of this differentiation lies in the intricate science of digestion and the body’s distinct processing of THC, the primary psychoactive compound. When cannabis is inhaled, it induces a rapid and potent high, often surpassing the effects of edibles in intensity.

This article delves into how the human body interacts with cannabis when consumed in edible form versus when it is smoked, shedding light on the pronounced differences in onset, duration, and intensity of effects.

The Science of Digestion: Why Edibles Offer a Different High Compared to Smoking

The Basics of Cannabis Consumption

The consumption of cannabis has evolved over the years, with advancements in technology and a deeper understanding of the plant’s properties leading to a diversification in intake methods. Let’s begin by looking at the two most common forms of consumption:

Different Forms of Cannabis

  • Smoking or Vaping: Traditional and widely recognized, smoking involves burning the cannabis plant to release its active compounds. Vaping, a more contemporary method, heats cannabis to a point where its beneficial compounds are released without combustion, often perceived as a less harmful alternative to smoking.
  • Edibles: A burgeoning segment in the cannabis market, edibles refer to food and beverages infused with cannabis extracts. They offer a discrete method of consumption and are favored by those who prefer to avoid the respiratory effects of smoking or vaping.

Active Ingredients in Edibles

The efficacy and experience of consuming edibles are largely influenced by their active ingredients. These ingredients determine the effects a consumer might experience, from euphoria to relaxation.

  • THC-dominant edibles: These edibles primarily contain Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. Consumption can lead to a pronounced “high” or euphoric feeling.
  • CBD-dominant edibles: Predominantly containing Cannabidiol (CBD), these edibles do not produce the “high” commonly associated with THC. Instead, they are often consumed for potential therapeutic benefits, such as pain relief or anxiety reduction.
  • Balanced THC and CBD edibles: These edibles offer a harmonious blend of THC and CBD, aiming to deliver a well-rounded experience by harnessing the unique benefits of both compounds.
  • Other minor cannabinoids: Beyond THC and CBD, the cannabis plant boasts a plethora of other cannabinoids like CBG (Cannabigerol), CBN (Cannabinol), and THCV (Tetrahydrocannabivarin). While research is still in its nascent stages, these compounds are believed to offer a range of benefits and play a crucial role in what is often referred to as the “entourage effect.”

The Effects of Edibles vs. Inhaled Cannabis

The Science of Digestion: Why Edibles Offer a Different High Compared to Smoking

The cannabis landscape is vast and varied, with each consumption method offering a unique experience (or “high”).

As the industry evolves, it’s crucial for consumers and healthcare professionals alike to understand the distinct effects and physiological processes associated with different intake methods.

Duration and Onset of Effects

  • Inhaled Cannabis: When cannabis is smoked or vaped, its active compounds are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs. This results in almost immediate effects, typically lasting between 2 to 3 hours. The swift onset and relatively short duration make it a preferred method for those seeking quick relief or a brief recreational experience.
  • Edibles: Consuming cannabis in edible form introduces a different dynamic. The onset of effects is NOTABLY DELAYED, usually manifesting between 1 to 2 hours after consumption. This is due to the body’s digestive process. Once the effects commence, they tend to be more prolonged, often lasting between 6 to 12 hours. This extended duration can be attributed to the gradual absorption of cannabis compounds during digestion.

How the Body Processes Cannabis

  • Inhalation: When cannabis is inhaled, its compounds are swiftly absorbed by the lung tissue, entering the bloodstream almost IMMEDIATELY. This direct route is responsible for the rapid onset of effects associated with smoking or vaping.
  • Digestion: The process is more intricate with edibles. Once consumed, the cannabis compounds undergo a journey through the stomach, intestines, and finally, the liver. In the liver, THC is converted to a more potent form, 11-hydroxy-THC, which contributes to the pronounced and EXTENDED EFFECTS of edibles. This digestive route explains the delayed onset and prolonged duration of effects when compared to inhalation.

THC Component in Edibles

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Its effects, both in intensity and duration, vary significantly based on the method of consumption.

Edibles, in particular, present a UNIQUE INTERACTION with THC, leading to distinct experiences compared to inhalation.

THC Processing in the Body

  • Difference in THC Processing: When cannabis is inhaled, THC is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, producing immediate effects. In contrast, when consumed through edibles, THC undergoes a more complex metabolic process. It first travels through the digestive system and is then metabolized by the liver, where it’s converted into 11-hydroxy-THC, a compound more potent than its original form.
  • Stronger Brain Effects When Consumed: Due to the conversion of THC to 11-hydroxy-THC in the liver, edibles often produce more intense cerebral effects. This compound is particularly effective in crossing the blood-brain barrier, leading to a more pronounced and extended psychoactive experience compared to inhaled cannabis.

Recommended THC Dosing

Given the potent effects of edibles, it’s prudent to commence with a modest dose, especially for those unfamiliar with this consumption method. A lower dose allows individuals to gauge their tolerance and response, minimizing the risk of overconsumption.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that everyone is unique in their tolerance and response to cannabis. It’s recommended to start with a conservative dose before slowly increasing incrementally.

The Science of Digestion: Why Edibles Offer a Different High Compared to Smoking

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Nano-Formulated Edibles?

Nano-formulated edibles are a cutting-edge innovation in the cannabis industry that utilizes nanotechnology to enhance the bioavailability of cannabis compounds.

By breaking down the cannabis molecules into nano-sized particles, these edibles allow faster and more efficient absorption into the bloodstream.

What Is the Specific Recommended Dose for Beginners?

For individuals new to cannabis edibles, it’s advisable to start with a low dose to gauge their body’s response. A typical recommended starting dose for beginners is 2.5 to 5 milligrams of THC.


Understanding the nuances of cannabis consumption, from the varied effects of edibles versus inhaled methods to the intricacies of THC processing, is paramount for both novice and seasoned users.

Whether you’re exploring the therapeutic potential of CBD-dominant edibles or seeking the recreational effects of THC, starting with a modest dose and being patient with the process will ensure a positive and beneficial experience. Another crucial tip is to strictly obtain cannabis products from licensed dispensaries such as Mission Organic in San Francisco.

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