Marijuana Edibles vs. Flowers

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](http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2689518/# R32) 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.

Potency

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.

Dosing

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.

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