The Science Behind THC: Why Do You Get High?

Feb 25, 2016 05:00 AM EST | By Josine Macaspac (


As laws and opinions change to become more accommodating of cannabis, the wide array of infused products also expands. Edibles or food items infused with weed has become a popular alternative to smoking weed.

Eating edibles is often times more preferable for those who can't or don't want to smoke cannabis. It's less fussy to eat edibles but it's also been said to give a considerably stronger high to that of smoking or vaping.  Here's a simple explanation as to why you get so high when you eat cannabis-infused products.

Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the chemical that gets you high. To put it simply, when THC gets into your bloodstream, it eventually reaches the brain and it activates receptors that give you the feeling of being high. Here's a more detailed breakdown of that process. When you consume edibles, the THC in the food has to be absorbed through your digestive system. It roughly takes 30 to 2 hours for someone to get high but that can depend on a variety of factors that affects absorption and digestion. It's pretty safe to say it takes a considerably longer time to absorb the THC compared to when it's smoked or vaped.

It's also good to know that heat is your friend when it comes to cannabis. Cannabis in its plant form has a lot of Tetrahydrocannabinol acid or THCA. THCA is not psychoactive so it does not get you high. But if THCA is subjected to heat, a chemical reaction takes place. Essentially this releases the carbon dioxide from the chemical chain which eventually converts the THCA to THC. This process is called decarboxylation.

Once the plant has been decarboxylated, you extract the THC to butter. For edibles, butter is the most popular choice for "holding" the THC. THC is soluble in lipids or fat, and alcohol. This means that THC needs to be extracted from an oily substance or alcohol. The reason you extract is because you want to get to the THC directly instead of ingesting a lot of plant material before you get to the THC.

As to why edibles provide a stronger high, the THC is metabolized by the liver when ingested. The liver converts the THC into a metabolite that is better received by the blood and brain, therefore, giving a more intense high. While in smoking or vaping, the body metabolizes the THC in a different manner because it does not pass through the stomach or liver.

So for the next time you plan to ingest a few edibles, be responsible enough to know that each person has varying levels of tolerance and gets affected in different ways and forms. Finally, always remember to ask the proper amount of dosage especially for those who will be medicating using edibles for the first time.  

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