Even though you’re consuming the same substance whether you’re eating, smoking or vaping cannabis, there are actually a lot of differences in how the substance affects your body. The main reason for this is how the weed gets absorbed.

When you smoke or vape cannabis, it goes into your lungs, where it rapidly gets into your bloodstream and heads toward your brain. This process is pretty immediate, with the effects taking action only a few minutes after consuming. Being able to quickly feel how high you are is a good way to manage your dose, so that means that once you’ve hit the amount of high you want to be, you’ll be able to recognize that and stop consuming.

Edibles, however, act like any other type of food: they go through your digestive system and have to be processed by a variety of different organs before anything reaches your bloodstream. Some people might feel the effects about 45 – 60 minutes after consuming, but sometimes it can take as much as two hours to hit. What’s tricky with this is that you won’t know how high you’ll get until you’re well into your trip, unless you’re a very experienced user and know exactly how much THC was in your edible. It also means that it might feel like your edible didn’t hit, since it’s taking so long. Don’t worry – it will! Sometimes people will feel like it’s taking too long and have another piece (a practice called redosing by academics). Unfortunately, redosing can cause people to have a bad time and even sometimes go to the hospital, because both doses hit at the same time. Although no one has ever died from a cannabis overdose, the experience can be incredibly overwhelming, and often not fun.

In Canada, edibles will be sold in units of 10mg to allow individual dosing rather than larger doses so that people can become more familiar with using it.  Of course, this is not the case with homemade edibles or edibles from non-licensed sources.

Another big difference is how long the high lasts. With inhaled cannabis (smoked or vaped), the high will generally last about 2 hours, although it can be considerably longer, up to 8 hours at high doses. With edibles, it’s much longer, because the digestive process is slower, so the high usually lasts about 3 to 6 hours, with effects lasting up to 24 hours in some cases depending on the dose.

So how do these two methods compare? Aside from the risks around edibles and dosing, they do have fewer risks that are directly attributable to the way you use them. While smoking (and perhaps even vaping, although we are learning more and more about the risk of some of the preparations that are used for vaping, like e-liquids and the chemicals that are mixed in with the cannabis extract) carries risks for your lung health, edibles are just like having any other food. If you want to reduce your risk with edibles, you can follow the classic “start low, go slow” saying – start with a small dose, and only redose after waiting at least 2 hours. This can help you manage your dose, and you’re also more likely to have a better time!