Eating THC (the psychoactive constituent in marijuana) is a completely different experience for most people than smoking the substance. This varied effect can be highly beneficial and enjoyable or it can be anxiety-ridden and problematic. THC edibles simply metabolize differently than smoking the substance.
If done correctly, THC edibles can provide an intellectually stimulating experience whereby connections between disparate ideas are commonplace and creativity soars.
Most experiences with THC edibles are dose dependent, which means each person has a specific dosage that is great for this heightened creativity and clarity and a dosage that equates to anxiety.
This piece will show you why edible marijuana effects vary depending on the administration, how you can take advantage, and some parting words of wisdom.
What Makes THC Edibles Special vs Smoking?
The way that we consume THC makes a big difference in the effects that we experience. The stories may be cliche to some, but THC edibles have a somewhat scary or shocking reputation as causing distress whereas the smoking of marijuana rarely does.
This is because THC edibles are metabolized differently in the body.
To get a bit geeky, smoking the THC creates a specific psychoactive molecule called delta-9-THC, which goes directly into your bloodstream and creates a short-term effect. Over time, this compound is metabolized into the non-active 11-COOH-THC .
When we consume a THC edible, the non-psychoactive 11-COOH-THC gets much higher while the delta 9-THC (that creates the “high” is much less pronounced over time. This is one of the main reasons smoking provides such an instant (within 10 minute) sensation while edibles do not.
Here are a pair of graphs showing the two (smoking first, edibles second):
The effects between THC edibles and the inhaled (either smoking or vaping) are primarily governed by this simple change in metabolism.
Even though it seems like smoking may be better from this analysis (and it does seem more popular), there are benefits of having this slow microdose of delta-9-THC over the course of 6 hours versus the steady decline after only 1 hour and 15 minutes.
What makes this analysis even more challenging is that everyone is different. More so than other substances, THC is metabolized by each person depending on genetic factors and weight . This is true of almost every drug, but even more with THC.
Anxiety and Edible Marijuana Side Effects
A common side effect of edible marijuana is heightened anxiety and general malaise. This experience is experienced by smokers of marijuana as well, but for much shorter duration because of the peak THC in the bloodstream.
Both edibles and smoking are potentially problematic from a side effect perspective because of the extreme doses of THC versus CBD. In the wild, the ratio of CBD to THC is relatively stable. A marijuana plant in the 1960s would have had 3 – 5% THC whereas advanced cultivation techniques put it around 28% on average.
Without adequate CBD increases as well, this can produce significant anxiety-related side effects.
Edible Marijuana Effects: Dosage Specifics
Finally, edible marijuana changes drastically depending on the dosage, which any recreational or cognitive enhancing user should be mindful of. In most of the scientific literature, doses of 20 mg THC is normal and even 100 mg , but this is too high for most people.
While a dosage of 3 – 4 mg of THC might seem small, this is enough for some people (this author specifically) to feel some of the positive effects of THC (association between disparate concepts) without the negative effects of the other metabolites.
However, a dose that is 10 – 15 mg of THC can be challenging and predominantly governed by the negative side effects.
So far we’ve focused mostly on why THC edibles are so different from smoking marijuana, some of the side effects, and this probably doesn’t seem like an appealing drug. In the next sections we’ll cover some of the main reasons why THC edibles may be powerful tools in your repertoire.
Creativity and THC Edibles: Anandamide
A chemical compound called anandamide is not well known, but does provide some clues as to why marijuana can be valuable for creativity. This fatty acid neurotransmitter (brain chemical) is found in a variety of foods, but also features prominently in marijuana.
According to Steven Kotler, the author of Stealing Fire, anandamide is a biochemical that supports lateral thinking which allows us to hold a high volume of information and have connections to create unique ideas.
This anandamide benefit can come from either smoking marijuana or a THC edible, but because of the short-term effect of inhalation, there are more people who experience this effect with edibles instead.
This is highly anecdotal, but when I consumed 3 – 4 mg of THC edibles alongside other food, I found the creative effects were pronounced. With few side effects (besides cotton mouth), I was able to make better connections and enjoy my time more thoroughly.
In fact, the THC edible at that dose seemed to be a lot like a microdose of psychedelics…
THC Edibles vs Psychedelics
On Joe Rogan’s podcast (known as the Joe Rogan Experience), one of his most common suggestions is for people to consume edible cannabis and get into a float tank.
Technically, THC and marijuana would not be considered a classic psychedelic that interacts with the 5-HT 2A receptor in the brain . However, I see why Rogan would have claimed this connection.
Taking an edible at the right dosage can feel similar to a psychedelic from a cognitive enhancement perspective.
Is Edible THC Legal?
For those who are looking to use cannabis or THC for cognitive enhancement purposes, edible THC is still not considered legal by the federal government, but many states have legalized it for medical uses and recreation.
As of August 6, 2018 there are 9 states that have made it recreationally legal to consume THC, which include the following:
Buying online can sometimes be challenging if you live in a state where it is not legal, but traveling to other states to acquire the substance (where it is legal) is not difficult. A quick trip from Colorado to Texas suggests one can bring perfectly legal weed to a staunchly conservative state in only a couple of hours with no border control.
Of course, this poses a legal risk that is not unlike others you might experience with cognitive enhancing compounds in general. Be mindful of these risks and whether you are willing to take them.
THC Within a Nootropic Stack
There is a lot of value of THC in edible or inhaled form for cognitive enhancement purposes. As we have discussed, anandamide has benefits as does many other constituent compounds found in the cannabis plant.
One of the “hacks” Steven Kotler mentions to get into a reliable flow state is to drink a cup of coffee, go on a brisk walk, and smoke a joint .
There are combinations that you can try in other ways as well. Just like any tool, it can be powerful if used in the right way (dosage and administration method) and with the right intention in mind.