Marijuana Edibles vs. Flowers

byhellomd4 minutes

Should somebody eat or smoke their medical cannabis? It's a good question, as patients today have a choice in how they get their cannabis. Two of these options are flowers, also known as buds, and edibles, which are foodstuffs that contain cannabis. The best choice depends on a number of factors, including a patient's diagnosis, prescription and personal preference regarding delivery method. Here's a look at the differences between flowers and edibles to help patients understand their options.

THC Metabolism

Both flowers and edibles contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the most common cannabinoids in medical marijuana and the chemical responsible for the psychoactive effects of the plant. THC has been used to treat pain, nausea, mood disorders, inflammation, appetite loss and more. Even though both flowers and edibles contain THC, the way this chemical is metabolized depends on whether it's smoked or ingested. When smoked, THC moves quickly through the lungs into the bloodstream and then to the brain. The effects are rapid, and occur within minutes of the first inhalation. The effects of ingesting cannabis are much slower, as the THC must pass through the digestive system before reaching the bloodstream. During this process, the liver changes the THC into 11-hydroxy-THC, which can cause a more-intense high than THC that's inhaled.

Effects and Duration

In addition to rapid onset, inhaled THC effects wear off in 30 to 60 minutes. Ingested THC effects can take between 30 minutes and two hours to be felt and can take several hours to wear off.

The more intense high associated with ingested THC has been described as a more physical high, or body high, than that of inhaled THC. This may be caused by the 11-hydroxy-THC, but it may also result from an inadvertent overdose -- people who aren't used to edibles may not know that there's a lag between ingestion and effect, and this often causes them to overindulge.


Today's cannabis is higher in THC than cannabis that was cultivated in the past. An American Chemical Society study found that THC potency in medical marijuana is approaching 30 percent -- three times higher than it was 30 years ago.

This higher concentration in plants also means a potential for higher concentration in edibles. Edibles are made with cannabis concentrate. The process of extracting the cannabinoids has been shown to increase potency, the percent of active cannabinoids, by 40-80 percent.

Because of the increase in intensity and the higher potency, it is recommended that people using edibles start small. They should only consume a product containing less than 2.5 mg of THC and recognize that it will take at least an hour before they feel any effects.


Edibles are unpredictable with regard to dosing. This is due to a number of factors:

  • Ingestion only delivers between 10 and 20 percent of the THC in the product, whereas smoking delivers between 50 and 60 percent of the THC in the flower.
  • A study of the THC content of edibles found only 17 percent of examined products were accurately labeled. The remaining 83 percent either over- or under-labeled the THC content.
  • Until recently, there were few regulations regarding packaging, labeling or potency of manufactured edibles. Serving size might seem to be one cookie, but the cookie could contain anywhere from 2.5 mg to 20 mg or more of THC. States are beginning to address this discrepancy. In Colorado, for example, an individually packaged serving can now contain no more than 10 mg of THC.

It's even more difficult to determine the potency and dosing of homemade edibles. People who require a specific dose of THC are recommended to stick with manufactured products that are clearly labeled and have been tested for potency, as well as food safety, and to be sure to follow the directions on the label.

Photo Credit