Thursday March 18, 2021

By Paul Barach

Health/Science

Edibles are arguably the most popular cannabis product on the market. New and experienced cannabis consumers have an ever-increasing amount of varieties, flavors, and styles to choose from on their local dispensary’s shelves.

One reason for edible’s meteoric rise from “fun treats to have at a party” to “dispensary top seller” is their ease of use. For anyone curious about trying cannabis for the first time, chewing up a gummy is a much more natural entry point than trying to inhale burning plant matter or hot vapor. 

A second reason is that edibles are considered a “safer” option by most people worried about their health. Inhaling THC in any form is better than inhaling nicotine, but it’s still introducing foreign substances onto delicate lung tissue and can possibly cause respiratory irritation. That’s why most doctors recommending cannabis for their patient’s treatment will strongly advise ingesting cannabis rather than inhaling it, if at all possible. 

But is that common wisdom correct? Are edibles really the safest option when it comes to cannabis consumption? Are there any drawbacks over inhaling THC? 

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How Are Edibles Different Than Inhaled Cannabis?

Nearly every cannabis consumer has eaten “that” edible (or edibles), which means spending the next couple hours getting through “that” experience. Ingested cannabis products just hit different, which is one of their selling points for many consumers. Edibles last longer, provide more of a full-body experience, and in some ways, they’re more potent psychedelically than smoking. The reason edibles may seem different is that you are actually experiencing a different form of THC. 

When inhaled, THC (Delta-9 THC) is absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the lung tissue, where it catches a ride with oxygen on the Red Blood Cell Express to the brain’s CB1 receptors. The effects of inhaled cannabis come on within minutes, which makes it a lot easier to figure out the strength of what you’re smoking. Still, sometimes it can be too much. You may take a large hit off what turns out to be a highly potent strain or a deeper rip off a dab than you anticipated.

The good news is, even if you end up too high, inhaled cannabis is a short rollercoaster. You’ll be off the ride somewhere between 1-2 hours.

Ingested in an edible, THC takes a longer route, taking the slower metaphorical train through the small intestine into the liver, where it’s broken down before entering the bloodstream, finally entering the brain.

A man smoking a joint
Inhaling cannabis and ingesting cannabis create two different highs because they come from completely different forms of THC.

Inside the liver, that THC molecule gets broken down into smaller molecules of 11-hydroxy-THC. These smaller molecules have a longer half-life and are far more potent than Delta-9 THC. This creates a longer-lasting and more psychedelic experience once they reach the brain’s cannabinoid receptors. Until you’re in the middle of that experience, you really have no idea what’s coming. Usually, it’s what you expected. However, with any homemade edible or new brand from the dispensary, you may be on a much longer rollercoaster ride than you thought. 

Issues with Consistent Dosage

As many consumers have found with edibles, their potency can vary widely. With homemade edibles, figuring out your oil’s potency, and how much to use can be tricky. Even using pre-made, store-bought infusions can backfire if the batter hasn’t been sufficiently mixed. You can end up with one cookie that does nothing, or that one brownie that does WAY too much. Store-bought edibles can be equally inconsistent. The quality of infused oil used will vary from brand to brand. 

One brand of 10mg gummy can be great for vibing through a party. Try that same amount from another brand and you might end up in the corner chair at the party, zoned out for the night.

What food you ate along with the edible, how much food you ate beforehand, your personal biochemistry, and other factors can also affect the strength. When inhaling, all this wouldn’t be an issue, but with edibles, once you’re in, you’re in. 

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Are Edibles Dangerous?

For most people, the greatest danger you can face with edibles is preceded by the classic thought, “This one isn’t working, I’ll eat another.” This thought is usually followed less than an hour later by that other classic thought: “Uh oh.” 

So far there has been no recorded case of a fatal cannabis overdose. However, consuming too many edibles in one sitting sure can feel like one. The effects of overconsuming cannabis range in a wide spectrum from uncomfortable to awful. On the worse end, they can lead to paralyzing anxiety, vomiting, and in some cases hospitalization for the extreme psychoactive effects.

Man with his head in his hands
While consuming too many edibles can be a terrifying experience, you can not overdose from THC. photo credit

If you ever find yourself swimming in the deep-end of an edible experience, try to find a warm, safe place and remind yourself that whatever you’re going through is only temporary. Once the THC has fully processed through your system, the only long-term effect is either a funny story, a cautionary tale, or a soul-deep reminder to wait an hour for your edibles to kick in, and then maybe another half hour.

This is not to say that edibles don’t pose greater dangers for certain people. Cannabis is a drug, and like all drugs (prescription and non-prescription), there can be side effects. 

Choclate bar edibles
In order to avoid a negative experience with edibles be sure to start low and slow.

A growing number of anecdotal cases and some research studies are starting to show that consuming cannabis in any form may trigger underlying psychotic issues, especially in people under the age of 25. The anxiety and psychedelic effects caused by overconsuming edibles may worsen these cases more than inhaled cannabis. If there is any genetic history of schizophrenia, marijuana should be avoided as a precautionary step. 

There are also some anecdotal accounts of people with balance or mobility issues such as the elderly falling due to overconsuming edibles. Edibles are known to make people dizzier and less coordinated than inhaled cannabis due to their full-body effect. While the dangers of this are no greater than consuming alcohol, one should always start slow with edibles the first couple of times in order to gauge your body’s reaction.  

The Wrap Up

Cannabis legalization, and the resulting explosion of new cannabis products, is still very new. It’s hard to know the long-term effects of anything but smoking cannabis flower, which can lead to moderate but non-lethal issues like chronic bronchitis (though we are once again reminding you that we are not doctors, and these are not medical claims). The effects of inhaling concentrates are less known, but there have already been health issues caused by inhaling vapes with inferior oil, and dabbing at high temperatures can create carcinogenic compounds. This isn’t to say that there will or won’t be debilitating long-term health effects, but always keep in mind that lung tissue is delicate. 

That is why edibles are one of the safest types of cannabis products to consume. Besides the risk in certain cases of mental disorders or mobility issues, taking a moderate amount of edibles will generally lead to your desired cannabis experience. Just be aware that overconsumption is possible, and can be uncomfortable.


Do you find edibles any more or less risky than other cannabis preparations? Put your two cents in the comments!


Paul Barach Paul Barach

Paul Barach is a Seattle-based freelance writer, editor, and author with experience creating well-researched, edited web articles covering cannabis news, culture, history and science. Paul is a regular contributor to PotGuide and has also contributed to publications such as Medium.com, SlabMechanix, Litro, and The Trek. He prefers to spend his free time outdoors and most recently hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. So far he has only fallen into the La Brea Tarpits once. You can follow him on Instagram @BarachOutdoors and stay up to date professionally through his LinkedIn page.



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