Cannabis enthusiasts have long noticed that consuming edibles tends to produce much more potent, longer-lasting effects than inhaling flowers. But why is that exactly? What makes edibles seemingly stronger despite having the same active ingredients?
Understanding the science and metabolism behind this phenomenon explains why edibles feel so different. Let’s explore how ingesting cannabis differs from inhalation and why edibles deliver such a mighty punch.
It’s all about bioavailability
The key factor is something called bioavailability – the percentage of a compound that reaches systemic circulation and has an active effect. When you smoke or vape flower, the bioavailability of THC and other cannabinoids ranges from 20-30%. This means you only fully absorb and utilize a fraction of the cannabis compounds.
However, when ingesting edibles, the bioavailability jumps dramatically to around 30-35%. Eating cannabis allows more of the active ingredients to take effect. Your digestive system also metabolizes THC into a more potent variant called 11-hydroxy-THC, which crosses the blood-brain barrier more readily.
Edibles undergo extensive metabolism
When you consume cannabis edibles, the process is far different than when smoking or vaping. Rather than rapidly absorbing compounds through your lungs, edibles must pass through your digestive system. The compounds undergo extensive metabolism by the liver before reaching the bloodstream and brain.
This metabolism converts THC into 11-hydroxy-THC, which produces more powerful cerebral effects. 11-hydroxy-THC also has a longer half-life, meaning the high lasts much longer. Consuming edibles is like getting a “time-release” THC capsule that continuously tops up your system.
Smoking flowers causes THC to rapidly reach the brain unchanged. The effects come on abruptly but also diminish quickly due to the shorter half-life. With edibles, THC slowly builds up in your system for a lengthy, intense experience. Understanding this metabolism process explains why edibles deliver such a long-lasting punch!
Dosing differences between inhalation vs ingestion
Due to the metabolic effects of edibles, proper dosing can be tricky. When smoking, you can carefully titrate and control how much you inhale until the desired effects are reached. But with edibles, you take an entire dose all at once.
A moderate hit from a joint may contain 5-10mg of THC. Compare that to a single edible containing 100mg THC or more – a huge dose! It takes about 30-90 minutes to feel edible effects as the compounds metabolize through your system. Impatient users often make the mistake of consuming more prematurely, leading to accidental overdose.
Start low with edible doses of 10mg or less until you understand how your body responds. The delayed onset can easily lead to taking too much too fast. Respect the more powerful nature of edibles due to the extensive metabolism of compounds. Be patient, and dose carefully!
Ingestion avoids rapid blood level spikes
When you smoke cannabis, THC rapidly diffuses into the bloodstream and rushes to the brain. Blood levels spike almost immediately, then quickly taper off. With oral consumption, the digestion process creates a prolonged plateau of moderately elevated blood THC levels that persist for hours.
This avoids intense spikes in concentration but still saturates the body and brain thoroughly. The consistent blood levels explain the deeply sedating, long-lasting body high edibles produce compared to short-lived inhalation.
Think of ingestion as a THC IV drip that slowly but surely marinates your system in cannabis compounds. Inhaled methods provide quicker yet fleeting effects. Understanding the pharmacokinetics illustrates why edibles feel so distinct from smoking flowers.
Additional chemical factors at play
Along with bioavailability and metabolism, a few other chemical reasons contribute to edibles’ increased potency. Eaten cannabis gets decarboxylated when cooking or baking, converting inert THCA into psychoactive THC. This boosts the levels of active compounds compared to raw flowers.
Your liver also converts some THC into a third variant called 11-nor-9-carboxy-THC. This metabolite produces no cognitive effects but is thought to greatly amplify bodily sedation and pain relief. This adds to the “couch lock” sensation edibles can cause.
Lastly, ingesting cannabis with fatty foods can increase absorption and bioavailability even further. The lipophilic (fat-soluble) cannabinoids bind with fats which increases circulation efficiency. So don’t take edibles on an empty stomach!
Start low and slow with edibles
These metabolic and pharmacological factors make properly dosing edibles crucial. Understand that 10mg consumed does not equal 10mg inhaled – edibles provide more bang for your buck! Apply the “start low, go slow” rule when experimenting with edibles.
Give your body ample time to metabolize and gauge effects before considering taking more. New users should start with no more than 5mg THC or CBD and work upwards slowly as needed. It’s better to take too little than have an unpleasant overdose experience.
Respect the delayed onset and high bioavailability of edibles. With experience and patience, you can learn to appreciate the prolonged effects and sedative qualities that make edibles uniquely blissful. Just remember that you can always eat more, but you can’t uneat!
Techniques for smoother edible experiences
Once you understand the metabolic process behind edibles’ intensity, you can use that knowledge to engineer a more controlled experience:
- Use smaller doses spread over time rather than one huge dose to gently ease into the effects rather than get overwhelmed.
- Consume edibles early in the day or several hours before bed so you aren’t stuck awake all night as the effects wear off.
- Opt for low-dose mints, gummies or drinks that contain only 2-5mg THC to titrate your dosage carefully.
- Open capsules and split gummies to microdose edibles at subthreshold levels.
- Pair edibles with CBD, which can help balance out intensity and anxiety.
- Avoid edibles high in sugar, as this can exacerbate undesirable effects.
Armed with the right dosing techniques and expectations, edibles can provide a uniquely blissful and prolonged cannabis experience. Just respect their enhanced bioavailability and potency compared to smoking flowers.
The future of edibles
The cannabis industry continues to refine edible technology, improving dosing precision and bioavailability.
Here are some interesting developments on the horizon:
- Emulsified oil-based edibles that promote faster absorption with reliably timed onset and offset effects.
- Nanotechnology like nanoparticles and liposomes protects compounds from degradation and enhances delivery to the brain.
- Products combining THC, CBD, and terpenes to improve the entourage effect and therapeutic benefits.
- Low-temperature baking and extraction techniques that preserve more terpenes and delicate compounds often destroyed by heat.
- Timed-release pills that stagger dosage delivery over 6-12 hours, providing long-lasting relief without a sudden huge dose.
- Water-compatible edibles and sublingual absorption methods that bypass the gut and liver for faster onset of effects.
As cannabis science keeps progressing, expect edibles to become even more advanced. The future is bright when it comes to honing these novel consumption methods!
Edibles offer a unique experience
When consumed properly, cannabis edibles can provide long-lasting therapeutic effects and intense euphoria unattainable by smoking flowers alone. The next time you indulge, appreciate the science and metabolism powering that monumental high.
Understanding how edibles work inside your body is key to navigating their dramatic effects. So enjoy an edible interlude, just take it low and slow! With patience and smart dosing techniques, edibles offer one of the most pleasurable and beneficial ways to consume cannabis.