smoking cannabis vs eating edibles
Edibles vs. Smoking: The Difference Between Ingesting and Inhaling Cannabis

The difference between Inhaling and Ingesting cannabis is kind of like comparing apples to oranges. Both fruits but each one offers its own unique experience. When you consume cannabis – whether smoking a joint or eating edibles, each route of administration provides a different experience.

Why would eating edibles be different than smoking flower?

Each route of administration is processed differently in the body, which in turn produces different onset times and lasting effects. For instance, when you smoke, cannabis goes straight into your lungs and then quickly to your brain. But when you eat it, it travels through your stomach and liver first, which takes longer and can intensify the effects.

In this article, we focus specifically on the differences between eating edibles and smoking flower. For a deeper dive into the other routes of administration, consumption methods, and dosing guidelines check out our online Dispensary Agent Certification program.

Now let’s get into the science behind eating edibles vs smoking – starting with decarboxylation.

Decarboxylation is a process that activates the psychoactive compounds in the plant so you can feel its intoxicating effects. If you were to walk up to a cannabis plant, pull off a bud, and chomp away you’re not going to feel “high” like you would if you were to pull off a bud and smoke it or bake it into an edible. That’s because the THCA in the raw plant has not converted into THC yet. 

To convert THCA into THC you need heat (and/or time). The most common ways to decarboxylate cannabis when inhaling are by using the flame from a lighter, the atomizer on a vape pen, or the torch of a dab rig. The high heat from smoking or vaping instantly decarboxylates the plant’s chemical compounds making them immediately available for your body to absorb.

The most common ways to decarboxylate cannabis when ingesting is by baking the flower in the oven or using an infusion device like the Levo or Magic Butter machine.

Eating Cannabis Edibles

Ingesting Cannabis

Products like edible foods or candies, oils, capsules, powders, and beverages are consumed (ingested) orally and then metabolized through the digestive system before entering the bloodstream.

What are Edibles?

Edibles are foods, generally baked goods, gummies, or candies made with cannabis-infused butter or oil

How are edibles processed in the body?

After edibles are ingested, THC and other cannabinoids are eventually absorbed through the digestive system and partially metabolized by the liver before entering the bloodstream and making their way to the brain.

When the liver metabolizes THC it chemically transforms from ▵9-THC into 11-hydroxy-THC which can take longer for the body to process and for the effects to set in than other routes like inhalation.

What are the Effects from Ingesting Cannabis?

Research has shown this converted substance, 11-OH-THC has a higher affinity for CB1 receptors, and it can also be 1.5-7x more potent than ▵9-THC. This is why the effects from eating edibles can feel very different from smoking a joint. Some users report feeling more of a body high from edibles, rather than the head high from smoking. 

How long does it take to feel the effects from edibles?

Since ingestible products are absorbed through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and processed through the liver before making their way to the brain, onset times can vary each time you consume them depending on your metabolism, regardless of the dose.

How to Dose Edibles:

Because the cannabinoids in ingestible products are absorbed through the gastrointestinal (G.I.) tract and processed through the liver, the onset time will vary depending on your metabolism. Several other factors play into the onset time, like how much food is already in the stomach or how hydrated the body is. The delayed onset time makes controlling the dose of an ingestible slightly more difficult.

If it is your first time trying edibles, we recommend STARTING LOW with 2.5mg-5mg and GOING SLOW. Wait at least an hour or two to see how you’re feeling before ingesting any more.

For more experienced consumers, you could start with a 5-10mg dose of THC. For those with even higher tolerances, you may need to start with more than 10mg THC. Remember you can always take more but you can’t eat less!

How long do you feel the effects from ingesting cannabis?

Effects usually last anywhere from 4-6 hours. Think of it like binge-watching a full TV series rather than a short movie.

smoking cannabis

Inhaling Cannabis

Products like flower and concentrates are ignited with heat by smoking or vaporizing to decarboxylate the THCA into THC.

How is cannabis processed in the body after smoking/vaping?

The smoke or vapor is then inhaled orally, and the cannabinoids are processed instantly through the lungs before entering the bloodstream and making their way to the brain.

What are the effects from smoking flower?

Smoking flower can be one of the most effective routes of administration for those looking for instant relief. It’s also the most popular route of administration for helping with pain, spasms, seizures, decreased appetite, anxiety, or nausea/vomiting because the user can easily adjust the dose and timing as needed.

However, long-term smoking can lead to inflammation in the throat or lungs and chronic bronchitis symptoms. Since the smoke from burning cannabis contains some carcinogens also found in tobacco.1

Vaping is slightly different than smoking. Vaporizers are devices that heat the flower to a lower temperature than the flame of a lighter. The active ingredients in the plant are released as a vapor, but not burned. 

Vaping has been favored as a healthier alternative to smoking because it eliminates the irritation of the throat and lungs that comes from exposure to high heat and burned organic matter.

How long does it take to feel the effects from smoking?

When you smoke, the effects of cannabis hit you almost immediately. It’s a bit like turning on a light switch – quick and instant, usually within 1-5 minutes.

How to dose cannabis when smoking flower:

Because the effects of inhaling are felt instantly, one to two inhalations are all it takes for an inexperienced user to feel THC’s euphoric effects. On the other hand, those with greater tolerances may need a few more “hits.”

How long do you feel the effects from smoking?

The experience is shorter, usually an hour or two max. Think of it as watching a short movie.

The best thing about states with legal cannabis is the variation of products available. If you don’t want to inhale smoke or vapor, you can try eating an edible. If you don’t like how edibles make you feel, then you can try a tincture or a transdermal patch. Test out a few different products or dosages until you find your sweet spot.

Ready to learn more about the other routes of administration and consumption methods? Enroll in our online certification program and get up-to-speed in 10 hours or less!

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