Are There Side Effects to Edibles?

When you think of cannabis edibles, the staple image of a sketchy, foil-wrapped pot brownie may be the first thing that comes to mind.  But the range of cannabis-infused edible products the nascent marijuana industry has to offer is truly impressive.  The variety of products includes consumables like cookies, candy, chocolate bars, snacks, spreads, pill capsules, drinks, and, of course, brownies.  Honestly, if you can infuse it with marijuana, there is probably an edible product sitting on some dispensary shelf for sale.

Some edibles are meant to be absorbed by the stomach and intestines.  These edibles include food-like products such as cookies, brownies, candies, and pills. Although these products take 30 minutes to 1 hour to edible side effectsfully activate, their effect can last up to eight hours.

Tinctures, lozenges, and suckers are meant to be absorbed by the mouth. These products spend a long time in your mouth, and their chemical compounds are absorbed sublingually, or beneath the tongue.

Because of the many capillaries beneath the tongue, sublingual absorption provides the cannabis with a direct entry into the bloodstream, resulting in quicker and often more potent effects

Other edibles such as drinks and chocolate are absorbed in the mouth and by the stomach. These products work quickly due to the oral absorption, but because they are still processed gastrointestinally, they offer a long lasting effect.

What’s the difference between consuming edibles and smoking?

Cannabis infused edibles are processed very differently than cannabis flowers, so their effects can also be very different.  For example, depending on the cannabis oil used, edible products can lose the terpenes that would otherwise be present in smoked marijuana.  Extracted hash oil is more likely to lose those terpenes than cannabutter is, for example.

Another major difference between the two methods of cannabis ingestion is the actual means of absorption.  When you smoke marijuana, the cannabis is absorbed through the lungs.  From there, the lungs’ 300 to 500 million alveoli absorb the cannabinoids and transfer them to the bloodstream.  When you smoke, each inhalation releases a small amount of the cannabinoids,

While you feel the effects almost immediately, they usually wear off within a couple of hours

While smoking marijuana isn’t as dangerous as smoking tobacco, studies have shown that long-term smoking can lead to bronchitis-like symptoms such as throat irritation and coughing.   Those studies also show that those symptoms go away once the smoking stops.

Edibles, on the other hand, do not damage the lungs at all.  Edibles are absorbed through the stomach and intestines, passed through the liver, absorbed into the bloodstream, and sent to the brain.  Consumers of marijuana should expect to wait forty minutes to an hour to feel the effects of the edibles, but those effects can last anywhere from six to eight hours.  That sustained effect can be extremely beneficial for someone struggling with chronic pain or insomnia.

So. Side effects.

There isn’t a whole lot of research on edibles or their effects, and smoking can be very different from eating the plant.  This has led to a lot of uncertainty, some fear, and the occasional dangerous or inappropriate use of an edible.

In Colorado and Washington, 10 milligrams of THC is equivalent to 1 serving

The tricky part about that is that sometimes a single edible can contain as much as 100 milligrams of THC.  People are used to eating an entire cookie or candy bar at a time, but consuming an entire edible could result in a high that is far too potent for enjoyment.

Furthermore, edibles like cookies and candies look just like the treats that children are attracted to. Unfortunately, this has resulted in kids side effects edibles accidentally or intentionally consuming marijuana, and at much higher doses than what is recommended.

Because everyone reacts to edibles differently, it is important to take the appropriate precautions.  First, start with a small amount. Only consume 5-10 milligrams worth of edibles.  Give your body a reasonable amount of time to absorb the edible before eating more.  This means waiting 40 minutes to an hour.

A lot of the time, when it comes to edibles, you don’t know what strain you’re consuming. But, if you have the option to choose a strain, consider consuming a strain like OG Kush, that’s good against negative side effects.

If those precautions are not met, you may experience the following side effects:

Anxiety and paranoia: Although cannabis contains cannabidiol (CBD), one of the anxiety-relieving cannabinoids present in the marijuana plant, consuming more of an edible than you can handle may still trigger this side effect. If you experience this side effect, remember that it will pass and do your best to stay calm and think positively.

Cotton mouth: Dry mouth is usually a symptom experienced after taking too much THC. A drink of water can quickly remedy this discomfort.

Lethargy: Once the high has worn off, you may feel extremely tired after consuming too much of a cannabis edible. Do your best to get rest and drink water.

The Bottom Line

For the most part, edibles are safe and non-toxic. They don’t damage your lungs the way that smoking does and they provide a long lasting, calmer high if the appropriate dose is consumed.

As with all marijuana products, it is very important that you purchase cannabis that has been tested by an independent lab for molds, microbial agents, potency, and terpenoids.  Unfortunately, some manufacturers use the worst marijuana buds they have—moldy bud covered in spider mites.

Ask your local budtender if the edible you’re interested in purchasing has been tested

Because marijuana isn’t FDA approved, there aren’t uniform testing standards across the states, so you might have to discriminate between dispensaries.  If the budtender has no idea if the product has been tested, you might want to check the next place.

If you’re an inexperienced baker, you may want to consider using a high CBD strain, like ACDC or Charlotte’s Web, to avoid intense side effects.

Finally, if you have severe allergies, you may want to avoid edibles all together.  The kitchens where these products are produced may be contaminated with allergens like gluten, nuts, lactose, and possibly even pet dander.

References

Infused Edibles: Everything You Need to Know About Consuming Infused Edibles

The Health Benefits of CBD Tincture

Why We Take Medicines Under Our Tongue

Ask the Cannabist: Smoking VS Eating Pot—Why is the High So Different?

Surprise: Most of Us Have Been Inhaling Cannabis the Wrong Way

Will Ingesting Cannabis Affect Me Differently Than Smoking?

Healthy Lungs #4: The Effects of Long-term Marijuana Smoking

Marijuana Cannabinoids—Oral and Transdermal Methods

Why Marijuana Edibles Might Be More Dangerous Than Smoking

A Beginner’s Guide to Marijuana Edibles

The Importance of Cannabis Testing

Dianna Benjamin

About the author: Dianna Benjamin is a freelance writer, teacher, wife, and mom horrified and fascinated by social justice and our inability--yet constant pursuit--to get it right.