As the laws surrounding marijuana change, so are the ways that people choose to take it. One rising trend is the use of edibles as an alternative to the traditional method of smoking cannabis – one study from 2016 found that in states with medical marijuana laws, cannabis users were significantly more likely to use edibles than other forms of cannabis.
Despite their popularity, it’s important to know how edibles work before taking them. Marijuana edibles can have widely varying effects on the body depending on the dosage you take and your individual body chemistry. There are benefits, but there are also risks – so it’s important to understand these before beginning to use edibles.
This guide will cover everything you need to know about edibles – what’s in them, how they work compared to other forms of cannabis, their effects, and how long it takes for them to begin working.
THC vs CBD Edibles
The cannabis plant contains a huge number of different chemical compounds, but the most important compounds which give it its signature effects are known as cannabinoids. The two main cannabinoids are CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
While these two compounds share some similarities, there’s one key difference: THC is a psychoactive compound and CBD is not. In simpler terms, that means that THC gets you high, but CBD doesn’t.
Because they don’t produce a high, CBD products are widely used for their many reported medical benefits, such as reduced anxiety, pain relief, and better sleep. THC products also provide a number of similar health benefits; however, for many users, they’re more attractive for recreational use thanks to the signature high associated with THC-rich cannabis products. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on the THC variety of edibles, not CBD.
Different Kinds of Edibles
Thanks to their growing popularity, there are more and more different types of edibles entering the market. However, these can broadly be condensed down into three categories: baked edibles, drinks, and sweets.
Baked edibles are the classic choice for cannabis users, with the most common option being marijuana brownies. These are made either by adding ready-made cannabis oil, cannabis butter or other cannabis concentrates into the brownie mixture or by simply adding cannabis flower directly to the brownie mix before baking. The cannabis flower must be decarboxylated to activate it first, however, which involves baking it at high temperatures.
The method is much the same for other types of baked THC edibles and results in a cannabis product you can eat to enjoy its psychoactive effects or health benefits. However, dosing edibles made in this way can be difficult, as it’s hard to tell how much-activated THC is in the product, and unlike smoking or other methods of ingestion, the effects can take between half an hour and an hour to manifest.
Because of this, you should start by taking small amounts of baked edible to ensure you don’t experience too intense a high. The effects of a baked edible can last several hours, making them an ideal option for users who want a prolonged high.
Similar to baked edibles, THC-infused drinks are generally made by adding a THC oil, THC tincture, or other THC concentrates into the mixture. You may also be able to find pre-made cannabis drinks – these may be helpful if you want to get a more precise dose, as they’ll usually have their THC content listed on the label or product description.
THC drinks can begin to take effect quicker than other types of edible, as they allow THC to begin to be absorbed immediately via your saliva rather than having to be processed by your digestive system first. This means cannabis drinks will usually begin to take effect within 30 minutes.
If you make them using a THC tincture or oil, they’re often easier to dose with than baked edibles as you can more precisely control the amount of THC you’re taking, which may make them a good option for first-time users.
THC sweets are harder to make at home than other types of edible, but there is a wide variety available to buy ready-made. Some examples include THC gummies, THC chocolate, and THC hard candies. Depending on the type of sweet, these edibles will take different amounts of time to take effect.
Hard candies or lozenges which you suck for a long time before swallowing allow the THC to be absorbed through mucous membranes in the mouth, making them take effect more quickly. Gummies, chocolates, and other sweets which you eat fairly quickly are instead broken down and absorbed by the liver, making them take longer to take effect.
Ready-made THC sweets are another good option for more precise doses, as the producer will usually list their THC content per sweet or per gram.
How long do edibles last?
There’s no simple answer to this – different types of edibles will take longer to take effect and will affect you for different amounts of time. Furthermore, the exact length of the effects will be different depending on personal factors such as your weight, age, and metabolism, plus situational factors like how long ago you’ve eaten or how old the edible is.
That said, it’s possible to give a rough estimate of how long different edibles last and how quickly they take effect – just be aware that these are only estimated guidelines, and you may react differently to certain edibles. Here are a few examples:
- THC Brownies – Must be digested before the THC can enter your bloodstream, leading to a wait of between 1-2 hours before effects begin to appear. The prolonged digestive process also gives them a longer effect – depending on their strength, they could last up to 8 hours.
- THC Coffee – Begins to take effect after about 15 minutes (having been absorbed through your saliva) and can last anywhere between 3 to 5 hours.
- THC Chocolate – easier to control your dose than brownies, and with a slightly quicker effect, taking roughly 45 minutes. Similar to brownies, this could last up to 8 hours.
- THC Lollipops – Since the THC from these is absorbed through your saliva, they take effect and wear off quicker than other edibles – around 15 minutes to start, and then 2 or 3 hours for the effects to wear off.
- THC Gummies – Another easily ingestible edible, gummies take between 30 and 60 minutes to kick in and can last between 6-8 hours.
Dosing edibles is another matter which can be complicated. Different amounts will affect different people in different ways, again thanks to personal factors like age and weight. The recommended dosage also changes according to the strength of the effect you wish to achieve, with higher amounts causing more intense effects.
Generally speaking, it’s advisable that first-time users start out with low amounts. 1-2.5mg of THC will give relatively mild effects such as reduced anxiety without much psychoactivity. 2.5-15mg gives a stronger feeling of euphoria and may begin to alter your perception, while 15-30mg will increase these effects even further.
Dosages of 50mg and upwards are not recommended for anyone other than the most experienced users, since they cause strong psychoactive effects which can cause distress and negative side effects in users unaccustomed to high doses.
Benefits of edibles
Aside from the culinary appeal (who doesn’t love a good brownie?), there are a number of benefits that draw cannabis users to edibles as opposed to other methods of ingestion.
