What Exactly Happens When You Eat Weed? (Scientifically Speaking)
A lot of knowledge has been dumped on us since Millennials started using weed in a whole other way than their baby boomer parents, like how much more effective eating marijuana is over smoking it. Lots of people are choosing edibles over smokeables, but not everyone understands why, and some are even afraid of the dreaded edibles “overdose.”
But why do the effects last longer and feel more intense when it’s the same drug? If you’re curious about the science of cannabis, or just want to know more about what happens to THC when you eat it, here is the primary path it takes.
Fresh cannabis contains Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), which must be activated with heat through a process called decarboxylation. Only then will it become the psychoactive molecule, THC. When making something like special brownies at home, decarboxylation is the step in the recipe when you lightly toast the chopped up marijuana in an oven before extracting it into oil or butter.
Edible weed starts on a different path from the moment it goes down the esophagus instead of taking the larynx route via smoking, where the THC enters the blood and is fast-tracked to the brain. An edible then heads to the stomach, where it is broken down into its components: THC, carbs, and sugars. THC is absorbed via the lumen (intestinal lining) and taken to the liver for metabolic processing. This step is like a security check for the THC before it gets admitted to the bloodstream. It takes a little longer for metabolic processing to occur but it’s the liver that turns THC into its more powerful 11-OH-THC molecular form. It can take up to two hours for edibles to kick in, which is where newbies get in trouble by double dosing when all they had to do was wait. And the wait is worth it.
Our peak blood THC level is lower after eating cannabis than after smoking or vaping; however, our overall 11-OH-THC/THC ratios are higher. So now there is a hyper-potent THC molecule lighting up our neurons in a much larger quantity than regular THC. Scientists haven’t cracked the code of why 11-OH-THC differs in effect. What we do know is that edibles are an economical way of medicating and an excellent method for staying high longer.
Alana seeks to see cannabis from the perspective of politicians, advocates, entrepreneurs, and consumers. She got her start with a byline in the arts and culture section and crossed over into cannabis after using it medicinally. Current projects include investigations into cannabis and wellness; entrepreneurs of the Green Rush; cannabis for athletes; and the evolution of cannabis laws and culture in Canada.