The Difference Between Inhaling and Ingesting Cannabis

The legal cannabis industry is expected to surpass $7 billion in 2016. Nearly half of all legal cannabis sales come from edibles, yet novices and long time cannabis users alike still don't fully understand the differences between inhaling or ingesting cannabis.

Countless tales beginning with "I ate half a brownie, didn't feel anything so I decided to eat the other half..." have been told time and time again through history. Yet people keep doing it.

THC, CBD and other cannabis compounds are absorbed differently into the human body. We'll focus on THC for now as that's the compound that can delivery varying degrees of psychoactive effects.

It's important to know how each method works in the body because it's not a 1-to-1 translation. One dose of inhaled cannabis is not the same as one dose of ingested cannabis. It's more like one dose of inhaled cannabis is equivalent to 1.35 of a dose ingested. Ingesting cannabis creates a more potent high, yet takes longer to kick in.

1. Inhaling Cannabis

Whether you pack your dried flower into a glass pipe or vape it, it gets into your system the same (although vaping is better for you). The smoke from the dried flower is inhaled, it goes into the lungs, through the lining of the lungs and into the bloodstream where it travels directly to the brain for an immediate effect. That's what the lungs are designed to do—deliver oxygen quickly to the brain. The effects of smoked or vaporized marijuana come on faster, but they also fade quicker.

Finding the right dose isn't so hard when inhaling. While inhaling may not be as safe as edibles, the patient knows immediately whether they've found the right amount of cannabis for their body.

2. Ingesting Cannabis

You could fill a grocery store with the wide range of cannabis-infused edible products on the market. Pizza, tea, muffins, candy, hummus, guacamole, popcorn, sodas, chocolate and even bacon can now be ingested with or without psychoactive cannabis as one of the ingredients.

Regardless of which edible you enjoy, the cannabis enters your system relatively the same way. Instead of quickly passing through the walls of your lungs and immediately hitting the bloodstream, ingested cannabis must travel through the stomach, through the intestines and ultimately gets metabolized in the liver. It's a journey that can take 1-2 hours before the drug reaches its destination.

When THC gets metabolized by the liver, it transforms from plain ol' THC into 11-hydroxy-THC, a more potent form of psychoactive. In other words, ingesting THC delivers a more intense high depending on your body type.

Because it can take so long for the THC to make the journey through your digestive track en route to your liver, it's tempting to want to eat more to 'feel something'. That's when shit can get uncomfortable.

Although ingesting cannabis is believed to be safer than inhaling, however, the patient doesn't know right away whether they've taken the correct dose.

We recommend patients begin with 5mg or 10mg of cannabis in their edibles when getting started. Colorado law considers 10mg 'standard'. That way they can feel something while having a good time. For first time users the sensation of edible cannabis kicking in might feel a bit like sitting in the basket of a hot air balloon for 30 minutes to 2 hours. Then somebody comes along and cuts the ropes holding the sandbags that are weighing the balloon down. It might feel like floating off the ground 5-10 feet in the air. Some patients report getting a tickle in their stomach like they were on one end of a see-saw and were lifted in the air for a moment.

Some individuals don't feel the effects of edible cannabis like the rest of us and can eat 100mg at a time. Those people are super human. For many of us, 100mg is the kind of dose that'll have you in the emergency room in the fetal position for 8 hours. It won't kill you, but it won't be fun either.

Read the Label

Lab testing has become a critical part of the edibles market. A good, reliable lab will test edible products and put a sticker on the package letting consumers know exactly how potent the edible is. Not all labs are 'good' and there may be a slight margin of error.

Remember to stay smart and responsible and don't listen to other people who tell you things like, "you'll be fine at 100mg, I eat it all the time and I'm fine..." Start small and get to know how your body works with cannabis. It'll be worth it in the end.