Most cannabis consumers know that the experience you get from an edible can be very different from smoking cannabis. In many ways, this is beneficial—cannabis edibles last longer and often give a more intense, full-body effect. But when users are unprepared, the edible experience can be overwhelming and unpleasant.

Why do cannabis edibles feel so different? Let’s explore how your body processes cannabis and the effects of the potent metabolic byproduct, 11-hydroxy-THC.

How We Absorb THC

Smoking is the most popular method of administration when it comes to cannabis. It also provides the most rapid and efficient way to absorb THC, the primary psychoactive cannabinoid compound. When you smoke cannabis, THC is absorbed directly through the lungs where it enters the bloodstream and is delivered to the brain within minutes.

In contrast, a cannabis edible must first travel through your digestive system. THC and other cannabinoids are eventually absorbed and partially metabolized by the liver before entering the bloodstream and making their way to the brain.

This process of cannabinoid absorption is much slower than smoking. That’s why edibles can take up to 2 hours to reach their full effect and last between 4 and 12 hours. However, consuming cannabis orally often results in less total THC absorption due to lower bioavailability of THC. So what makes edibles feel so powerful?


One theory points to 11-hydroxy-THC, a metabolic byproduct created as the THC in your edible passes through your GI tract and liver. Metabolic enzymes modify and breakdown the compounds in the foods we eat. The metabolic byproducts of this process are usually less active than the original molecule. However, in the case of 11-hydroxy-THC, the metabolite is actually more potent than its progenitor, THC.

An early study compared the effects of THC and 11-hydroxy-THC. The researchers found that when volunteers were given equivalent one milligram doses intravenously of either compound, 11-hydroxy-THC resulted in a faster onset and a more intense psychoactive experience than THC.

Moreover, it’s been estimated that the body’s first-pass metabolism produces far more 11-hydroxy-THC after oral administration than when cannabis is inhaled. This may explain why cannabis edibles can feel more potent and more psychoactive than a similar dose that’s been inhaled.

Cannabis Testing: Dose with Confidence

Edibles offer a healthier and more discreet alternative to smoking cannabis, but sometimes new cannabis consumers are turned off by the more intense experience. This is especially true when relying on guesswork to determine the dose of a homemade edible or product purchased in an unregulated market. That’s why it’s critical that users have access to accurate potency information. With reliable potency testing and labeling, your customers can dose with confidence.