Consumer's Choice: How Smoking or Eating Cannabis Affects Your High

Prior to legalization of cannabis, there weren’t many consuming options. Your dealer sold you a baggie full of buds, which you could smoke or, with a bit of work, add to baked goods and eat. 

Legalization is serving up an ever-expanding menu of cannabis edibles. There are gummies and chews, chocolate bars and cookies, teas and drink mix powders.

Each method has differing effects. Smoking weed gets you an immediate but shorter lived high. Ingesting cannabis takes more time, but the effects can be stronger and last much longer

Cannabis Consumption Through the Ages

The use of cannabis is probably as old as human history. Hemp is one of the earliest plants to be cultivated, and the first hash pipes were found in Egyptian tombs circa 2000 B.C. (Learn more about pipe history in our blog post Women Who Smoke Pipes: A Tribute.)

Ingesting cannabis also has a long history. Marijuana was used as medicine in ancient China and India, and was introduced to Western medicine in the early 19th century. Edible applications, such as tinctures, were prescribed to treat various conditions, from chronic pain to digestive disorders.

The drawing of a Cannabis Sativa plant, below, is from Vienna Dioscurides, an early Byzantine Greek illuminated manuscript, circa AD 512.

The drawing of a Cannabis Sativa plant from Vienna Dioscurides,  an early Byzantine Greek illuminated manuscript,circa AD 512.

Different Tokes for Different Folks

When you smoke cannabis, you feel the effects almost immediately. Cannabis smoke delivers THC, the chemical that gets you high, into your lungs where it passes directly into your bloodstream and then your brain. Once the THC hits the brain, it binds to receptors in the endocannabinoid system, most notably the CB1 receptors, which produce the euphoria typically associated with getting high. If you are interested in how the brain processes THC and its mild-mannered cousin CBD, check out our blog post THC vs. CBD: The Basics.

Edible cannabis needs 30 minutes to two hours or more to take effect. That’s because when you ingest weed, it  travels first to your stomach, then to your liver. Cannabis' active compounds are 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. From your liver it travels to your bloodstream and brain. 

Many factors can affect your cannabis experience, including quality, dosage and potency. But generally, a high from smoking weed lasts one to two hours, while an edible high can last four to six hours or more. You’ll feel the peak effects from smoking in about 30 minutes, while it may take hours after ingesting cannabis to feel the peak effects.

Due to the lag time, it’s easy to over-consume edibles. Smoking’s almost immediate effects make it easy to gauge how high you are getting. Since it can take hours for an edible high to take effect, it’s tempting to think it isn’t working and eat some more.

The meme below shows why it’s best to wait for your edible to take effect.

Meme shows why it’s best to wait for your edible to take effect.

DIY Edibles

If you want to bake a cannabis cake or brew some THC tea, then your weed has to go through a process known as decarboxylation to become activated. This basically means heating the cannabis at a lower temperature over time.

Eating raw weed will not result in the same high as consuming decarboxylated, edible products like candies, tinctures, and baked goods. However, some experts believe the wide array of plant compounds in raw marijuana may offer some health benefits. That would not be surprising, as medical marijuana research continues to find new and exciting therapeutic benefits for the humble plant,

Deciding on a cannabis consumption method really depends on your preferences, and the type of experience you are looking for. The infographic below gives a quick overview of the different effects.

Infographic on smoking vs. eating cannabis
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