No Respiratory Effects
Unlike smoking or vaping, THC edibles don’t have any respiratory effects since they are absorbed through the digestive system rather than entering the bloodstream through the lungs. In practice, this means when taking edibles you won’t experience any of the negative effects on your lungs or breathing associated with smoking and vaping.
Easier to Consume
Edibles are much easier to consume than other forms of cannabis. There’s no special equipment needed like vape pens, bongs, or pipes – all you need is what you’ve got in your kitchen. They’re also simpler to take than products like tinctures that need to be held in the mouth for specific amounts of time – you just eat or drink the edible as you normally would.
Tying into the first point, edibles are also easier to take for people with respiratory conditions like asthma, as they won’t cause any irritation to the lungs like smoking or vaping would. They’re also more convenient than smoked or vaped THC for people who don’t have easy access to a garden or outside smoking area since they can simply be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home without worrying about smoking restrictions or setting the fire alarm off.
Smoking or vaping cannabis is often accompanied by the lingering smell it leaves behind on your clothes and in your breath. This can be hard to get rid of and can cause issues if you need to take part in social situations where cannabis use may be frowned upon.
Edibles, on the other hand, won’t leave a smell on your clothes and are less likely to leave a smell on your breath too since the cannabis is mixed in with other ingredients which mask its flavour and scent. Edibles are also visibly more discrete – to onlookers, there’s no way of knowing that brownie or gummy has THC in it, but smoking and vaping will generally draw more attention.
If you want a prolonged effect that can last several hours or even for most of a day, edibles are the way to go. Smoking or vaping cannabis allows THC to enter the bloodstream rapidly, but also leads to it being processed by your body much more quickly as well. Similarly, tinctures are taken sublingually (i.e absorbed beneath the tongue) take effect, and wear off fairly quickly.
Edibles, however, will generally last longer as the bulk of the THC must be absorbed either within the digestive system or through your saliva. This means it stays active within the body for much longer – depending on the type of edible, anywhere up to 8 hours. This is useful for those who wish to feel a prolonged effect for several hours or throughout the day.
Potential side effects
As with any drug, cannabis edibles can have side effects if taken in excessive quantities or if you’re not used to them. These range from fairly mild to potentially severe – so always exercise caution when taking them.
While small amounts of THC can help you feel calmer and more relaxed, reducing anxiety, larger quantities may have the opposite effect. The psychoactive properties of THC can lead to feelings of paranoia and anxiety if you’re unused to them, and the alterations to your perception caused by higher doses can cause further distress.
As with anxiety, THC and other cannabinoids can actually be helpful in treating nausea in smaller quantities, but in higher doses can lead to the opposite effect. Taking too high a dose of a THC edible may lead to feelings of nauseousness or needing to vomit, especially when unused to using them, so stick to lower amounts until you grow more accustomed. If someone has consumed too much THC, some suggest taking a CBD product (fast-acting like a tincture or even vape), which may reduce the psychoactive nature of the THC.
High doses of THC can impair your motor control – or in simpler terms, it can make you clumsier, with feelings of sluggishness and slower reaction times as well as making you less coordinated. Because of this, it’s highly advisable to avoid taking THC edibles if you need to drive or use other machinery since you could end up causing an accident and hurting yourself or others due to your lack of control.
Long-term use of cannabis has been linked with the development of psychosis due to the psychoactive properties of THC. This means that you may begin to see, feel or believe things which aren’t real when under the influence of THC. This can be linked with other negative side effects such as paranoia and hallucinations.
Unlike primary forms of psychosis such as schizophrenia, cannabis-induced psychosis should improve simply by waiting for the cannabis to wear off and avoiding taking it afterward. If symptoms persist, you should seek medical help.
Change in Appetite
Perhaps the most well-known side effect of cannabis is a change in appetite – AKA the Munchies. In other forms of cannabis, this is usually fairly harmless. However, changes in appetite brought about by edibles can be dangerous as it may lead you to consume more of the edible in question, which could cause you to take a higher dose than intended and experience other unwanted side effects as a result.
For some users, hallucinations may be an intended effect of cannabis use, in pursuit of the experience of a “trip”. For others, however, hallucinations can be an unwanted and extremely distressing effect of taking THC edibles. Fortunately, research into the hallucinogenic effects of THC indicates that they occur only when using very high amounts – so if you wish to avoid hallucinations, stick to lower doses.
Do edibles show up on your drug test?
Like other forms of cannabis, edibles can show up on drug tests for varying amounts of time. Whether a drug test detects that you’ve taken an edible relies on a few different factors – how much you’ve taken, how long ago you took it, and what type of drug test you’re taking.
Generally speaking, edibles are detectable for longer than other forms of cannabis since they are processed more slowly via the digestive system, as opposed to entering the bloodstream quickly via the lungs when smoking or vaping.
The detection window depends on what sort of test is taken. Blood and saliva tests will only detect THC for a few hours at most, whereas hair tests may reveal regular cannabis use up to three months later.
However, the most commonly used test is urine testing, where the detection window can be anywhere between 3 and 30 days depending on how heavy a cannabis user you are.
For single-use, the amount of THC left in your system will generally fall below detectable levels within 3 days. More regular users consuming edibles three to four times a week would show a positive result within 5-7 days.
People taking high doses of edibles or using them daily may experience a detection window of anywhere up to thirty days.
All in all, edibles offer an alternative method of taking cannabis to smoke or vaping which can appeal to users thanks to its ease, discreteness, and the enjoyment of taking cannabis in the form of a tasty snack or drink. However, as with any form of cannabis, you should always exercise caution when taking edibles, and start out with lower doses to avoid unwanted side effects.