Although cannabis contains over 120 cannabinoids, the psychoactive component of cannabis is mainly derived from a single cannabinoid – THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), or more specifically, delta-9-THC.
THC is found in the raw plant material as THCA, a molecule with no psychoactive feeling. If you were to grab a handful of the plant and eat it there would be no high feeling.
When heated, THCA undergoes decarboxylation resulting in delta-9-THC which is found in edibles and is inhaled when cannabis is smoked. Delta-9-THC is the molecule that causes the “high feeling” of cannabis.
If you speak with people who consume cannabis, they often describe edibles as feeling “stronger” or “different” than when cannabis is inhaled. This is an accurate description and is due to the metabolism of THC through the liver.
When THC is inhaled, it reaches peak blood levels in under 10 minutes and is primarily metabolized in locations away from the liver.
Delta-9-THC directly enters the bloodstream when inhaled while edibles need to be absorbed from the GI tract and go through “first-pass” metabolism in the liver before their effects are felt in the body. This process typically takes about an hour for most people but can take as long as two hours for others.
The metabolism of THC is complex and involves a variety of enzymes and molecules. The rate at which THC is metabolized varies from person to person and can be affected by factors such as age, gender, genetics, and lifestyle choices.
THC is metabolized in the liver into an even more psychoactive molecule, which is then further broken down into metabolites. This process is known as two-phase metabolism, and it is responsible for THC’s effects on the body and mind.
In the first phase of metabolism, enzymes in the liver (primarily CYP2C and CYP3A) break down delta-9-THC into mostly 11-hydroxy-THC which is more psychoactive than THC itself.
In the second phase of metabolism, this molecule is further broken down into metabolites that are less active than their precursors. These metabolites can be detected in urine tests up to a few days after consumption.
THC is a fat-soluble molecule – so someone with high body fat is more likely to have a positive urine test than someone with little fat on their body, even days after consumption.
Edible forms of THC can offer the greatest benefits for people suffering from chronic nausea, chronic pain, insomnia, and much more. It offers the longest duration of action of all of the cannabis delivery systems (4-6 hours) although the onset can be unpredictable, especially when titrating those first couple of doses.
With all cannabis, it’s recommended to “go low and slow” with a starting dose of 2.5-5mg every 6 hours. If they don’t feel anything with the first dose, then help your client or patient feel confident to increase the dose until they feel the effects comfortably.
Now that our client has learned what dose is best for THEIR body, they can take this knowledge, along with their newfound confidence, to any dispensary they visit and pick out products they are sure to enjoy.
Let’s keep people safe, happy, and healthy by educating them on proper edible dosing.