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Why Do Edibles Make You So Darn High?

With so many people complaining about having a bad edible experience, it's time to educate ourselves about why this happens and how to avoid it.


Chances are that you -- or someone you know -- had a really bad experience with an edible.

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In fact, most weed horror stories begin with some variation of, "Oh, man. One time I ate this (brownie, cookie, gummy, peanut butter cup) and I was, like, out-of-my-mind high for 24 hours." 

This kind of terrifying trip was immortalized in a famous New York Times op-ed by Maureen Dowd, in which she recounts a particularly horrible encounter she had with a caramel-chocolate flavored candy bar in Denver. 

I, too, will confess to having my own scary run-in with an edible. I'd just had surgery and was looking for something other than Oxycontin to ease the pain, so I took a pill with a high THC count. An hour later, the buzz hit me so hard that I put on my heart monitor to make sure I wasn't in cardiac arrest. 

Whether you've had a bad edible experience or you think we're just a bunch of winy lightweights, we can all agree that stories like these are not good PR for the plant. Many a potential customer, who could truly benefit from cannabis' healing properties, are scared away by that one bad high.

Call it Post Traumatic Edible Disorder (PTED). It's not only bad for consumers' health -- it's bad for business. 

In the interest of finding out what happened to me and so many other scarred edible customers, and how we can avoid future bad trips, I spoke with Uwe Blesching, Ph.D, a medical writer and author of three books on cannabis, including The Cannabis Health Index.

Related: 5 Things You Need to Know About Edibles


Blame it on your liver

It turns out that those of us with PTED aren't crazy. Edibles can make you higher than other forms of cannabis consumption, according to Dr. Blesching. 

The liver is the culprit.

When you ingest THC, it will take about an hour or so for it to be broken down into various metabolites. This explains why you don't feel the psychoactive effects right away, unlike you do when smoking it.

One of those metabolites created by your body is something called 11-OH-THC, which is "much more potent as far as psychoactivity is concerned because it crosses the blood-brain barrier up to four times faster than just THC," says Dr. Blesching. So when you eat an edible, "you're not just getting the high effect from THC, you're also getting the effect of the metabolites," he says.

Related: 5 Smart and Safe Ways to Package Edibles

The more you ingest, the greater the high. This explains that sudden, uneasy feeling of getting a massive jolt to the brain. One second you feel nothing, the next second you're completely stoned. 


Blame it on yourself

Another reason that edibles are so potent is that we tend to consume too much of them -- either because we're impatient, hungry, or both.

"A lot of people make the mistake of thinking it's been an hour and I'm not feeling anything, so they eat more," says Dr. Blesching. "The impatience and the expectancy actually contribute to the experience being very unpleasant."

Dr. Blesching admits to making that mistake himself. One time, he dripped some cannabis-infused coconut oil over some almonds and they tasted so good that he kept eating more and more. An hour later, he was high as a kite.

"Remember those old martial art movies that were really poorly dubbed, where you see the mouth is moving and then ten seconds later you hear the translation?" he says. "That happened to me. It was literally a disassociation between what I saw and what I heard." The high lasted for 12 to 15 hours.


Know your limits

Part of the challenge of eating edibles is understanding how to dose properly. Unlike smoking THC in which you feel the effects almost immediately, ingesting it and waiting for the effects make it harder to titrate the dosage. For this reason, many of the best edible brands go out of their way to warn against over-indulging. For example, Wana Brands, which makes Colorado's best-selling edibles, says to "Start Low and Go Slow" right on their packaging.

Related: Meet the Martha Stewart of Edibles

What is low and slow? While there's no one-size-fits-all prescription, Dr. Blesching advises adults to ingest no more than 2.5 to 5 milligrams an hour. "If you don't feel anything, you can gradually add a little more," he says. Then wait another hour.

Dr. Blesching also warns against eating edibles on an empty stomach because "absorption rates are much faster." That said, when you ingest THC with a full belly, it might take longer for the THC to kick in so, again, exercise caution. 

"It's a very fine line between a THC-induced adverse effect and a THC-induced therapeutic effect," Dr. Blesching says.

Make sure yours is therapeutic not post-traumatic.