Have you ever noticed eating a pot brownie or sucking on a THC lollipop seems to have drastically different effects than simply smoking a joint? Almost every cannabis user has underestimated edibles at some point in their ganja career, hilariously resulting in the most classic of marijuana anecdotes—the “Then-I-Got-Way-Too-High Story.” On the flip side of this coin, many pot-smokers have found that edibles don’t work for them at all.
Do you ever wonder why the edibles hit differently? After all, a cannabinoid is a cannabinoid regardless of how you consume it, right? Believe it or not, there’s actually a scientific reason for why orally consumed cannabis affects us differently. Keep reading to learn more.
Decarboxylation, And How Edibles Work To Begin With
When found in raw cannabis flower, cannabinoids, the magical little compounds behind cannabis’ psychedelic and therapeutic properties, mainly exist in their acidic forms. For example, THCa makes up the lion’s share of the THC content in a particular strain of flower.
We consider these acidic forms “inactive” since they don’t bind well to the CB1 and CB2 receptors that make up our body’s endocannabinoid system. Practically speaking, this means that THCa or CBDa won’t produce any of the effects of their non-acidic counterparts THC and CBD. They only become active after undergoing a process known as decarboxylation.
In general science, decarboxylation refers to a chemical reaction where one compound loses a carboxyl group and releases CO2. In the context of cannabis, decarboxylation specifically refers to the process by which acidic cannabinoids are activated through heat exposure. The act of sparking up a bowl automatically decarboxylates your bud, but with edibles, the flower must be decarboxylated first since it will never come in contact with an open flame. It’s why you can’t just throw raw cannabis into brownie batter and expect it to work.
How To make 11-Hydroxy-THC And Why It’s Important
Decarboxylation may be the first essential chemical reaction that takes place with edible cannabis, but it’s not the only one.
When we orally ingest delta-9 THC, the cannabinoid first has to navigate our labyrinthian digestive system before it can be absorbed into the bloodstream, where its effects can take hold. The arduous journey edible THC must embark on accounts for the delayed onset time compared to smoking or vaping. However, those familiar with edibles will tell you; the effects don’t just take longer to come on, they also last longer.
Even though edible THC has less bioavailability than inhaled THC, meaning less of the intoxicating compound ends up actually having an effect, users report edible experiences that last over 10 hours—significantly prolonged compared to smoking.
That’s because when THC is metabolized by the liver, a new, more potent compound called 11-Hydroxy-THC is created. Researchers speculate that this powerful metabolite accounts for the intensity of edible THC, as well as the increased duration of the cannabinoid’s effects.
Can You Be Immune To 11-Hydroxy-THC?
11-hydroxy-THC’s potency does explain why edibles last so long, but why do some people seem completely immune to their effects? According to some theories, the way certain people process 11-hydroxy-THC may be the culprit.
Cannabinoids affect all people differently, to begin with. One strain that helps alleviate anxiety in some may also be paranoia-inspiring in others. Things like weight, tolerance, gender, and even location can all play a role in how we experience cannabis. But beyond that, there may be a genetic component to why certain people don’t seem to get anything out of edibles.
While there isn’t any hard evidence, some researchers speculate that those with anecdotally high tolerances to edibles may have a gene that causes the cytochrome P2C9 enzyme, which metabolizes THC into 11-hydroxy-THC, to operate so efficiently that the THC is metabolized incredibly quickly—before it ever has a chance to reach the bloodstream.
There’s been almost no clinical research into this topic, but the theory would explain why some people seem unaffected by edibles.