Edibles are cannabis-infused foods or drinks. They deliver cannabinoids to the body through the mouth and digestive system and are generally an alternative to smoking or vaping cannabis.
Edibles containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) will cause a similar high or euphoric feeling as smoking cannabis. In some ways, edibles are a more potent way to deliver these cannabinoids. Research shows that the effects from an edible take up to about 1 hour to kick in but can last for 6 or more hours. In contrast, the effects of smoking or vaping THC tend to last 1–4 hours.
Edibles also do not carry some of the risks of smoking cannabis, such as chronic cough and phlegm production. However, knowing what amount to take can be tricky, as each person will respond to a different dose.
When trying out a new edible, it is important to start with a low dose to see how the body responds. With edibles, it is easier to take an excessively high dose and feel negative side effects than it is with smoking.
Keep reading to learn more about edibles, including how long they last, how they work, dosage, and risks.
In general, the effects of an edible start to kick in somewhere between 30 and 90 minutes. However, this will vary depending on the type of edible, as well as a person’s age, gender, metabolism, and food intake.
For some edibles, such as hard candies or suckers, absorption may begin while the person sucks on them, and, therefore, the effects may appear faster. One study notes that hard candies may kick in within 15–45 minutes, whereas other edibles can take 60–180 minutes.
In comparison with smoking or vaping cannabis products, edibles are slow to produce effects. It takes some time to notice the effects of an edible, whereas the effects of smoking or vaping THC products are almost instant.
Eating an edible means that the active ingredients, such as THC, have to go through the digestive system to reach the bloodstream, rather than the lungs. This process takes time.
People with faster metabolisms may feel the effects quicker, as the body can digest and process the edible faster. Eating an edible on an empty stomach may also lead to faster acting effects, as opposed to eating an edible with other foods or just after eating a meal.
Some people may experience a delayed effect from eating an edible. They may not notice the effects of the edible at all at first, and then the effects can come on fast and strong.
That said, anyone who has eaten an edible and does not feel the effects should wait for at least 2–3 hours before deciding to eat more or use other cannabis products. Everyone is different, and the effects may simply take longer to manifest in some people.
Waiting helps reduce the risk of uncomfortable side effects due to very high doses or an overdose of THC.
While edibles take a long time to kick in compared with smoking or vaping, they also tend to last much longer. The average dose from an edible can last 6 or more hours, with the strongest effects occurring about 3 hours after ingestion.
Again, this will vary depending on a few factors, such as dosage, metabolism, and tolerance levels. Taking a very large dose or a dose with very potent THC levels may cause a stronger, longer high, as the body takes time to process the THC out of the system.
Individual tolerance levels will also play a large part here. People who are not used to cannabis products may feel the effects more strongly and for much longer than a person who regularly uses cannabis products, if they take the same dose. Tolerance levels will also fluctuate depending on how much cannabis a person has smoked or ingested within a period.
Again, metabolism may also play a role, and a person with a very fast metabolism may not feel the effects for as long as someone with a slower metabolism.
In general, it is likely that the high from an edible will last for a few hours. The authors of a review article note that the effects from edibles last about 6–8 hours. However, it is not uncommon for the high to last up to 8–12 hours if the person is sensitive but only about 4 hours if the person has a higher tolerance.
It is difficult to pin down the dosage of edibles, as numerous manufacturers make a different range of products. Additionally, the potency of the edibles will vary not only on the type of strain and THC content but also on factors such as cooking temperature and time.
Edibles can come in doses as low 0.5 milligrams (mg) THC. However, many consider 2.5–5 mg of THC to be the lowest effective dose and will recommend starting with this dose if the person has never tried edibles.
The average edible will contain 10–15 mg of THC. These doses are generally effective for a person who is used to cannabis and wants to feel the effects of the edible for a few hours.
A very high dose begins at about 20 mg of THC. Doses this high are generally not a good idea, as they may increase the risk of some unwanted effects from taking in too much THC at once. However, some heavy smokers or people who are used to taking very high amounts of THC may use a very high dose edible to experience stronger or longer lasting effects.
