Although flower (raw cannabis plant matter) remains the most popular way to consume cannabis, cannabis-infused products are growing in popularity. Many people may be turning to cannabis-infused food and beverages because they think that eating cannabis is healthier than smoking it. Although this is somewhat true, there are also risks associated with edibles. To minimize risks, it’s important to have a full understanding of the similarities and differences between smoking and edibles.

What are edibles?

Weed edibles are cannabis-infused food products. They can take many different forms, ranging from breath mints, candies, and chocolate to savory snacks and even ice cream. Cannabis-infused beverages are also technically edibles, because our bodies process them in the exact same way.

THC, the main mind-altering chemical found in the cannabis plant, is usually the active ingredient in a cannabis edible. In fact, most edibles contain purified THC (known as distillate), which is colorless and odorless.

However, some artisanal edible manufacturers use whole-plant cannabis extract in their products, which means they may also contain other chemicals from the plant such as CBD, terpenes, and flavonoids (also found in red wine).

Low-dose CBD edibles (about 50 mg or less) typically do not cause mind or mood-altering effects, unless they have been improperly labeled. That is, some CBD edibles might contain more THC than what the label says. If this happens, a person might feel high.

Similar to smoking cannabis, THC edibles provide a spectrum of benefits, ranging from pure personal enjoyment to pure symptom relief. The trick with edibles is knowing the right dose, and waiting long enough to feel the effects before taking more (2 to 3 hours).

What’s the right edibles’ dosage?

When it is eaten, THC is processed by the liver before it ends up in our bloodstream and brain. The three biggest factors in an edible experience are:

  • The way your liver processes drugs
  • Whether or not you’ve consumed THC along with other fats or a meal
  • Your level of tolerance to THC’s mind-altering effects
  • Because of individual differences in these three factors, it has been difficult to nail down a standard recommended dose of THC. Although some medications are taken on a basis of body weight (milligrams per kilogram), this is not the case with edibles: Heavier people generally do not need more.

Recently, researchers have proposed using 5 mg as the THC dosing standard. However, this dose is double what expert cannabis physicians recommend that their patients start with: just 2.5 mg.

Although 5 mg is the legal standard edible serving size in most regulated cannabis markets, this dose can be very unpleasant, causing symptoms like anxiety and a racing heart. Five milligrams may be too much for people who are new to cannabis or women, who are more sensitive to the effects of edibles.

How long do edibles last?

When you eat an edible, you can expect the effects to last 6 to 12 hours. The length of the experience depends on many factors, such as your:

Genetic makeup

Lifestyle and diet (which can change the endocannabinoid system)Meal timing (relative to when you consumed the edible)

Are edibles bad for you?

The two biggest risks with cannabis edibles are accidentally taking too much and driving under the influence. A powerful dose of THC can easily fit into a single gummy bear. Overdoing it is all too easy. You’ll know if you’ve had too much if you have symptoms like:

  • Intense anxiety, fear, or panic
  • Having irrational thoughts (delusions)
  • Seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t really there (hallucinations)
  • Feeling like you are not yourself, or that what you’re experiencing isn’t real
  • There is no antidote for too much THC. The effects simply wear off with time. Although the effects are unpleasant, they are rarely life-threatening, and there is a lot of self-care you can do while you wait it out. The best way to avoid the negative effects of too much THC is to start with a low dose (2.5 mg or less) and wait at least 2 hours before taking more.

The other risks of edibles are the same as using any form of cannabis:

Potentially harmful medication interactions
Impaired driving and thinking Dependence and addiction

Benefits of smoking weed

Compared to edibles, there are two key benefits of smoking cannabis: the quick onset and short duration of the effects.

By smoking or vaporizing weed, you’ll feel the effects almost immediately. Within 15 minutes of taking a single puff, or inhalation, it’s easy to tell if you’ve had enough. With edibles, however, you need to wait 2 to 3 hours to fully feel the peak effects before deciding if you want to take more.

The effects of smoked or vaporized cannabis only last 2 to 3 hours. Edibles, however, can last as long as 12 hours. This long duration could have an impact on your day, or even tasks you need to complete the following day. However, the long duration of edibles could also benefit medical patients, who report that cannabis improves their sleep.

One benefit of inhaling versus eating cannabis is the ability to layer your doses. Similar to how you’d dress for colder weather, a single inhalation of cannabis might be like putting on a light sweater. You can always put on a warmer jacket, and a parka if necessary. With edibles, however, you’re putting on a parka from the get-go, and you’re stuck in it for several hours.

Risks of smoking weed

Many cannabis consumers choose edibles over other forms of cannabis, because it is a discreet, smoke-free way to consume THC. Avoiding smoke is considered to be a healthier way to consume cannabis.

Similar to tobacco smoke, cannabis smoke contains many toxic chemicals which could negatively impact lung health. Although there is not enough research to understand the link between cannabis and cancer, regular cannabis smokers often experience chronic bronchitis and other airway problems.

Smoked cannabis might also be more addictive. When you smoke or inhale cannabis, freshly oxygenated blood carries THC straight from the lungs up to the brain. This is why you can feel the effects of inhaled cannabis almost immediately. However, research has shown that the more quickly a drug reaches the brain, the higher the risk of addiction.

Edible high vs. smoking high

The mind and body effects of smoked cannabis and edibles are very similar. Consumers and patients report using cannabis to:

Reduce anger
Relieve stress
Improve health symptoms like pain
Cannabis is commonly used to improve mood, but it also impairs thinking and driving — regardless of whether it is smoked or eaten.

The side effects of edibles and smoking are also similar. Specifically, THC can:

Increase heart rate
Lower body temperature
Dry out the eyes and mouth
The biggest difference between a smoking high and an edible high is the overall experience over time. Imagine that you are traveling to the 100th floor of a tall building: Smoking is like taking the world’s fastest elevator, whereas edibles are like taking a common escalator.