How do edibles work?

This question has been living rent-free in the minds of edible consumers around the world for years. Ever since weed edibles were invented, the question of how a tiny edible can produce such a powerful high has left many tokers stumped for answers.

Cannabis edibles, infamous for being incredibly potent and causing many to suffer from greening out, enjoy a love-hate relationship with many weed users. Eat too little and you won’t feel anything, eat a tad too much and you’re high into next week.

Well, wonder no longer! Today, we’re going to explore how edibles actually work and why they tend to get us so high!

How do Edibles Work? The Chemistry Behind Edibles

How Does Smoking Weed Work?

how does smoking weed work

Unlike vaping cannabis and smoking weed, cannabis edibles work through the body’s digestive system.

When weed is smoked, vaped, or otherwise inhaled, the weed first undergoes a process known as decarboxylation. While this might sound like a complicated process, it really just means exposing weed buds to heat and fire to make them more bioavailable.

Weed in its raw form actually doesn’t contain any THC, the cannabinoid responsible for getting us high. Instead, it contains THCA, the acid form of THC.

RELATED: THC vs THCA – 7 Major Differences for Beginners

Unlike its more popular cousin, THCA can’t bind to cannabinoid receptors to get us high. While it has its own uses and benefits, it’s not the cannabinoid we’re looking for when we want to get baked. When weed is dried, cured, and smoked, the THCA is exposed to heat and time, which transforms it into THC.

Once we smoke weed, the cannabinoid and terpeneinfused smoke is inhaled through the lungs and circulated in our blood to the rest of the body. Eventually, these cannabinoids, terpenes, and other cannabis compounds bind to our endocannabinoid system receptors located throughout our nervous system, brain, and the rest of our body to get us high!

How Does Eating Weed Work?

how does eating weed work

When we eat cannabis edibles, there is no presence of THCA or any other cannabinoid except for THC. Since THCA can only transform into THC while decarboxylation, cannabis edibles are usually made with THC oil and weed extracts such as distillate and isolate that are already decarboxylated.

Once the cannabis edibles are consumed, they enter into the digestive system where our liver and stomachs break them down for digestion. During the breakdown process, our digestive system breaks down and transforms THC into an entirely different compound – 11-Hydroxy-Metabolite, or 11-OH-THC.

11-Oh-THC is still THC, but it has a chemically different structure that makes it better prepared to penetrate the blood-brain barrier to deliver its effects.

However, although this new compound is more effective at getting us high, the digestive system still has to work to process and break down the weed edible that we just ate!

Depending on each person’s age, body, sex, and metabolism, this digestive process can take anywhere from half an hour to multiple hours, which can help explain why it can take so long for edibles to kick in.

RELATED: How Long For Edibles to Kick in?

Once the THC is metabolized and transformed into 11-OH-THC, it’s free to bind to our endocannabinoid system to deliver its effects. However, due to its chemical nature, it’s also able to stay in our system for much longer, which also means the psychoactive effects last much longer, too, much to the discomfort and dismay of its users!

RELATED: How Long Do Edibles Last?

What Happens When You Eat an Edible and Go to Sleep?

Cannabis-infused edibles will work the same way regardless of the time you eat them. Whether you eat them in the morning or in the evening, the edible will still have to be processed by your body for their psychoactive effects to completely leave the human body.

For many people, their metabolism typically slows down while they’re resting and/or sleeping. With this in mind, eating an edible right before you sleep might mean that you’ll be high for a few hours after waking up because your body might not have had enough time to process and get rid of it.

Do Edibles Show Up on a Drug Test?

edibles drug test

When any drug testing for weed is done, testers usually test for THC in blood and saliva. Fortunately for edible consumers, the process for testing THC content from weed that’s eaten is still not there yet.

In a study titled “Cannabis edibles: Blood and oral fluid cannabinoid pharmacokinetics and evaluation of oral fluid screening devices for predicting Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol in blood and oral fluid following cannabis brownie administration,” researchers concluded that the time it takes to collect an accurate blood test for THC after edible consumption makes any testing done during a road stop inaccurate and unreliable.

However, THC from edibles might still show up in drug testing done in a non-police scenario, such as during work or in a professional lab.

Does the Type of Edible Matter?

Cannabis products come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and flavours to help tokers achieve their objectives. Edibles typically work by adding THC into our system, so the way different types of edibles work won’t vary much, but the time it takes for the effects to kick in might vary.

Edible cannabis products such as baked goods, chocolates, and candies will take longer to “activate” than other edibles such as tinctures and pills. The reason for this is because edible products made to taste good will often include fats, starches, and many other binders and fillers to make them tasty. This means that by volume, the edible will have a lower concentration of THC.

Related: Types of Edibles – What Kind is Best For You?

More medicinal-oriented products such as tinctures and pills will usually contain exclusively THC or CBD and one binder to make it shelf stable. Additionally, these edible products can also be administered under the tongue to speed up the absorption process. 

Where it might take baked goods edibles two hours or several hours to kick in, tinctures and pills might only take half of an hour or less to activate.

Does the Amount and Dose Matter?


The more THC you eat and the higher of a dose you consume, the longer it’ll take for your body to process the active ingredients. When it comes to consuming edibles, the mantra of “starting low and going slow” is something everybody should strictly follow.

RELATED: Cannabis 101 – Edibles Dosage – How Much is Too Much?

If you eat a larger does, the effects won’t just last longer, they’ll also hit harder, too. The active ingredient, THC, will be in higher levels and since it can penetrate the blood-brain barrier more easily, it won’t be long before the physical effects and mental effects reach uncomfortable levels.

While you won’t die from greening out, the rapid heart rate, anxiety, and stress that’ll accompany the experience won’t make for a good time!

Does What I Eat Beforehand Affect the Experience?

Your body’s metabolism is the single most important factor in deciding your edible experience. As such, eating an edible on an empty stomach will make the effects hit much harder and faster than if you ate your first dose on a full stomach.

RELATED: Eating Edibles For the First Time – A Guide

Additionally, those with a fast metabolism will also feel the effects faster than those with a slower metabolism. Since it’s almost impossible to know how fast or slow your metabolism is, it’s important to take it slow and to consume edibles with lower THC levels instead of eating the entire package!

How do Edibles Work? – A Complicated Answer

Weed edibles are undoubtedly one of the best ways to dose and medicate with THC. Practical considerations aside, the worst-case scenario from consuming too large of a dose or too much might be anxiety, discomfort, and some paranoia for a few hours. The benefit of a consistent, accurate, and reliable dose to help users achieve their desired effects cannot be understated.

While it’s easy to smoke too much or vape too much, dosing with edibles is incredibly easy once you’ve learned how to dial in how much you need to eat to get your desired effect!

Still, the chemistry behind cannabis edibles requires more research. Currently, there is no fast or easy way to figure out how much or how little to eat. It’ll take trial and error to figure it out and honestly speaking, you might just end up eating too much one time!

Luckily, we have tips on how to sober up from weed ready to go!

Until next time, happy trails!

Herb Approach News is the media division of the cannabis health company Herb Approach. Through this medium, we are determined in providing insight on everything cannabis related, from news to commentary, from tips to guides on practical consumption, a whole lot more. Have a question? Email us at [email protected].