Eating marijuana tends to produce a stronger and much longer-lasting high than smoking it—one that is often scary to inexperienced users and can be disconcerting to regulars. This has created some controversy in Colorado, as cannabis neophytes consume newly legal “edibles” ranging from ganja brownies to pot-infused salsa.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that the pharmacokinetics of marijuana—the way it is absorbed and excreted by the body—are different for smoking and eating it. The second is “set and setting,” the way in which people use it and the expectations they bring—specifically, that it’s much easier to control the dose when smoking.
“In a nutshell, eaten cannabis gets metabolized by the liver, so delta-9 THC becomes 11-hydroxy-THC, which passes the blood-brain barrier more rapidly and has more of a psychedelic effect than standard THC,” says Understanding Marijuana author Mitch Earleywine, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany. “Smoked or vaporized cannabis bypasses the liver and doesn’t create the same 11-hydroxy-THC.”