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Your Cannabis Edibles Questions Answered: How Long Do Edible Effects Last?

Adie Rae, PhDPatricia Pinto-Garcia, MD, MPH
Updated on December 6, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • The effects of cannabis on the body and brain can be different based on whether you inhale it or eat it. Typically, when you consume cannabis as an edible, the effects take longer to start but last longer than inhaling it. 

  • When you consume an edible that contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it has a stronger effect on the brain. Experts recommend starting with a low dose, especially if you’re new to cannabis edibles.

  • There are toxic and harmful chemicals in inhaled cannabis — whether you vape or smoke. Edibles can help you avoid those risks. 

A close-up of a woman holding a cannabis leaf edible gummy.
Vanessa Nunes/iStock via Getty Images Plus

How long does a weed high last? Well, it depends on how you consume it. 

Cannabis comes in many different forms. You’re probably familiar with smoking or vaping cannabis — after all, it’s the most popular way to consume it. But you may also be interested in cannabis products that don’t involve your lungs. 

More people are turning to edible cannabis products as an alternative to smoking or vaping. But how do edibles compare to inhaled cannabis? And how can you decide which is best for your needs? Spoiler: it’s not a one or the other situation. These different forms of cannabis can be used together.  

1. What are edibles?

Weed edibles are cannabis-infused food and drinks. They can take many different forms, ranging from breath mints, candies, and chocolate to savory snacks and even ice cream. 

But not all cannabis-infused edibles contain the same active ingredient (or cannabinoid). As with all cannabis products, edibles usually fall into one of three main categories

  • THC-dominant edibles

  • CBD-dominant edibles

  • Edibles containing a balanced amount of both THC and CBD

THC and CBD are the primary cannabinoids (active ingredients of cannabis) most people know about. But edibles may also contain other minor cannabinoids, like CBG, CBN, or THCV, depending on what’s allowed in the state where they’re sold.

Based on what type of cannabinoid your edible contains, you’ll feel different effects when consuming it. Higher THC edibles typically have a more intoxicating or psychoactive effect. Edibles with greater levels of CBD cause less of a “high,” but may make you feel relaxed and less anxious.

2. How long do edibles last?

When you eat a traditional edible, you can expect the effects to last an average of 6 to 8 hours — and sometimes even longer. But the effects aren’t immediate: you’ll need to wait 1 to 2 hours after taking the edible before you start to feel it working.  

But the cannabis industry is constantly evolving. One of the newer things that's being used in cannabis edibles is called “nanoformulation.” This makes the cannabis particles in an edible really, really small. Smaller particles are easier for the body to absorb, so these products work faster than traditional edibles. But the trade-off is they don’t last as long. Most nano-formulated edibles work within 15 to 30 minutes and only last a few hours.  

Now that we know how long the effects of edibles last, let’s take a closer look at how they’re dosed.

3. What’s the difference between inhaled vs. edible cannabis?

It may seem obvious, but the way you take cannabis has an impact on how the body processes it. When you inhale cannabis, it’s absorbed through your lung tissue directly into your bloodstream. When you consume cannabis, the cannabis gets digested, absorbed, and processed in your stomach, intestines, and liver. And the way the body processes cannabis also changes how you’ll experience it. 

Here are the main differences between inhaling cannabis and eating it:

Inhaled cannabis (smoke/vape) Edible cannabis
Starts working Within seconds 1-2 hours
Effects last 2-3 hours 6-12 hours
Risks
  • Lung damage
  • Easy to take too much
  • More intoxicating effects
  • You can’t reverse long-lasting effects
  • Risky if you have children in your life, since edibles can look like regular food or candy
  • More likely to interact with other medications
Benefits
  • Easier to dose
  • Works faster
  • Short-lasting
  • Can be layered with edibles to extend effects
  • Long-lasting effect
  • Discreet
  • Does not cause lung damage
  • Can be layered with inhaled cannabis for a quicker effect

Can you use inhaled cannabis and edibles together?

Yes, you can take a puff or two of inhaled cannabis at the same time as consuming an edible cannabis product.

That way, you aren’t waiting around for over an hour for the edible to work. And by the time it does, the effects of the inhaled cannabis will be wearing off. This combination can reduce the chance you’ll get tired of waiting and consume more of an edible than you should. It also means you don’t have to wait a long time for the effects you’re looking for. 

4. How much THC is usually in an edible?

What many people don't know is that when you consume THC in an edible, your body processes it differently than when you inhale it. In fact, the THC you eat or drink is processed into a form of THC that has a stronger effect on the brain.

This may be part of the reason edibles with greater amounts of THC can feel more intoxicating than other forms of cannabis — even if the dose you consume is the same.

Recently, researchers have proposed using 5 mg as the THC dosing standard. But, even though 5 mg is the legal standard edible serving size in most regulated cannabis markets, this dose can still be unpleasant for some people, causing symptoms like anxiety and a racing heart. 

Expert cannabis healthcare providers recommend a lower starting dose. This is particularly best for people who are new to cannabis, and women, who are more sensitive to the effects of THC. Here are a few tips from experts on taking cannabis edibles: 

  • Start out with a 2.5 mg dose of THC.

  • Increase your dose slowly in order to reduce the chance of unpleasant side effects.

  • Because of how long it can take to work, wait 2 to 3 hours before taking more.

  • Consider an edible with more CBD, as CBD may reduce some of THC’s intoxicating effects. So a formulation with more CBD than THC may also be a good place to start if you’re new to cannabis edibles. 