A review article notes that the THC effects of edibles can appear in some individuals at doses as low as 2.5 mg, while others need doses of 50 mg to experience any of the effects of THC. This range is very wide, reinforcing the idea that individuals should start with a low dose.
Edibles containing THC cause a similar high and feelings of relaxation and euphoria as smoking the compound. The high will vary based on the type of cannabinoids in the edible and the overall potency.
Some people choose edibles rather than smoking to avoid harm to their lungs, whereas others actually prefer the high that an edible brings.
In general, cannabis products are nontoxic, and there is a very low risk of a dangerous overdose.
It is possible to ingest too much THC, though, which can cause some uncomfortable side effects. Research in the International Journal of Drug Policy notes that this THC overconsumption is more likely with edibles, as, unlike with smoking, the body does not give the person any warning signs. By the time any signs of overdose are apparent, it is too late, and the body is already processing the edible.
Overconsumption of cannabis or THC products can cause several side effects, including:
- impaired attention and inability to concentrate
- short-term memory loss
- very low blood pressure
- muscle contractions or spasms
- rapid heart rate
- rapid breathing rate
- slurred speech or mumbling
- panic attacks and severe anxiety
- mood swings
Accidental consumption of THC by children or those who have no prior history of using THC products may be more likely to cause severe reactions.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse note that edible use has caused an increase in emergency room visits. The reason may be that people who are inexperienced with edibles take too much, causing concerning symptoms.
Another risk that people should be aware of is an allergic reaction to other ingredients in the edible.
Cannabinoids need to bind to fat for the body to process them. Many manufacturers use products such as milk and butter in their edibles to help this process. Someone who has lactose intolerance may, therefore, have a reaction to an edible.
Other ingredients to look out for include common allergens, such as wheat and nuts.
Anyone with a severe nut or wheat allergy should contact the manufacturer to ask about any possible contamination before trying the product.
Edibles are a simple way of adding cannabinoids such as THC and cannabidiol (CBD) to the body. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health note that the FDA have not approved cannabis for any medical use but have approved pure isolates of cannabinoids for limited specific uses.
The body of research into cannabinoids is growing as cannabis becomes decriminalized in many parts of the world. Anecdotally, people find that cannabinoids help treat a range of conditions, including:
- chronic pain
- opioid addiction
- symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- loss of appetite
- inflammatory bowel disease
- multiple sclerosis
- sleep issues, such as insomnia
- symptoms resulting from cancer therapy
Researchers must continue to study the medical effects of marijuana to prove its safety and effectiveness as a treatment.
Edibles are a simple way to deliver cannabinoids to the body, but it is also important to consider their shelf life.
While cannabinoids can degrade over time, it is the other ingredients in an edible that may make it more or less perishable. Food types will age similarly whether they contain cannabis or not.
For instance, a muffin or cookie may be more perishable than a piece of hard candy. Manufacturers should put expiration labels on their products, similar to any other food.
Keeping an edible in the fridge or freezer can help extend its shelf life and prevent it from spoiling, especially if it contains ingredients such as dairy or eggs.
In most cases, edibles are safe and nontoxic in adults. People who have strong reactions should try lying down and waiting for the side effects to pass before seeking medical attention.
People who have severe reactions from taking very large doses should seek emergency medical attention. Children or adolescents who get hold of edibles accidentally may be more likely to experience severe reactions. Additionally, people who do not understand edibles and eat too much may have stronger reactions.
Anyone experiencing concerning symptoms, such as a rapid heart rate, chest pain, and difficulty breathing, should seek medical attention.
Edibles can be tricky to consume correctly. Each person will have a different tolerance level, so an effective dose for one person may be too much for another.
Edibles are also difficult to quantify because, unlike smoking, there is no way to tell how effective the dose is until the body breaks down the edible.
It is often easier for people to overdose with edibles than with smoking cannabis.
Overdosing by eating an edible is rarely a cause for serious concern, though it may lead to some disconcerting symptoms.
Anyone having severe symptoms, such as panic attacks, a rapid heart rate, or difficulty breathing, should seek medical attention.