Why do Edibles Feel Like a Bad, Acid Trip to Me?

The effects of ingesting THC are physiologically different than smoking it.

By David Icke Turner

Photo by Margo Amala

It is a tale we have all heard recently. Veteran weed smoker eats an edible and has a full-on bizarro anxiety attack. A heightened sense of mortality is accompanied with panic attacks and possibly nausea. It’s basically the opposite of the desired effect.

We usually know how it works when we smoke cannabis; the THC produces a generally predictable range of psychoactive effects. Edibles are a different story. Although it starts off as tetrahydrocannabinol added to the food item, the molecule moves along an entirely distinct metabolic pathway when eaten. Edibles make their way through the digestive tract where the THC is sent to the liver where it transforms into a fundamentally different psychoactive substance. Your liver metabolises the tetrahydrocannabinol into a derivative, 11-hydroxy-THC. This is what makes you feel like the walking dead. 11-hydroxy-THC has the capacity to permeate the blood-brain barrier and create far more intense psychoactive effects than your average THC high.

We know 11-hydroxy-THC has distinct effects largely from the ‘oral tradition’ of horror stories told by unsuspecting ‘victims.’ Nonetheless, the evidence is not only anecdotal.  Science has created congruent results that demonstrate edibles experiences widely differ from archetypal weed experiences.

The year was 1972. Of course it was.

Research journal Science administered subjects with irregular quantities of both intravenous THC and 11-hydroxy-THC. The subjects were then asked to rate the psychoactive effects they felt using a numerical scale. It was found that the mean observed high described by the THC group was 18.79 and the  18.01 for the 11-hydroxy-THC group. Nonetheless, 11-hydroxy-THC was administered in smaller doses. The researchers quickly realized much smaller amounts of 11-hydroxy-THC were needed to get the same results as tetrahydrocannabinol. This indicates that, if administered in an equitable dose to THC, it would have likely caused an even more noticeably potent high. 

But it is not only more potent. 

Something distinct occurs when you eat cannabis-infused food. Prior to any discernible effects hitting the brain, edibles pass through the entirety of the digestive tract. Ultimately, this means it takes longer for the effects to kick in. Therein lies one of the first pitfalls. Never keep eating more because you don’t feel it. 

When you smoke, the effects apex within 10 to 30 minutes. With edibles, the high may take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. Making matters worse, or better, is the fact that the effects of 11-hydroxy-THC can list up to 7 hours. If you don’t like how you feel, it might be a good idea to go to sleep. 

Further, the fact that you have to wait for the cannabis to make its way through the digestive system means there will be huge variants for everyone who tries this. Everybody has unique peculiarities within the digestive tract. Your personal physiological factors and metabolic function will determine the psychoactive effects of ingested cannabis. No to mention your levels of hydration, sensitivity to THC, and how much/what you scarfed down that day. 

We all have wide variants in terms of the way our endocannabinoid system reacts and tolerates tetrahydrocannabinol. 

A few pointers for when edibles freak you the fuck out:

  • Surround yourself in a familiar space with comforting people. 
  • Drinks lots of water.
  • Have a friend or loved one assure you that you are alive and breathing every 4 -9 minutes.
  • Fellow cannabinoid CBD is known to lessen the effects of11-hydroxy-THC. Try a hefty dose of 100 to 200mg. Freshly cracked black pepper, lemon oil,and lavender are known to have similar calming effects as well.
  • Unless you have an underlying medical condition, hospitalization is likely to be an embarrassing adventure.
  • Find someone you trust, who is sober, and have them laugh at you and how fucking blazed you are. The fact that they find humor in your unwarranted anxiety might make you realize that all is well. 
  • Eat ice cream and watch any Mel Brooks film.

The good folks at Leafly put together the below visual and dosing guide to manage your intake of edibles. 


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