As legal cannabis continues to expand across the country, marijuana edibles have been in the news several times over the years. In 2014, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times chronicled her journey into a self-inflicted marijuana edible overdose, which ultimately prompted a stronger look at the potency of retail cannabis products. And again, in the late summer of 2016, "Pot Dad" created quite a stir as he unsuspectingly ate four, homemade pot brownies, ultimately ending up with his wife calling the paramedics because he was crawling around the floor calling his cat "a bitch."
While these stories are often hilarious when we look at them in hindsight, the truth of the matter is that when they are occurring, the experience can be uncomfortable, if not terrifying for the consumer. The unfortunate side to both stories is knowing they both could've been prevented with a little education and warning about the substance they were consuming.
Edibles vs Smoking: A Little Education Goes a Long Way
Eating cannabis produces a very different effect than smoking it. The first step in preventing these uncomfortable, and often embarrassing situations, is to understand the differences between edibles vs smoking by identifying what's going on inside the body when we introduce cannabis in these various forms.
Whether smoking or vaping, when we inhale cannabinoids, most of the compound bypasses the process of metabolism and goes directly into the bloodstream, then to the central nervous system as a molecule we know as Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. This process happens quickly, and the consumer typically starts feeling the cerebral effects of THC within 10 to 15 minutes of inhalation. The duration of the effects depends on the consumer's body chemistry, but typically, smoking effects peak shortly after onset and last for an hour or two.
Naturally, there are a few drawbacks. Smoking anything is clearly not a very healthy way to consume a substance. Inhaling smoke means inhaling hot air and tiny particles of burning embers from the dried plant material. Fortunately, by using a weed vape pen consumers can eliminate this concern. Beware of vape cartridges using cannabis oil, many contain questionable additives like PG and PEG to thin the oil enough to work in the cartridge.
An incredible marvel of biology happens when we eat cannabis. When THC goes through the digestive system, enzymes from our liver go to work to break down or metabolize the compound. The enzymes, called CYP enzymes, actually change the Delta-9-THC molecule through this process of metabolization. The metabolite created is referred to as 11-Hydroxy-Tetrahydrocannabinol.
Ironically, although 11-OH-THC is considered a metabolite, it is more potent than its predecessor, THC. While the actual increase is widely debated, it is suspected 11-OH-THC crosses the blood-brain barrier more quickly and efficiently to create an enhanced effect. However, the biggest problem with this process is the much longer time to onset. Depending on the consumer's own metabolic differences, cannabis edibles can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours for effects to start and can last up to 4-6 hours or longer.
Additionally, because THC is fat-soluble, what the consumer eats before or after consuming an edible can make a difference as well. Adding fat calories will increase the bio-availability of the THC and ultimately help increase the potency.
Where the Problem Lies
Most new cannabis consumers simply aren't educated about the difference in edibles vs smoking. While many may have smoked cannabis in their college days, they underestimate the incredible potency of digesting cannabis, and they aren't aware of the aforementioned delay, so here's what happens:
The consumer eats one 10mg edible, expecting it to kick in like a beer. After 20 minutes, they start to wonder, "Is this ever going to kick in?" After a half an hour, they think, "Hmmm, this must have been a dud, or maybe I just have a higher tolerance?" Thinking the effects should be noticeable sooner, they make a critical error... they eat two more pieces. "Since one didn't get the job done, I'll try two this time."
By this point, the consumer has three times the recommended serving size in their stomach and there's no way to take it back. They are simply buckled in for the ride.
Now, as the consumer starts to get too high, this is when the "alcohol mentality" kicks in. Just as we've been taught for years, when we've consumed too much alcohol, we need to eat something. So, the very high, and very hungry, consumer orders a pizza – a greasy, fat-calorie-loaded pizza, which only contributes to increasing the effects of THC.
This, my friends, is when the emergency room visits happen.
The easiest way to avoid this type of experience with cannabis edibles is to keep your doses low and know it can take time for the effects to kick in. Remember, you can always take more, but you cannot take less. If you take one serving and don't feel anything, try adding a slice of pizza before taking another dose – the fat calories may do the trick without going overboard.
Drink lots of water and find a quiet place to relax if you've consumed too many edibles. Remember, you're not broken and you're not dying – the effects will wear off, it will just take a little time. Knowing the differences between marijuana edibles vs. smoking marijuana not only helps avoid certain disaster for many consumers, it helps keep the emergency rooms free of unnecessary cannabis overconsumption cases.