Why Can Marijuana Edibles Be So Powerful?

Compared to puffing a joint, edibles can give you a much stronger “couch-locking” body high that lasts longer, sometimes four to six hours, but they take longer to kick in. Yes, you’ll feel the effects of smoking within minutes, but they’ll peak within 30 to 60 minutes and taper off between two to four hours. But when you smoke you actually absorb more cannabinoids, the high-inducing ingredients in weed such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), than you do from edibles. So why would an edible high be more potent and linger on?

It’s well known that THC needs to be decarboxylated in order for it to do anything in an edible, but something happens metabolically when you eat it that doesn’t happen when you smoke it. About half of orally ingested THC gets turned into 11-hydroxy-THC, a more powerful version of it that has an easier time getting into your brain. When you smoke weed or otherwise inhale its vapors, almost none of this potent 11-hydroxy-THC is formed.



Most people have heard of THC, but 11-hydroxy-THC is a distinctly different cannabinoid and it’s not as well studied. Much of the research on 11-hydroxy-THC is older and focuses on the ability to detect it in urine samples and blood assays, rather than its psychoactivity.

11-hydroxy-THC isn’t actually found in the cannabis plant and it’s not even an ingredient in your cannabis edible. This potent medicinal chemical is actually created by your body when it breaks down THC.

When you ingest THC, it will take about an hour or so for it to be broken down into various metabolites. This explains why you don’t feel the psychoactive effects right away, unlike you do when smoking it.

One of those metabolites created by your body is something called 11-OH-THC, which is “much more potent as far as psychoactivity is concerned because it crosses the blood-brain barrier up to four times faster than just THC,” says Dr.  Uwe Blesching, Ph.D, a medical writer and author of three books on cannabis. So when you eat an edible, “you’re not just getting the high effect from THC, you’re also getting the effect of the metabolites,” he says.

The more you ingest, the greater the high. This explains that sudden, uneasy feeling of getting a massive jolt to the brain. One second you feel nothing, the next second you’re completely stoned. 

Edibles and the powerful THC metabolite they produce have numerous benefits over inhaled THC in some areas. For one, they could be favourable for recreational cannabis users seeking powerful and long-lasting experiences. Eating an infused brownie or cake is guaranteed to offer a more intense and prolonged high than merely smoking the flowers of the same strain.

Edibles may also be advantageous to some individuals who use cannabis for medical reasons. 11-hydroxy-THC offers longer-lasting effects, somewhere in the range of 6–8 hours. This allows for a more significant period of symptomatic relief when it comes to chronic pain and sleeping issues.

The Benefits of Edibles

For one thing, edibles have longer-lasting effects. While they take longer to start working—typically 60–120 minutes as opposed to 10–15 minutes with smoking—they can last much longer. A cannabis edible high usually lasts six to eight hours, while the high from smoking only lasts around two or three hours. Users have noted that the effects of edibles are slightly more sedative than when smoked cannabis. This can make edibles a great choice for conditions like insomnia. A dose that is taken a few hours before bedtime can aid in a strong sense of sleepiness. In addition, orally consumed cannabis doesn’t allow for the lung irritation that some cannabis smokers report.

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11-hydroxy-THC is the sole reason edibles are so much stronger than other consumption methods. Once the liver metabolizes all of the 11-hydroxy-THC, it then travels to the brain where it breaks the blood-brain barrier and produces the psychoactive effect.

Not only is the high that comes with edibles more intense, it also lasts longer than it would if you smoked or vaped your weed. Edibles are known to have lasting effects for six to eight hours.

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