Edibles vs Smoking Cannabis – Are Edibles Stronger?

The differences between edibles vs smoking are not well known, but the stories surrounding bad experiences with edibles are. Personal anecdotes criticizing the poor experience borne out of edibles are ubiquitous, forcing many people to abstain from consuming them altogether.

While poorly mixed, homemade cannabis edibles can result in a negative experience, is there any evidence to suggest why edibles seem to deliver a stronger cannabis experience compared to smoking?

Science and a largely unknown cannabis metabolite might just have the answers. 

Edibles vs Smoking – What’s the Difference?

edibles vs smoking guide

Aside from being two completely different consumption methods, the differences between edibles vs smoking actually loom quite large. How our bodies process the cannabinoids to the onset and magnitude of the effects is largely mediated by our consumption methods. 

Absorption of Cannabis

Smoking or vaping cannabis provides the fastest onset time for the effects of cannabis. When cannabis is inhaled as smoke or vapour, the cannabinoids, terpenes, and various other cannabis compounds travel through to our lungs and are absorbed by tiny air sacs known as alveoli

Within the human body, alveoli are responsible for the pulmonary exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide when we’re inhaling, exhaling, or smoking. 

Once they’re filtered through the lungs and the alveoli, cannabis compounds are able to enter directly the body’s bloodstream immediately where they’ll be processed by the body’s endocannabinoid system to supply their effects. 

Edibles, on the other hand, have to travel through the body’s digestive system and be processed by the liver before the effects can be felt. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours or more for the body to process the edible completely.

Creation of Compounds

Regardless of the consumption method, the primary cannabis compounds that the body absorbs will be THC and CBD. However, that doesn’t mean that eating ‘raw’ cannabis flower will induce a psychoactive effect. 

Cannabis flower does not actually contain THC, but THCA. Also known as tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, THCA is the acid form of THC and is a naturally occurring, non-psychoactive compound within cannabis flower. 

The THCA molecule is large, and will not fit into the endocannabinoid system’s receptors to produce a psychoactive effect. Drying, curing, and exposing cannabis flower to heat will transform THCA from its acid form to its more bioavailable THC form by removing a carboxyl ring from the molecule in a process known as decarboxylation

Smoking and vaping are effective forms of cannabis decarboxylation and will deliver a psychoactive effect.

Conversely, the ingestion of THC creates an entirely different compound known as 11-Hydroxy-THC

Once cannabis edibles enter the digestive system, they undergo the first-pass metabolism where enzymes break down the cannabinoids for processing. In the liver, the THC is converted into a metabolite of THC, 11-Hydroxy-THC, in order for the body to digest it. This additional step allows 11-Hydroxy-THC to penetrate the blood-brain barrier more effectively to produce a stronger, more psychoactive effect. 

Dosing and Onset Times

One of the biggest differences between edibles vs smoking is how cannabis should be consumed before the desired effect is felt and how long it takes for the onset of effects.

Smoking and vaping cannabis provide the fastest onset of effects. When cannabis smoke is inhaled through the lungs, the cannabinoids are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and dispersed throughout the body. Users will be able to quickly gauge how large of a dose is sufficient for the desired effect and cease consumption once satisfied.

Cannabis edibles, on the other hand, require much more trial and error. Vast differences in metabolic rates, cannabis tolerance, and endocannabinoid systems between bodies mean that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for dosing.

Additionally, gauging how large of a dose should be consumed in the first place is a challenge in and of itself. The onset of effects for edibles is considerably longer when compared to smoking or vaping cannabis, ranging anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 and a half hours or more. Improper dosing can lead to greening out – an unpleasant side-effect that stems from cannabis overconsumption.

This delay in the onset of effects can lead many first-time or novice edible consumers to inadvertently overdose themselves by consuming another dose before the first one can be felt which can lead to a negative experience. 

Edibles vs Smoking Differences – No Definitive Answers

The differences comparing edible vs smoking may be stark, but they shouldn’t detract away from the fact that everyone’s experience with cannabis will differ in some way or another. While edibles might produce a stronger experience for one person, they might not have the same effect on another. 

So, the answer to “do edibles produce a stronger high than smoking?” is an inconclusive and indefinite one. Everyone reacts differently and definitively concluding that ingestion produces a stronger effect than inhalation or vice-versa is simply incorrect.

Whether you’re inhaling cannabis or ingesting it, it’s always important to start low and go slow, especially when sampling a new product. Responsible consumption will increase the likelihood of your cannabis product delivering a positive experience and helps to keep you and the community safe. 

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