What's the deal with edibles?
Breathing in cannabis is the most popular method of consuming THC as it provides the fastest and most efficient way to absorb THC, but another way to consume cannabis is through edibles. Edibles or ‘infused beverages’ are food items that are infused with THC so that you can ingest the molecule rather than absorbing it through your lungs. For the purposes of this explanation, we’ll use the term ‘edibles’ to refer to any food/beverage containing THC/CBD.
An edible high feels different from a normal THC high because as THC passes through your system it is metabolized to 11-hydroxy-THC. One 2020 study published in the journal Progress in Neuropsycho-pharmacology & Biological Psychiatry on rodents found 11-hydoxy-THC is 1.5 to 7 times more potent than THC. It appears the increased potency is because 11-hydroxy-THC has a higher binding affinity for the CB1 receptor than THC. Current knowledge indicates it is reacting with the same receptor as THC, but it activates the receptor better.
How its made
11-hydroxy-THC does not naturally exist in the cannabis plant, it is produced within the human body in your liver. The enzymes that metabolize THC are located in your intestines and liver. As the THC is absorbed through the intestines it passes through the liver on its way to the blood stream where the enzymes adds a small -OH (alcohol) bond to the top of the molecule (See attached image).
On the other hand, when you inhale THC it is directly absorbed into the blood stream (doesn’t go straight to the liver) and is quickly distributed to other body tissues. The small amount that remains in your blood can then go to the liver, but because this is only a small fraction the amount of 11-hydroxy-THC produced is minimal.
CBD is not converted to a more intoxicating substance.
Delayed onset and precautions
The delayed onset of an edible high occurs because the THC has to pass through your digestive tract versus directly entering your blood stream through the lung wall. We cannot stress this enough, for your first time start low (1-5mg) and do not consume more if you don’t feel the onsets. It’s not lethal, but you will be really uncomfortable and it could cause you to stress out next time, ruining future experiences. Can confirm from my first times taking edibles.
11-hydroxy-THC has a higher chance of putting you in a ‘too uncomfortable state’. This is not saying it’s bad, just more potent. A study in an urban Colorado hospital found that while edible sales made up only 0.32% of cannabis sales at the time, they were responsible for about 11% of cannabis-related ER visits. Remember, there is no recorded lethal dose of THC or 11-hydroxy-THC so these ER visits are essentially just monitoring and waiting for the patient to come down off their high.
TLDR if you learn nothing else about edibles, read these:
- THC you ingest has to pass though your digestive tract so you will feel a delayed onset of effects ~ 20min to a few hours after consumption.
- An edible high is different because the liver metabolizes THC to 11-hydroxy-THC which is a separate molecule and is shown to be between 1.5 to 7 times more potent than THC.