Because marijuana contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), there are health risks associated with using marijuana regardless of the how it is used. Some of these negative effects include having difficulty thinking and problem-solving, having problems with memory, learning and maintaining attention and demonstrating impaired coordination. Additionally, frequent use can lead to becoming addicted to marijuana. However, some risks may differ by the way it is used.
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.
Smoke from marijuana contains many of the same toxins, irritants, and carcinogens as tobacco smoke. Smoking marijuana can lead to a greater risk of bronchitis, cough, and phlegm production. Whereas, edibles, which take longer to digest, take longer to produce an effect. Therefore, people may consume more to feel the effects faster. This may lead to people consuming very high doses and result in negative effects like anxiety, paranoia and, in rare cases, an extreme psychotic reaction (e.g. delusions, hallucinations, talking incoherently, and agitation).
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.