Joints vs. Edibles: How Marijuana Affects the Body
The primary “high” from the ingestion of marijuana (cannabis) is delivered through the chemical Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC is a powerful psychoactive drug that works by activating the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. THC is also a very resilient drug; it can be manipulated and processed in many different forms and still generate the same effects in the user.
While different forms of marijuana intake have been available for years, recent legislation allowing for legal marijuana use has lead to explosive growth in the marijuana product industry, particularly in Washington state and Colorado (where medical and recreational use are legalized).
Different methods of cannabis consumption include:
- Joints or bongs (smoking)
- Vaping (use of electronic vaporizer)
- Edibles (cooked into food and eaten)
- Topicals (lotions, sprays, oils and creams)
- Tinctures (alcoholic solution)
Whether ingested by smoking, eating an edible, or another method, THC (and any other chemicals present) will make its way into the bloodstream and eventually target the brain of the user. THC produces feelings of relaxation and increased sensitivity to light, sound and touch. THC affects short-term memory and coordination, and can bring on anxiety and paranoia.
While the general symptoms of marijuana use will be present regardless of how THC enters the bloodstream, there can be significant differences in potency, rate and longevity of these symptoms depending on the method of intake. Here we explore the two most common methods.
THC Effects: Smoking a Joint
Smoking is the most common method of using marijuana. After inhaling, the THC enters the lungs and is provided access to the alveoli. There are millions of alveoli in the lungs, and they make it very easy for chemical compounds to enter the body (the effects of smoking marijuana kick in after only a few seconds). By using a joint, an individual is able to feel the effects of THC much more quickly than if consumed through an edible. Often, the effects will be more potent and will last for a shorter period of time.
However, smoking marijuana can lead to health complications just as smoking tobacco can; health risks can include emphysema, bronchitis and bronchial asthma. Research shows that those who smoke marijuana have a much higher rate of tobacco use than the general population, possibly because the physical act of smoking can be an addictive habit.
A more recent industry development are marijuana “vaporizers.” These battery-powered smoking devices heat up the chemicals (including THC) so they can be inhaled into the lungs. While vaporizers are considered to be healthier than traditional joints or cigarettes, they still contain additive drugs (including THC) and can be just as physically habit forming.
THC Effects: Eating an Edible
Cannabis can often be mixed with butter or oils and cooked into food. Marijuana brownies, lollipops, candies, breath strips, cookies, bread, various drinks, granola bars, beef jerky and a host of other foods have been used to carry THC to a user. Edibles will vary greatly in their potency.
After eating an edible containing marijuana, THC is absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach and then the liver. Since this absorption process is much slower than in the lungs (in some cases, as long as 30 to 90 minutes before reaching the brain), the effects felt through an edible will be less potent, but could last much longer – sometimes between 4 to 6 hours. Also important to note, the liver can change THC into a stronger strain, usually resulting in a greater sedative effect.
Consuming a drink laced with marijuana, such as a tea, will lead to a similar absorption process as an edible. Here, however, the drink will often dilute the THC, making it less potent.
Much like other drugs absorbed in the stomach, such as alcohol, the effects of THC will be realized much more quickly on an empty stomach than on a full stomach. Consuming marijuana on an empty stomach can produce other unpleasant symptoms, including stomach pain and nausea.
Joints vs. Edibles: Biggest Takeaways
The primary differences between smoking a joint and eating an edible are in the magnitude of the effects, the time lapse before the effects are realized, and the longevity of the effects. Joints and bongs produce almost instantaneous results, are more potent, and typically result in a “high” lasting 2 to 3 hours; edibles take longer to kick in, are less potent, and can last 4 to 6 hours.
Edibles do not carry some of the negative and potentially dangerous consequences of smoking marijuana through a joint. Edibles do not create habitual smoking urges, do not lead to smoking-related health problems, and do not produce second-hand residue.
Many medical marijuana consumers report that it is easier to identify an effective dosage through smoking than through eating an edible, which factors into their decision to use joints.
The most important factor to remember, however, is that THC remains the active ingredient in both methods of marijuana intake – carrying with it the same psychoactive qualities and potentially adverse consequences.
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