5. What’s the right edible dose for you?

It’s impossible to say what the right dose of an edible is for any given person. There are so many considerations to balance — lifestyle, health, genetics — and much more. The “right dose” will vary for each person since each body processes and experiences cannabis differently. And keep in mind that for cannabis, a person’s weight doesn’t seem to make a difference — heavier people generally don’t need a higher dose.

What can affect how you respond to edibles?

There are several things that can affect how you respond to cannabis edibles, including your overall health, genetics, and the timing of your meals.

Your overall health

Cannabis works by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). How you respond to cannabis depends on the health of your ECS. Think of your ECS like a gas tank. If you’re in good overall health (exercising, managing stress levels, and eating a healthy diet) your tank is probably pretty full. When you consume cannabis, you won’t need much to “top off your tank” and feel an effect. 

But if you aren’t in great health, your tank is probably pretty empty — and you’ll likely need more cannabis to fill it up and feel an effect. We don’t have a way to measure your ECS “tank” yet. This is why it’s best to start with a small cannabis dose and increase slowly to find the right amount for your needs. 

Your ECS changes all the time based on the choices you make in your day-to-day life. So the same edible cannabis product may give very different results if you consume it at different times under different circumstances.

Your genetics

Edible cannabis products are processed by enzymes (proteins) in the liver. Some people have more of these enzymes — so they’ll process cannabis faster than other people. They might need a higher dose in order to feel an effect. Other people with lower levels of these enzymes will have the opposite experience: their body is slower to process the cannabis they eat. So they’ll be much more sensitive to cannabis, and feel the effects of it longer.  

Meal timing

There’s a double-edged sword when it comes to meals and cannabis edibles. On one hand, if your stomach is full when you consume an edible, it’ll take longer to work. That’s because your body has to process all the food in your stomach, including the edible, which can take more time. On the other hand, your body doesn’t absorb cannabis very well when you eat it. One thing to know is that cannabis dissolves in fat. So if you eat high-fat food along with an edible, your body will be able to absorb more of it.

6. How do you read labels on weed edibles?

Because the amount of THC in an edible cannabis product can vary widely, it’s helpful to know what to look for on an edibles label.  

But there aren’t (yet) any federal labeling standards for cannabis, so labeling can be unreliable and different from place to place. 

Still, there are two things to know when reading labels for cannabis edibles: understanding the ratio of CBD to THC and the dose of THC you’re consuming.

Understand the balance of CBD and THC 

Typically, the balance of CBD and THC is described as a ratio. Here are a few examples of how a ratio will appear on a label: 1:20, 20:1, or 1:1. But these ratios can mean different things in different places. For example, in New York, the THC is listed first in the ratio. So a “1:20” product is 1 part THC and 20 parts CBD — meaning it’s a high-CBD formulation. But in Colorado, it’s the opposite. A 1:20 product in Colorado is 1 part CBD and 20 parts THC — a high-THC formulation. 

Understand the dose of THC you are consuming

The dose of THC in an edible is usually listed in milligrams (mg). But it can be confusing to know whether the dose on the label is the dose for the whole packet, or just one edible. For example, a container of gummies may have a label that says “100 mg THC.” That often means there’s 100 mg of THC in the whole container. So if there are 20 gummy bears, each bear has 5 mg of THC in it. If there are only 10 bears, each gummy bear would contain 10 mg THC. And sometimes, the labeling is the dose per gummy, not per container. 

You can see how it’s really easy to consume way more THC than you intend to if you aren’t sure how to interpret the information on the package label. It’s always best to ask a dispensary associate when choosing an edible product. They can help you understand what you’re buying and how to use it safely. 

And let’s not forget that these rules only apply to products that are regulated, tested, and sold within legal state cannabis programs. If you’re buying illicit cannabis, there is absolutely no guarantee that anything the seller or the package says is correct.

7. Are edibles bad for you?

A better question might be “Is weed bad for you?” — and the answer is, possibly. Just like prescription medication or other herbal supplements, cannabis can have side effects and drug interactions. These can put your health at risk if they aren’t properly managed.

Cannabis also has a potential for abuse and addiction, especially if you have a history of impulsive behavior. Abuse is also more likely if you’re under the age of 25 or if you’re using cannabis to avoid your problems or just out of boredom.

Cannabis edibles make it easier to consume more than you intend to — a large dose of THC can easily fit inside a single gummy bear. While you probably won’t die from eating too much THC, the side effects may be unpleasant. And they may also cause you to make poor decisions — like driving while intoxicated — that could put your life at risk. 

But are edibles bad for your heart?

Possibly. THC can cause your heart to beat faster — in fact, that’s one of the most common physical side effects of cannabis. For most people, this isn’t a serious issue — your heart rate will usually return to normal after 10 to 15 minutes.

A clinical study showed that edible cannabis caused this side effect less often than inhaled cannabis. CBD may also reduce the chance you’ll have a rapid heart rate from THC.

If you have a history of heart problems, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any cannabis products containing THC. If your heart rate stays fast for longer than 15 minutes or you also have chest pain after consuming cannabis, seek emergency care.

The bottom line

Cannabis edibles are a discreet and easy way to consume cannabis. They don’t put your lungs at risk the way smoking weed can. However, it's much easier to overindulge with edibles and have a bad experience. The effects of edibles also last much longer, which may or may not be a good thing for your daily routine and lifestyle.

It’s a good idea to start with a low dose of THC (2.5 mg to 5 mg) or a high-CBD formulation when you’re taking edibles for the first time. And be sure to purchase regulated cannabis products from a licensed dispensary to ensure the product contains what it’s supposed to.

If you or someone you know struggles with substance use, help is available. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to learn about resources in your area.

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