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Difference Between Smoking and Eating Edibles

Here's how smoking and eating edibles can be very different experiences.

By Fred Eugene ParkPublished 5 years ago 8 min read

The effects of marijuana are well known and hard to deny. With the rising tide of legalization bringing legal weed to people in various states, more and more people are being exposed to the various alternative ways of consuming it. While forms like vaping have a relatively similar effect to smoking, not every method can claim this.

With the legalization and regulation of cannabis, stricter quality control has allowed the mass production and dosage control of various new edible forms. While eating edibles can be a fun and interesting experience, it's notably different from inhaled cannabis in many ways. There are some big differences between smoking and eating edibles. Whether in terms of potency or effects, it is important to understand that your edible experience can likely be very different and must be approached with caution, but not anxiety.

THC Versus 11-Hydroxy-THC

Just as marijuana edibles are consumed rather than inhaled, the body processes the two delivery systems differently. As you may have noticed, when you take an edible, you usually must wait anywhere from 30 minutes to as long as an hour (or more!) to feel the effects, provided the edible is as strong or stronger than you thought. While inhaling weed causes the body to process normal tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, to get you high, the body processes a different form of the chemical for digested weed edibles.

11-Hydroxy-THC, the main chemical in cannabis that is activated when it is heated to the proper temperature, and is the main chemical you can attribute to your edible high. For this reason, it is only possible to get high by eating cannabis that has been prepared properly. This difference in chemical processes is responsible for the differences between smoking and eating marijuana as well as the delayed body response.


Just as the body processes different chemicals when smoking and eating weed, they are also processed by different organs. It is no coincidence that these two experiences can vary widely in mood and duration. While THC is first processed through the lungs and then the brain, 11-Hydroxy-THC is absorbed by the stomach and metabolized by the liver, which processes the substance at a significantly slower pace.

Consequently, while it takes longer to feel edibles, people typically experience a longer lasting high, the intensity of which varies based on potency and strain type. Because smoking or vaping marijuana causes THC to enter through the lungs and then start crossing the blood-brain barrier (like the oxygen that we breathe), the effects become apparent far sooner, though they fade after two hours or so (sometimes longer for vaping).


Regardless of the form of consumption, marijuana is widely known for its ability to distort time, making an hour feel like several hours. If you smoke marijuana, vape, dab, or eat your weed, you will almost always feel as if time has slowed around you, especially if you then choose to stare at a digital clock. Logically, the more you consume or the higher the strength of your consumption, the stronger the effects of your high.

As previously discussed, edibles last quite a bit longer than smoked marijuana and unsurprisingly, it also causes a more extreme and lasting dilation of time. If you have never taken edibles before, you should consider these differences before doing so, and consider waiting to try edibles until you've already smoked weed.


While the effects of smoking cannabis are not majorly impacted by food consumption, this cannot at all be said of edible cannabis. Smoked weed will not be effected by food consumption because it does not pass through the stomach when it enters the bloodstream. For this reason, it is better to compare the relationship between the amount of food in the stomach and the edible to the way in which the body processes alcohol. When you drink on an empty stomach, you'll find that you feel they symptoms far sooner and with greater intensity. This is because the body is processing the alcohol on its own, rather than also taking care of food digestion.

Consequently, more of the intoxicant is absorbed into the bloodstream. This means that if an edible is eaten without food in the stomach, its effects are generally observed to be more potent. Sometimes, it'll feel too strong and may provoke anxiety in some people. However, when over-consuming food with an edible, it is possible to greatly delay, reduce, or even nullify the effects of the edible.

Portion Control

While it is relatively easy to know the doses if you smoke marijuana regularly, it is often very difficult to identify proper dosage when taking edibles. Because your run of the mill homemade pot brownie is not subject to any regulation, it is hard to know the potency that you are ingesting, until it kicks in much later.

While the states that have legalized weed have regulated and controlled the potency of retail products, homemade stock is still the wild west in a lot of ways. You will know that you have either over-indulged or received a strong batch when you begin to feel light headed and or dizzy when upright.

Likewise, you may momentarily faint, or see light wash over your field of view. You may also find that your surroundings may ripple or wave with distortion. Though this mild hallucinogenic state can be frightful, it is important to relax and lay down until you begin to feel normal.

