Curious about edibles vs. smoking when it comes to marijuana consumption? That’s no surprise. Smoking is pretty well known, but edibles are still a mystery to a lot of people. That’s why the experts at Honest Marijuana have created this definitive guide for edibles vs. smoking. We’ll talk about things like:
- The chemistry of THC (we’ll keep it simple, we promise).
- The importance of decarboxylation.
- Dosing differences between edibles and smoking.
- The best approach to edibles.
We’ll also show you the benefits of edibles vs. smoking and help you decide which one is right for you. Let’s get started.
The Chemistry Of THC
At one point during your education—be it high school or college—you probably asked yourself this question: “When am I ever going to use this information in my daily life?” Well, today’s the day, my friend. We’re going to dust off that part of your brain where all the chemistry (and a bit of biology) information is stored. Don’t worry if you forgot it all long ago; we’ll keep it simple.
Let’s start with one fact that should be fairly familiar to even someone who’s completely new to the cannabis scene: marijuana contains THC. THC—full name delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol—is a cannabinoid that interacts with neurotransmitters in the brain to, among other things, get you high. The interesting thing about THC is that your body processes it differently when it’s consumed as edibles vs. smoking. Here’s how.
When you smoke marijuana, the THC travels through your lungs, into your bloodstream, and then to your brain. For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to the THC as delta9-THC (you’ll see why in the next section). The delta9-THC is filtered by your lungs to some extent, but still, 50 to 60 percent of the cannabinoid crosses the blood-brain barrier to make you high.
That whole process, from start to finish, can be felt almost immediately. With an average joint, peak concentrations of delta9-THC (the highest you’re going to get) come anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes after your first inhalation. After that, the effects start to trail off over the next one to two hours. Got all that? Good. Just in case you’re still scratching your head, here are the important points to remember:
- Smoking introduces delta9-THC into your body.
- The effects of the delta9-THC can be felt almost immediately (at the most, within a few minutes).
- The peak of the high usually occurs around 15 minutes after inhalation and can be gone an hour later.
When you ingest marijuana in an edible, the delta9-THC travels through your stomach and then to your liver (yes, this is an overly-simplistic explanation, but do you really need to know every single stage of digestion?). In your liver, the delta9-THC is metabolized (chemistry speak for “transformed”) into 11-hydroxy-THC. It’s this chemical that’s the key to understanding the difference between edibles vs. smoking.
11-hydroxy-THC has a much more psychedelic effect than delta9-THC. That difference in effect explains why there’s such a contrast between the way you feel after smoking marijuana and the way you feel after ingesting marijuana. And if you’ve only ever smoked marijuana or only ever ingested marijuana, trust us, there’s a big difference between the two highs.
Another variable that separates edibles from smoking is timing. Remember that you’ll feel the effects of smoking almost immediately and that those effects will dissipate shortly thereafter. With edibles, the timing is stretched out because the THC has to travel through your digestive system and then through your circulatory system to your brain. That means that you may have to wait anywhere from 60 to 120 minutes to feel the effects. But once they hit, the effects can last from 6 to 10 hours.
Edibles sound great, don’t they? More intense high, long-lasting effects. Makes you want to run out and bake some brownies right now. But before you go dumping a bag of weed into your brownie mix, there’s another bit of chemistry that you need to understand.
The Importance Of Decarboxylation
Raw weed, like you buy at your local dispensary, is non-psychoactive because the human digestive system can’t process the marijuana plant-matter in a way that delivers the THC to your bloodstream. That plant-matter needs to be decarboxylated (chemistry speak for “baked”) before it can do any good.
When you smoke marijuana, decarboxylation occurs when the plant-matter is burned. But to incorporate that same marijuana into your favorite recipe, you need to apply heat without destroying the cannabis. That’s where your oven comes in. Here’s a simple process for decarboxylating your weed.
- Preheat oven to 240 degrees Fahrenheit or 115 degrees Celsius. Keep in mind that the boiling point for THC is 314 degrees Fahrenheit and that using temperatures that high can ruin your bud. Oven temperatures can vary quite a bit, so if you have access to an oven thermometer, use it to find the true inside temperature.
- Break, tear, or grind the weed into small pieces, making sure not to overlap on the pan.
- Cook for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.
- Remove pan from oven and allow to cool.
- Place toasted weed in a food processor and grind until coarse.
After that, you’re free to add a dash of cannabis to your favorite recipes.
Edibles vs. Smoking: Dosing Differences
As you learned above (or have experienced for yourself), when you smoke cannabis, the effects are almost instantaneous and can reach their peak in a matter of minutes. This immediate feedback gives you more control over the dosage, the high, and the overall experience. If you don’t feel enough, you can take another hit or two. If you feel too much, you can stop and let the effects pass. That makes figuring out the right dosage a much easier task.
Edibles, on the other hand, can be almost impossible to figure out. It all goes back to how the THC gets into your system. Metabolism and digestion are unique to each individual—some are fast, some are slow, and some are in between. There’s nothing wrong with any of those, it just means that you may process the THC at a different rate than your friend. She may feel the effects after an hour, while it may take you two hours to experience the high. It’s this delay between individuals, and the relatively long onset of effects, that causes the problem.
Those consuming marijuana in edibles may get impatient and think that ingesting more will speed things up. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works and is only a recipe for a bad trip. When the high does finally occur, it can be overwhelming and can turn people off from edibles forever. And that’s a shame because edibles done right can be an effective way to get the THC or CBD that you need.
The Best Approach To Edibles
The best approach to edibles is to start small and take it slow. If you need a number, we recommend 0.001 grams (or 1 milligram) as the starting point for your experiments. If you don’t feel any effects at 0.001 grams on Wednesday, try again on Thursday at 0.002 grams.
Don’t increase your dosage amount too quickly or you could go from feeling nothing (or little) to feeling too much. Remember: it’s the trip, not the destination. Enjoy the ride (the process of experimentation) instead of rushing headlong into an unenjoyable high.
The Benefits Of Edibles vs. Smoking
Both edibles and smoking have their own unique benefits. We can’t list them all, but here are a few of each.
- Discreet—No one has to know that the oil you drizzle on your salad at lunch is going to have you high as a kite a few hours later.
- Healthy—Consuming your cannabis in edible form is healthier than inhaling smoke into your lungs.
- Long-lasting—The effects of an edible cannabis snack can last you all day.
- No equipment necessary—Once you’ve whipped up your favorite cannabis treat, there’s no need for other equipment, like bongs, dab rigs, or lighters.
- Fun—Smoking marijuana can be an event in itself, even without the associated high.
- Social—There’s nothing quite like gathering a bunch of friends and passing around a doobie.
- Fast—If you’ve only got a couple of hours and then it’s back to work, smoking is the go-to choice. The effects wear off completely in just a few hours.
Edibles vs. Smoking: Which One Is Right For You?
The debate about edibles vs. smoking is a very personal one. Each individual is going to have their own opinion. The bottom line is that there’s no way to know which one you prefer without trying them both.
If you’ve done nothing but smoke marijuana, it’s probably time to give edibles a try. Similarly, if you’ve only experienced an edible high, why not try smoking, or dabbing, or vaping to see if you like it? If you don’t, you can always go back to edibles.