There are a tremendous amount of different and interesting ways to consume cannabis, from smoking and vaping to sublingual absorption. However, out of all of these methods, edibles are known to be one of the most potent. They are associated with highs that are much longer in duration and more hard-hitting in terms of psychoactive effect. Edibles are also notorious when it comes to predictability. They take much longer to kick in as opposed to smoking, making it much easier to overdo it. Smoking and vaping are far easier to control as users can simply take things toke by toke.

But what is it that makes edibles so much more potent than smoked bud? Shouldn’t THC have the same effect no matter how it’s taken? Well, it turns out that orally ingested THC takes a much different path through the body, transforming it into a significantly more potent psychoactive molecule.


When cannabis is smoked, it’s THC that produces the range of psychoactive effects experienced; but it’s a different story when it comes to edibles. Although it’s THC that is eaten, the molecule takes a different metabolic pathway. Orally consumed cannabis travels through the digestive tract, where THC is absorbed and gradually transported to the liver. When it reaches this vital organ, the molecule is metabolised into its derivative, 11-hydroxy-THC. This substance then makes its way through the blood-brain barrier and produces much stronger psychoactive effects than THC itself.

We know that 11-hydroxy-THC has more profound effects through the massive pool of anecdotal experiences collated over the years. However, science has also delved into this comparison and produced parallel results.

A 1972 paper[1] published in the journal Science administered subjects with varying levels of intravenous THC and 11-hydroxy-THC. Subjects then reported the level of psychoactive effects they felt using a numbered scale. The mean perceived high reported from the THC group was 18.79, while the 11-hydroxy-THC group reported a mean perceived high of 18.01. However, 11-hydroxy-THC was given to participants in smaller doses, and authors noted that less of this metabolite was required to achieve the desired effect. This indicates that, if administered in an equitable dose to THC, it would have likely caused an even more noticeably potent high. Additionally, this study featured intravenous administration of the derivative and does not necessarily represent the same effects as orally ingested cannabis.

In the raw cannabis flower, one of the most common cannabinoids is THCa. On its own, it’s not psychoactive, but when exposed to heat, it becomes THC. When you smoke or vape, adequate levels of heat are a given, but when producing edibles, you need to apply additional heat to ensure that you’re not consuming THCa instead of the coveted THC. This process is called decarboxylation and involves exposing the cannabis flower to 104°C–113°C for 30–40 minutes.

11 Hydroxy THC


Edibles and the powerful THC metabolite they produce have numerous benefits over inhaled THC in some areas. For one, they could be favourable for recreational cannabis users seeking powerful and long-lasting experiences. Eating an infused brownie or cake is guaranteed to offer a more intense and prolonged high than merely smoking the flowers of the same strain.

Edibles may also be advantageous to some individuals who use cannabis for medical reasons. 11-hydroxy-THC offers longer-lasting effects, somewhere in the range of 6–8 hours. This allows for a more significant period of symptomatic relief when it comes to chronic pain and sleeping issues. Orally ingested cannabis in the form of edibles, oils, and tinctures may provide a way to avoid continually dosing by smoking or vaping cannabis.

External Resources:
  1. Intravenous Injection in Man of Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol and 11-OH-Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol | Science
This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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