Edibles are cannabis-based food products. They come in many different forms, from gummies to brownies, and contain either one or both of marijuana’s active ingredients: THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).
With the legalization of marijuana, edibles are increasing in popularity. CBD-only edibles have even been found to help treat ailments such as anxiety and chronic pain. As an added benefit, edibles don’t pose risks to the respiratory system — unlike smoking marijuana.
The edible experience tends to differ from that of other cannabis products. The “high” from edibles can feel more intense, and it may last longer than the high you get from smoking.
Edibles also take longer than smoking or vaping cannabis to kick in, although many factors affect the timing.
Keep reading to learn more about edibles, including how long they take to kick in and how long the effects last, along with dosage, side effects, and precautions.
Edibles typically take around 30 to 60 minutes to kick in. However, onset time depends on a lot of factors.
First, it depends on the product’s active ingredients. If the product contains a high dose or concentration of THC, it could take effect faster.
Keep in mind that CBD-only edibles are not psychoactive. They don’t cause the “high” typically associated with THC-infused edibles. As a result, it may be harder to identify when CBD products have taken effect.
For both types of products, onset time also depends on where in the body the edibles are being broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream.
Lozenges, gum, and lollipops kick in faster because they’re absorbed sublingually
Some edible products, such as lozenges, gum, and lollipops, are ingested but not actually swallowed. In these cases, absorption occurs through the mucus membranes of the mouth. This is called sublingual absorption, and the effects are more likely to appear faster.
Chewable edibles take longer to kick in because they’re absorbed through the digestive system
Chewable edibles, such as gummies, cookies, and brownies, may have longer onset times. This is because absorption first occurs in the digestive tract. From there, active ingredients enter the bloodstream and travel to the liver.
In the liver, active ingredients are metabolized before they are released back into the bloodstream and enter the brain, at which point the effects appear.
Other factors affecting onset time
Other factors that can affect how quickly you start to feel the effects of ingested edibles are related to your habits and physical makeup. They include your:
- tolerance to cannabis
Since edibles don’t kick in right away, it can be tempting to take more soon after your first dose. This can lead to taking too much.
You should always wait at least 24 hours before taking another dose.
An edible high generally lasts much longer than smoking or vaping, from six to eight hours.
Among edibles that contain THC, peak blood levels occur around three hours after administration. That’s when the effects are likely to be the most intense.
As with onset time, the length of an edible high depends on a variety of factors, including the dose and potency. The high from products that are chewed and swallowed may last longer than the high from products that are absorbed orally.
Individual factors, such as metabolism, weight, and tolerance, also affect duration.
Yet, it may not be possible to predict how long the effects of edibles will last. In a 2016 study, researchers analyzed over one hundred thousand tweets about edibles. An “unpredictable” high duration was one of the most common adverse effects listed.
Edibles come in many different forms, and new products come onto the market almost daily. Common types of edibles include:
- Baked goods: brownies, cookies, biscuits, and waffles.
- Candy and sweets: gummies, chewing gum, lozenges, lollipops and hard candy, chocolate, truffles, fruit bars, and marshmallows.
- Beverages: coffee, tea and iced tea, soda, energy drinks and shots, beer, wine, and alcohol.
- Other products: jerky, butter, sugar, and syrups.
Most edible cannabis products identify how much THC or CBD is in a single serving. For instance, a single gummy typically contains 10 milligrams (mg) of THC.
In some cases, though, the manufacturer lists the THC or CBD content of the entire package or food item. To use the gummy example, a package might contain 100 mg of THC. If the package contains 10 gummies, that’s 10 mg per gummy.
This can be quite confusing with food items such as brownies and cookies. In some cases, it might mean that a single dose corresponds to a fraction of the item.
Be sure to read the label
It’s important to read the label carefully before you consume the product. Look for the THC or CBD content per serving, and identify whether the serving size refers to the entire product or only a portion.
That said, even when you know exactly what you’re consuming, edible dosing isn’t always predictable. There are a lot of variables involved.
It’s best to start with a low dose, and work your way up to a dose that produces the desired effect.
Here are some general dosing suggestions for THC and CBD edibles.
THC tolerance isn’t the same for smoking and edibles. Edible THC typically produces more intense effects.
According to a 2015 report commissioned by the Colorado Department of Revenue, the behavioral effects of eating 1 mg of THC are comparable to those associated with smoking 5.71 mg of THC.
Even if you’re a regular marijuana smoker, you should start with a low dose. Over time, you can increase the dose until you reach the desired effect.
Doses that exceed 20 to 30 mg per day are associated with an increased risk of negative side effects, including dependency.
Since CBD does not produce psychoactive effects, there’s less risk if you take too much. Still, high doses may cause undesirable side effects, such as fatigue.
As with THC edibles, it’s best to start small. Opt for a low dose between 2.5 and 10 mg, and work your way up to a CBD dose that produces the desired effects.
Since CBD can make you sleepy, it’s best to take it in the early evening until you understand how it affects you.
Cannabis-infused edibles present distinct advantages over smoking. These include:
- No respiratory risk. Cannabis smoke contains carcinogens. In addition, regular cannabis smoking is associated with respiratory issues such as lung inflammation and bronchitis. Edibles do not involve burning marijuana and inhaling the smoke, and therefore do not pose the same risks.
- Longer duration. Edibles last longer than smoking or vaping, which makes them ideal for medicinal users who want long-acting relief from symptoms.
- Accessible. Taking edibles does not require going outside. People who cannot smoke may also find edible products easier to consume.
- Discreet. Much like medication, it’s possible to take edibles without others noticing. Unlike smoking, edibles aren’t associated with odor. This may be helpful for those who use cannabis for medicinal purposes, and need to take it while at work.
Edible side effects depend on the active ingredient.
High doses of THC edibles can produce unpleasant symptoms that persist for several hours up to several days. This is sometimes referred to as “greening out” or a cannabis overdose.
Some symptoms associated with edible cannabis overdose include:
- cognitive impairment
- motor impairment
- extreme sedation
- agitation and anxiety
- increased heart stress
- nausea and vomiting
According to a 2017 review, known side effects of CBD include:
- changes in appetite
- changes in weight
More research into short- and long-term side effects of CBD use needs to be done.
When purchasing edibles, it’s important to evaluate the manufacturer carefully.
In general, reputable edible manufacturers are transparent about the contents of their products and the required dosages. A trustworthy source should take the time to answer your questions without pressuring you to purchase the product.
Still, it’s not always possible to know exactly what you’re getting. A 2015 study evaluated the dose and label accuracy of 75 different products.
After testing the products for THC content, researchers found that only 17 percent were accurately labeled. Among products that were inaccurately labeled, 23 percent contained more THC than stated, and 60 percent contained less THC than stated.
Edibles can interfere with medication and other supplements. If you’re thinking about using them, speak with a doctor. In states where edibles are legal, a doctor may be able to recommend a dose or brand.
Edibles can take up to several hours to kick in. If you’ve already taken a dose, you should wait at least 24 hours before taking more. Taking another dose could cause unpleasant side effects.
When taking edibles for the first time, start with a small dose and work your way up to a dose that produces the desired effect.
Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.