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By Alixandra Laub Even with all the different products out there, patient survey data found that smoking flower was still the most commonly used method of cannabis consumption followed by edibles. Yet beyond preference, what is the best way to consume cannabis in the scientific and medical worlds? Well, it depends on the situation. Here […]

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By Alixandra Laub

Even with all the different products out there, patient survey data found that smoking flower was still the most commonly used method of cannabis consumption followed by edibles. Yet beyond preference, what is the best way to consume cannabis in the scientific and medical worlds? Well, it depends on the situation. Here is what we know about the absorption rates, safety, dosages, bioavailability, and specific effects of either inhaling or eating cannabis. This information can enhance the comfort and efficacy of cannabis-based medicines and allow safe and effective prescribing practices within the health care community. As members of the industry, it can be helpful to revise this stuff to maximize consumer benefit and reduce potential mishaps that deter people from this potentially therapeutic plant. 


The number of puffs, duration, hold time, and inhalation volume all greatly influence THC exposure and absorption when smoking. Also, THC decomposes with time, and exposure to air, heat, or light, so the further down the shelf-life means the further the decline in THC absorption. Regardless, smoking is the most rapid and most efficient method of administration. The central nervous system effects of smoking a joint, blunt, bong/bubbler, pipe or vape can be felt in less than a minute after consumption and lasts up to two hours. Whereas consuming capsules, tablets, baked goods, oils, and teas can take on average 30 minutes to an hour to feel the effects.  Although edible cannabis takes longer to metabolize, edibles have a longer-lasting effect (7-12 hours) and are arguably the most discrete and convenient method. 


Inhaling cannabis may be the quickest method of administration, though smoking may lead to a greater risk of respiratory damage, bronchitis, cough, and/or phlegm. Whether a joint, blunt, bong/bubbler, pipe, or vape is used, there is only a difference between smoking concentrates from smoking flowers. The major differences depending on the constituents extracted and additives in the vapes. Another difference between smoke and vaporizers is that smoke produces pyrolytic compounds that occur from lighting it up, although this does not mean vapes are a safer option. 

Edible cannabis eliminates the concern for respiratory damage. However, edibles take longer to metabolize and therefore delayed effects, the chances of overconsumption leading to negative psychotic reactions is far greater.  Due to this, edibles are associated with a higher number of emergency hospital visits for intoxication, psychiatric, and gastrointestinal complaints. In the case of dosing edibles, it is recommended that the partaker wait 2 hours before increasing the dose.


Not surprisingly, when using inhalation as the preferred route of administration, it can be difficult to provide precise dosing beyond preference. Baked or candied edibles can be more difficult to standardize and less precise.  Also, some of the constituents beyond THC or CBD can be lost during the process of making certain edibles. So to date, capsules are the most exact and precise dosing method of all, as well as the most highly tolerated. Researchers found that taking them on an empty stomach will produce quicker results, yet eating a high-fat diet may make you higher but you will have to wait. 


Even with the right dosage, how much of the THC that is available to the body differs depending on which method you use. That is, inhaling cannabis results in a higher bioavailability or concentrations of THC in the bloodstream than if an edible was consumed. The body will be able to process about 10-37% of total THC content when inhaled, compared to about 3-6% THC bioavailability when eaten. This might come as a surprise to some, as edibles can sometimes feel stronger than inhaled cannabis. If you are interested in knowing why that might be, I must explain the first pass metabolism. When a drug or substance is eaten, it must first pass into the liver, where much of the original substance is broken down and destroyed before it circulates throughout the body.

It can be difficult to pinpoint the best way to ingest cannabis when there are so many variables involved with the bioavailability of THC. For example, we now know there is a difference in cannabinoid absorption between males and females (given mg/kg dosages). Further, one small Canadian study (28 participants) conducted in 2019 found that women had higher THC levels than the men in the study.  To complicate things further, THC absorption is even dependent on when and how much food was eaten during the time of cannabis ingestion. That same Canadian study found that a high-fat meal before ingesting a 10 mg THC capsule, increased THC bioavailability, but at a much slower rate than at a fasted state.  On the contrary, if the effects need to be felt quicker, consuming capsules on an empty state may be more advantageous although adverse events (dizziness, drowsiness, and fatigue are more common).  With more repeatable and precise studies including important variables, we might be able to understand some of the frequently asked cannabis questions in the future.

Specific Effects 

In a comprehensive 2020 study, 670 people over 2306 smoke sessions tracked the effects of cannabis flower consumption over 2.5 years. In 95.51% of sessions, there was a decrease (by 3-4 points on an 11 point scale) in mood-related symptoms of agitation/irritability, anxiety, and common stress, regardless of the type (hybrid, sativa, or indica). Although high THC levels were acknowledged as the predictor of symptom relief. As mentioned, smoking cannabis had a higher level of THC bioavailability, which is why smoking would be preferred in this situation.   


Smoking is the most common method, and also the most rapid and most efficient method of THC uptake. Still, it is more difficult to accidentally overindulge or a hospital situation. Smoking allows for more constituent variation and less processing in general.  Edibles are the most discrete and convenient method that can be felt for a longer time. The delayed effects of eating cannabis can be improved by consuming on an empty stomach. Edibles are safer for the respiratory system, and capsules are most ideal for precise dosing. 

Alixandra Laub M.S. is on a mission to connect people to plant medicine as an herbalist, wellness coach, essential oil distiller, and manufacturer of topical herbal remedies. If you are interested in learning more about healing hacks, natural wellness, or plants and cannabis, stop by or TahoePetrichor on FB & IG.


References: Barrus, D. G., Capogrossi, K. L., Cates, S. C., Gourdet, C. K., Peiper, N. C., Novak, S. P., Lefever, T. W., & Wiley, J. L. (2016). Tasty THC: Promises and Challenges of Cannabis Edibles. Methods report (RTI Press), 2016, 10.3768/rtipress.2016.op.0035.1611., Bear-McGuinness, L. (2019). How Long Do Edibles Last? Analytical Cannabis. Retrieved from, Brunetti, P., Pichini, S., Pacifici, R., Busardò, F. P., & Del Rio, A. (2020). Herbal Preparations of Medical Cannabis: A Vademecum for Prescribing Doctors. Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania), 56(5), 237., CDC. (2021). Marijuana FAQ. Center for Disease Control. Retrieved from, Huestis M. A. (2007). Human cannabinoid pharmacokinetics. Chemistry & biodiversity, 4(8), 1770–1804., Lunn, S., Diaz, P., O’Hearn, S., Cahill, S. P., Blake, A., Narine, K., & Dyck, J. (2019). Human Pharmacokinetic Parameters of Orally Administered Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Capsules Are Altered by Fed Versus Fasted Conditions and Sex Differences. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 4(4), 255–264., Stith, S. S., Li, X., Diviant, J. P., Brockelman, F. C., Keeling, K. S., Hall, B., & Vigil, J. M. (2020). The effectiveness of inhaled Cannabis flower for the treatment of agitation/irritability, anxiety, and common stress. Journal of cannabis research, 2(1), 47.



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