Differences Between Smoking and Ingesting Cannabis

By Luis Cordova
Published: August 12, 2019 | Last updated: May 11, 2021 07:02:11
Key Takeaways

How you choose to consume your cannabis will have vastly different effects on how your body absorbs it. Read on to learn about the differences in the effects between consuming edibles or smoking cannabis.

Is It Best to Eat or Smoke My Cannabis?

Cannabis is such a diverse plant that it can be smoked or eaten, and each consumption method can have vastly different effects on the body and mind. Smoking cannabis is often predictable in its effects, which happen quickly, and for this reason is easier to control.


However, smoking cannabis will negatively affect a user’s health. When eating cannabis, the high is often intense and longer lasting, but takes a while to occur and is therefore less predictable in its effect. This occurs mainly due to how cannabis is absorbed, its potency, and dosage amount.

Absorption of Cannabis

When smoking cannabis, Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is rapidly transferred directly from the lungs into the blood stream. The blood then carries THC throughout the body and ultimately effects sensations of the central nervous system. Due to the rapid transfer of THC, the effect is felt quickly (minutes). However, smoking cannabis is relatively inefficient in delivering the full range and amount of cannabinoids unless you take into account vaporization.


Vaporizing cannabis allows users to receive a larger amount and range of cannabinoids. A smoker can also set a vaporizing temperature range to capture specific types of cannabinoids that can positively affect the cannabis experience.

When cannabis is consumed in edible form, the absorption rate is vastly different when compared to inhalation because edibles must settle in the stomach where they are slowly broken down. The cannabinoids in the edible are then transferred to the liver where they are converted into 11-hydroxy Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (11-OH-THC). 11-OH-THC is the main metabolite of THC and results in a maximum amount of THC in the body. Due to the metabolic process, effects are often experienced within one to two hours after ingestion.

After ingestion, THC is absorbed into every part of the body but is decreased in the plasma of the blood. The tissue distribution is followed by a slower redistribution of THC into the blood by means of deep fat tissue. Redistribution of THC can occur for many hours in a cyclic fashion, increasing the duration of the effects.


Duration and Potency

As mentioned before when cannabis is smoked or vaporized, the effects are felt almost immediately. Depending on the strain of cannabis, the amount smoked, and the type of cannabis inhaled (flowers or concentrates) the effects range from relaxing to energetic. However, when cannabis is smoked, approximately 23-27 per cent of the THC is absorbed by heavy users and 10-14 per cent by occasional users. This assumes 30 per cent of the THC is lost in burning the cannabis. The remaining 43-56 per cent is thought to be lost to high temperatures of burning and be unavailable in the body as it was not converted to usable THC.

After smoking cannabis, the effects are immediate but then peak after approximately 15 minutes. Cannabis rapidly decreases in the body after three to four hours. After the effects have worn off, 90 per cent of the remaining THC is circulated in the blood stream taking between two to seven days to be eliminated from the plasma. This can decrease the potency of THC when cannabis is smoked again as a tolerance is built.


Ingesting cannabis is different from smoking cannabis in many ways. Due to how the body breaks down edible cannabis, the effects can take between 30 minutes to two hours. This is mainly due to the absorption of THC and its transfer into the plasma of the blood.

The effects on the body are similar to smoking in terms of having an energetic or relaxing effect. However, the availability of THC is thought to be approximately four to 12 per cent available for absorption.

In some people the peak plasma concentration can occur more than once making a user feel higher for a longer period of time. The longer duration is mainly due to THC and other cannabinoids being stored in deep fatty tissues. The fatty tissue then repetitively releases the cannabinoids, making the user feel the effects longer. It has been observed that higher concentrations of 11-OH THC occur after ingestion due to its storage in the body when compared to smoking. Therefore, the potency and duration felt by a user is often stronger as well as longer.


Smoking cannabis is much easier to dose as a user can inhale small amounts in one sitting, then smoke more if needed. Although it is important to know what type of cannabis you are buying and the THC concentration it boasts. Knowing the concentration will insure you don’t smoke all your product without feeling any effect.

Dosing edibles is much more difficult for homemade products but easier to understand for commercial products. Commercially, most edibles are tested in a laboratory and labeled with their THC concentration. Knowing the concentration allows a user to know the correct dose they will need or are buying.

The most common commercially available concentration is 10 milligrams of THC per serving. While some products may be sold as a 100-milligram bar, they are often divided into 10 milligram pieces. However, commercial cannabis products may not be the correct dosage for every user. This is a result of factors such as body weight, tolerance, and food consumption prior to use. These factors influence the strength at which the edible will affect the user.

While dosing information is useful for all products, it is not a guarantee the concentration is exact for every batch of edibles. This is mainly due to how lab testing is done. Small amounts should be taken initially, then more can be taken later, if need be.

Which is better… Smoking or Eating cannabis?

The answer to this question is complex as it comes down to user preference. For people who have lung infections or other conditions, smoking cannabis may not be the best option and eating cannabis is a better alternative. For users who can’t wait for edible cannabis effects to kick in, smoking cannabis may be their best option.

With the large amount of commercially available cannabis products, edibles are longer lasting, stronger, can be taken in small amounts, and are healthier. For these reasons edibles are the most economical choice.


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Written by Luis Cordova | Plant Biotechnician, Pharmaceutical Scientist

Profile Picture of Luis Cordova

Luis holds a M.S. in Plant biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Science. He is a long-time cannabis grower He has put his focus on breeding cannabis and development of organic soils for tropical regions. He loves how much the industry has grown and changed. He hopes to pass on new and old knowledge to all growers across the world.

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