The mental and physical effects of eating cannabis can be very different from inhaling flower from a pipe or using a vaporizer. When patients inhale cannabis, they often feel the effects right away, while the effects take much longer to feel after eating a THC-infused gummy, cookie, or other food product. So, what’s the deal? It all comes down to how edibles interact with your body.
In this blog, we’ll answer some questions our patient coordinators are frequently asked about food edibles and how they interact with your body.
How do edibles work?
First, it’s important to understand how food edibles work. Unlike smoking, which means cannabis enters your lungs, the THC and other cannabinoids in a cookie, gummy, or other food product enter your digestive tract as soon as it’s swallowed. This means it has to travel down your esophagus and into your stomach before your body can even start processing it. After your stomach breaks down the food, the cannabinoids are processed by the organs in your digestive system. Only at this point will a patient start feeling its effects.
Now, compare this to smoking. When you inhale cannabis, it enters your bloodstream through your lungs almost instantly. This is why patients often feel the effects of inhaled cannabis within 1-2 minutes, and it can take 2+ hours for some to feel the effects of edibles
How long do they take to kick in?
As mentioned above, food edibles can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2+ hours to kick in. In the world of cannabis, that’s actually a pretty long time, which is why so many first-time users accidentally overdo it when they use edibles. The timing can vary considerably from patient to patient, and much of it depends on two factors: how recently you’ve eaten and your body’s unique chemistry.
For example, if you consume an edible after a large meal, it will take longer for your body to digest the edible because it has to digest your dinner first. But, if you consume an edible on an empty stomach, it’s likely that you’ll feel the effects much quicker. The second factor (body chemistry) is virtually impossible to control, as some people’s bodies perform certain functions more quickly than others.
It’s important to remember that the effects of edibles aren’t felt right away and could take hours. The effects felt after inhaling cannabis often act as a signal to stop, but the delayed effects of edibles can cause patients to accidentally consume more cannabis than they had intended to. If you’ve accidentally consumed too much cannabis, these tips may be able to help.
Does the type of edible matter?
Yes and no. Regardless of the edible, they’ll take longer to “work” than if you were to inhale cannabis. But, some types of edibles do take longer than others to metabolize. Edibles that are dissolved in the mouth (suckers, lozenges, hard candies) are metabolized by the body much quicker than cookies, brownies, and baked goods, which are digested by the stomach. Drinks, on the other hand, are an entirely different beast. They’re absorbed by both the mouth and stomach, and tend to have faster and longer-lasting effects than edibles absorbed by the stomach only. For this reason, this blog focuses on non-beverage edibles.
Do the effects of edibles last longer than the effects of smoking?
Not only do edibles take longer to “work” than inhaling cannabis, but the effects last much longer, too. It’s hard to estimate exactly how long the effects of edibles last since so much of it depends on your body’s chemistry but, on average, the effects of edibles last for anywhere from 3-10 hours.
Make sure to check the packaging of your edible product, as the label will often include information about the appropriate dosage and anticipated effects. When in doubt, start low and slow and gradually increase your dose. We cannot stress this enough!
What about edibles’ interaction with medication and/or alcohol?
This is where things get tricky. Alcohol increases the impairing effects of cannabis, so avoid combining alcohol and cannabis at all costs -- otherwise, you may experience some of the negative effects of over-intoxication. These effects can include anxiety, panic, nausea, vomiting, and paranoia. Similar effects can occur if you mix cannabis with prescription medication.
Since we can’t discuss every type of prescription medication in this blog, please speak with your healthcare provider about using cannabis and its potential interferences with your other medication.
Tips from our patient coordinators
As discussed, cannabis edibles will affect everyone differently, and it all comes down to your unique physical chemistry. Therefore, it’s difficult to provide advice that applies to everyone. With that in mind, we often find ourselves giving these tips to patients who are new to edibles:
- Start slow and low and gradually increase the dosage.
- Always wait at least two hours before taking another dose.
- Read the label and dosage information before consuming a cannabis edible.
- Don’t mix cannabis with alcohol.
- If you’re on prescription medication, discuss taking cannabis and its potential interferences with your primary care physician.
- Make sure you’re properly storing your edibles so pets, children, and other individuals in your household don’t accidentally take your medication.
To learn more about edibles, check out Edibles 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Cannabis Edibles.