When it comes to consuming cannabis, you have several choices on how to enjoy it. The most popular options are smoking and eating marijuana since both of these let you enjoy the buds and flowers themselves, not concentrates made from them.
Whether you are completely new to marijuana or you already smoke or eat it, it can be helpful to understand the differences between the two. This way, you will be better able to choose which method is best for your preferences, or if you would use both methods depending on your mood.
How Your Body Absorbs It
Perhaps the biggest difference between smoking and eating marijuana is how your body absorbs the cannabis. The difference in absorption is responsible for other distinctions, such as the onset time of the effects and how long they last. It is also responsible for variance in the intensity of the high.
When you vape or smoke cannabis, the THC will enter your body very fast and take a direct path to your brain. This results in you feeling the effects fairly quickly.
In contrast, when you eat cannabis, your body has to digest the edible it is in before your liver can metabolize the THC, converting it to 11-hydroxy-THC.
Potency of the Effects
Because of the difference in absorption methods, you will notice a more intense high when you eat cannabis compared to when you smoke it, even if you use the same or comparable strains for each.
This goes back to the liver, converting the THC in eaten cannabis into 11-hydroxy-THC. 11-hydroxy-THC is incredibly efficient at passing through the blood brain barrier. This boost in efficiency results in more of the THC making it to your brain, leading to the stronger and more intense high.
Duration and Onset
As mentioned, the variations in absorption also explain the difference in the timing of the effects.
Smoking cannabis lets it enter your system quickly and get to your brain fast, so you start to feel the effects within 10 to 15 minutes in most cases. In contrast, your body needs to digest the edible before your liver can process the THC and it can travel to your brain. This means you may need a half-hour to two or three hours to start noticing the effects.
Not only do the effects of smoking cannabis begin more quickly, but they also finish sooner than those associated with edibles. The comparatively slower processing of edibles means that your body will also notice the effects for longer. While smoked cannabis typically wears off within an hour or two, eaten cannabis can maintain its effects for several hours, regularly lasting around six hours.
Whether you choose to smoke cannabis or eat an edible, dosing can be somewhat challenging. Even if you know the potency of the cannabis you smoke, the amount you absorb will depend on how deep your inhales are. With edibles, some items are harder to measure out of single servings. It is especially hard to get consistent dosing on homemade edibles.
In terms of ensuring you do not consume too much, smoking cannabis is much easier than eating it. This goes back to the difference in the onset time. Since smoking cannabis only takes about 10 to 15 minutes for you to feel the effects, you can take another hit pretty quickly to increase your consumption and not worry too much about it building up.
In contrast, the fact that eating cannabis takes so long for you to feel the effects means that people are more likely to accidentally consume more than intended. It is very common, especially among those who are new to edibles, to not notice any effects after a half hour or so and think something is not right or you need more. This could lead to having another dose, only for the first one to kick in a half hour or an hour later. You would then end up with a much stronger high than expected, potentially with even twice your planned dose.
This is particularly problematic because consuming too much cannabis can increase your chances of being overwhelmed or experiencing negative effects like paranoia.
Just Be Careful With Edible Dosing and You Will Be Fine
Despite the difference in the ease of dosing, you can safely control your consumption of marijuana, whether you smoke or eat it. As long as you know that edibles will take a while for the effects to begin, you will not be tempted to consume more. The rule of thumb with edibles is to try a dose and enjoy that for the day. Then, if you decide you need more, eat more next time.
There is also some debate about whether smoking or eating marijuana is healthier. So far, there is no scientific conclusion on this front because there has not been enough evidence.
That being said, there is a rise in concern about the health risks of smoking marijuana due to the potentially carcinogenic and toxic components that may come from the combustion process. This is only potentially the case, however, since some theorize that the cannabis plant’s anti-carcinogenic effects can counter this. The concerns about inhaling cannabis, along with the potential carcinogens, partly drive the rise in vaping, which lets you inhale the herb without combusting the potential carcinogens.
Edibles have the benefit of avoiding combustion completely, so you do not have to worry about inhaling those carcinogens. However, many edibles come in the form of delicious yet unhealthy foods, such as cookies, brownies, chocolate, and candy. Of course, the rise of other products, such as cannabutter and healthier edibles, lets you overcome this.
Eating and inhaling marijuana can both be enjoyable methods of taking advantage of the effects of cannabis. Because of differences in how your body processes cannabis once ingested or inhaled, smoking marijuana leads to quicker onset of effects and a shorter duration. Eating cannabis will take longer for you to feel the effects, but they will last longer and be more potent. More research is necessary to determine if one method is healthier than the other.