The Cost

When you're debating between smoking and eating edibles, it's worth considering the cost difference. Though an edible can give you a pretty wild ride, it is proportionally expensive when compared with smoking weed. For most casual pot smokers, $20 worth of weed will last at least two or three times as long as $20 worth of edible weed. Though cannabis edibles may likely be a healthier and more discrete alternative to smoking weed, it is more arduous and costly to produce, owing to it's higher cost.

While it may not seem like it would be very difficult on the surface, it is not as simple as grinding up your bud and mixing it into brownie batter. In order to make edibles, one must extract the oil from weed and bake said oil into their baked goods. Because there is a law of diminishing returns, it takes a substantial amount of weed (sometimes as much as an ounce) to yield enough oil make even a home batch of pot brownies. It's delicious, but it's definitely the more costly method of consuming marijuana.

The Smell

As many bored small-town cops will tell you, it is very easy to identify the smell of marijuana, both fresh and especially when very recently burnt. Because it smells so strongly, marijuana bud (or flower, as many call it) can be a traveling hazard in places with stricter laws and on public transportation. While vaping has helped to solve this problem for many die-hard smokers who can dip out into a bathroom or other private space, some people will turn to some form of edibles for their weed stealth.

Though your street pot brownies can smell to high heaven when unwrapped, they only smell until you eat them. Further, gummies and other more processed edible forms hardly smell at all. In either case, edibles are ideal for those trying to get high without stinking the place up or visibly exhaling vapor.

Health Effects

While some benefits of edible marijuana are really only known to those who actually smoke, there are some obvious differences as well. Without much thought, it is easy to realize that switching to edibles would take some strain off of the lungs and stop further tar buildup. Consequently, this can decrease congestion and inflammation and therefore overall lung health, decreasing susceptibility to infections, viruses, and various forms of cancer (namely lung, throat, gum, and others).

Marijuana is generally believed to be less harmful to the lungs than tobacco smoke. However, it's important to realize that inhaling any type of smoke is not particularly healthy for the human lungs or the rest of the body, whether it is from a tobacco cigarette or logs burning on a campfire, as both contain carbon monoxide and other gaseous toxins. Any opportunity to avoid inhaling smoke to get high is a great choice for your lungs.

Kind of High

While you can really expect a variety of experiences with smoked weed depending on the strain, you can almost always count on a strong body high if your edible actually kicks in. As has been exhaustively observed by most, edibles hit you somewhat differently than inhaled weed.

While the minute chemical differences between sativa strains and indica strains assures a variety of different levels of brain and body high (respectively), the absorption of the edibles through the digestive system and the processing of the edible means that a body mellowing effect can always be counted on (though overindulging can turn this into a sort of motion sickness). This indica-like effect is universal when using brownies and other edible weed products. If you can count on nothing else from your bold brownie eating experiment, know that you should at least count on this body high effect, if the brownie is potent enough to work its magic.

If you're new to the world of marijuana and edibles, it doesn't hurt to learn a little more about sativa vs. indica marijuana.


Despite the previously stated dangers of unknown dosage with homemade brownies, if you are lucky enough to live in one of the states where recreational weed is legal, you can easily find dosage controlled edibles that will have at or close to the stated strength, due to stringent lab testing requirements that are most often part of these recreational cannabis legalization laws.

Smoking and eating edibles make for different experiences, but if you want to spare your lungs or just try something different, marijuana edibles are a great treat to experiment with. There's no need to stop with pot brownies. You can make easy canna cinnamon rolls or learn how to make cannabis granola bars. If you have any favorite cookie recipes that call for butter, once you've converted your cannabis into fat, you can use that special oil as a substitute for butter.

As long as you know the dosage you require for a good high, you are likely to get a more consistent experience with controlled edibles than smoking flower, which can often vary widely in potency from strain to strain and grower to grower. Because they make marijuana edibles in all different levels of potency, it is easy to find the right dose of edibles whether you're just an occasional blazer or you're a hardcore stoner.


About the Creator

Fred Eugene Park

Fred Park is a writer, singer and guitarist with a deep passion for music, sports and history. Fred graduated from Purchase College in 2016 with a BA in history.

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