Why Does An Edible High Hit Different?

Photo by Oleg Zharsky

My first edible experience could have been pulled from a ‘90s stoner movie—in a friend’s basement with a blacklight and pan of homemade brownies. I ate one, waited 20 minutes, concluded that the brownies didn’t work, and then ate two more to be sure I’d feel it. Anyone who has made a similar mistake knows what happened an hour later. The weed hit me like a semi-truck full of panic attacks before mercifully giving way to an eight-hour nap on the floor.  

Even now when I pop a few weed gummies or mints, it still feels like a different kind of high than I experience from smoking a bowl

From that point on, I was obviously scared to eat edibles—that is, until legalization of recreational cannabis made it more possible to control the dosage. But even now when I pop a few weed gummies or mints, it still feels like a different kind of high than I experience from smoking a bowl. According to Jessica Lipton, the founder of THC-infused gummies Elevate Delta 8, that’s because it sort of is. 

“When a person smokes, THC is absorbed into the bloodstream within minutes and reaches the brain causing a euphoric feeling or high,” explains Lipton. In other words, when you smoke weed, you feel it pretty instantly. But when you orally ingest THC—or, more specifically, delta-9-THC, the main intoxicating cannabinoid in most weed products—it is metabolized by the liver, where it turns into the main active metabolite in THC known as 11-hydroxy-THC. This metabolite is “five times more psychoactive than delta-9 THC that’s absorbed into your bloodstream when you smoke,” Lipton says.

The active metabolite 11-hydroxy-THC is five times more psychoactive than delta-9 THC that’s absorbed into your bloodstream when you smoke.

Essentially, your metabolism is converting the THC into a stronger compound, which can be great—when you don’t overdo it. However, because the intensity and duration of a high depends on an individual’s metabolism, it can be harder to predict what to expect. After all, everyone is different. 

“Someone with a faster metabolism may experience effects more quickly and for a shorter duration compared to someone with a slower metabolism,” explains Elizabeth Ardillo, a Doctor of Pharmacy and Director of Medical Education at Green Thumb Industries

Ardillo estimates that most edibles kick in within one to two hours, but for some people it can take up to six hours to reach the peak. The come-down varies from person to person as well. This all results in a wide range of individual edible experiences, which explains why some people can have a good time watching a movie, and some can end up calling 911 and insisting they’re already dead. Some consumers have even brought themselves to the hospital and one study found a three-fold increase in cannabis related ER visits in Colorado since recreational weed was legalized in 2014. 

“Edibles are notorious for inducing heightened delusional symptoms and although they're safer than most other drugs, they have been responsible for a disproportionate number of hospital visits compared to smoking,” Lipton warns. 

But while smoking cannabis is a more manageable form of consumption, edibles tend to appeal more to newer users who are at a greater risk for overdoing it, mostly because they’re turned off by the smoke part. 

 “Some people suffer from pulmonary conditions and worry about inhalation methods; others do not like the smell; some are looking for a more convenient consumption method or just aren’t comfortable with inhaling smoke or vapor into their healthy lungs,” Ardillo says. All of this combined “makes edible consumption more appealing.” 

The general rule: start low and go slow.

There may not be an exact science when it comes to dosing weed edibles, but the general rule Ardillo suggests is “start low and go slow. Newer cannabis users “should start with just 1mg to 2.5mg of THC and monitor how their mind and body feel over a few hours before repeating or increasing their dose,” Ardillo says. And much like with smoking, it’s important to experiment in a comfortable, controlled environment, because someone’s “surroundings, mood, and expectations can really impact their experience with edibles.” 

While most people who overingest (and end up freaking out) simply didn’t wait long enough for the THC to kick in, it’s also entirely possible that edibles don’t work on some people. Certain medications like antidepressants and anti-epileptic drugs can cause individuals to have abnormal CYP enzyme levels in their livers (where THC metabolism) occurs, “which may cause edibles to not work as intended,” Ardillo says. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor or a seasoned budtender before diving into a tin of gummies. 

The edible experience is inherently unpredictable—and that can be part of the fun.

Beyond that, the edible experience is inherently unpredictable—and that can be part of the fun. But if you happen to overdo it, a quick dose of CBD can help. And remember: if it feels like an emergency, a CBD tincture under the tongue works faster than an edible, Ardillo notes. Peppercorns and lemons have terpenes in them that may also help offset cannabis induced paranoia. “It’s worth a try,” Ardillo says. “Deep breathing, a shower, and some relaxing music may also help to offset some of the anxiety associated with consuming too much THC.” 

And if all else fails, call a friend who isn’t too high. The odds are they’ll make you feel better and you’ll probably make their night a little more interesting. But whatever you do, remember: The 911 dispatcher is probably not your best bet.

Lauren Vinopal is a comedian and writer based out of New York City, by way of Chicago. She writes about health, psychology, and men, and performs stand up at her show Mid Riff Comedy in Brooklyn.