Edible cannabis reportedly avoids the risks associated with smoking. However, these edibles give a more intense and longer high, and some people can experience adverse effects.

Edibles are foods or drinks containing cannabis extract. They come in many forms, including baked goods, gummies, and hard candies, while some people may also prepare them at home.

This article discusses how long edibles take to kick in and how long the high lasts. It also looks at risks and side effects, and other ways of using cannabis.

Assortment of cannabis edibles.Share on Pinterest
Image credit: LauriPatterson/Getty Images

Cannabis contains compounds such as cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the compound responsible for the “high” that people associate with the drug. The Washington State Liquor Control Board define a THC serving as 10 milligrams (mg), while products are limited to 100 mg of this substance in total.

According to research, edibles are slower to kick in but last longer compared to inhalation. This is because compared to smoking, where cannabis is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream and distributed rapidly in the brain, edibles first need to enter the digestive system.

One study indicates that oral ingestion of THC requires 30–90 minutes for effects to begin. These effects reach their peak after 2–3 hours.

Some factors affect how soon someone can feel the effects of edibles. These include:

  • the edible’s non-cannabis ingredients
  • body weight
  • metabolism
  • gender
  • when a person last ate

Consumption under the tongue, also known as sublingual absorption, is theoretically faster since it bypasses the digestive system and absorbs straight into the bloodstream. Therefore, items, such as lollipops or tinctures held under the tongue, may have quicker effects.

According to one study, the effects of edibles last 4–12 hours, depending on the dose and a person’s characteristics, such as tolerance and metabolism.

A 2017 study analyzed 5,000 tweets about edibles and found 12% described the intense or long-lasting effects following use.

People can also smoke the cannabis plant or vape cannabis oil. THC inhalation typically triggers effects within seconds or minutes. These effects plateau after 15–30 minutes and begin to taper off within 2–3 hours.

Some people prefer ingesting edibles to smoking cannabis because of the potential health risks associated with smoking. A 40-year cohort study of males in Sweden suggests that smoking cannabis might increase the risk of lung cancer.

However, not all the research is in agreement. A recent review of epidemiological cannabis and cancer studies concludes there is no evidence linking smoking cannabis with lung cancer.

As edibles take longer to take effect, a person may consume more than they intend, subsequently experiencing a more intense and longer-lasting high.

According to research, people may take extra doses, believing cannabis is not affecting them until the delayed effects commence.

A 2017 review suggests that even daily users may consume a higher dose than expected, while people tend to eat an entire edible rather than a piece or serving.

Research indicates that the effects of cannabis overdose may include anxiety and panic attacks, heart rate increases, and changes in blood pressure.

According to a study of emergency department admissions in Colorado, acute psychiatric events and cardiovascular symptoms from cannabis are more common with edibles than inhalation products.

An article in The American Journal of Psychiatry reports on five people in Colorado who went to the hospital with edible cannabis-induced temporary psychosis. According to the report, the patients were daily cannabis smokers using more than ten times the recommended THC dose of 10 mg.

In addition, children may accidentally eat edibles thinking they are regular foods or candies. A 2019 study reports that following legalization in Colorado, there was an increase in the number of children admitted to the hospital for consuming cannabis, with ingestion of an edible accounting for a majority of the cases.

Edibles take longer to exert their effects, while the “high” lasts longer. This can pose a risk for a person who may take more than intended, consequently experiencing adverse effects.

It is vital to keep edibles away from infants and children, who may think they look and taste similar to regular candies or cakes.

Smoking or vaping cannabis has a faster effect, and people may better manage how high they become. However, smoking has several potential health risks, so edibles may be an option to avoid them.