For the curious and enthusiasts alike, the questions surrounding edibles can muddy what should be an accessible cannabis experience with an exciting, extremely diverse slate of options. With that diversity comes a lot of choice, and with that choice a ton of information to parse through. Because both people and edibles come in all sorts of varieties, we can’t speak to a singular edible experience, but we can help you start from a grounded, informed place by identifying plenty of commonalities among how long edibles take to kick in, how long they last and more. From easing aches to soothing stress, edibles provide all of the benefits of smokable cannabis, but they offer a slightly different road to get there.
How Long For Edibles To Kick In?
To give a baseline, ballpark figure, a 2017 study in the International Journal of Drug Policy estimates that edibles often take about an hour to take effect. However, they might kick in in as little as 15 minutes, or it may take as long as 3 hours for the effects to appear. The European Journal of Internal Medicine reports that the delivery method is a key factor here, too, as researchers at the University of British Columbia found hard candy edibles at the very lowest end of that onset spectrum.
Sublingual products like lozenges, and cannabis drinks are absorbed through the mouth’s mucous membranes, making for a quicker onset time. On the flip side, edibles like gummies and baked goods take more time to metabolize and enter the bloodstream, so the onset time will be a bit longer.
What Can Affect The Process?
Speaking to Analytical Cannabis in 2019, assistant professor Tim Garrett of the University of Florida College of Medicine says, “Depending on whether you’re smoking [cannabis] or taking an edible or an oral liquid, they’ll go through a different pathway. So if you’re ingesting it, it’s going to go through your digestive system, be metabolized and [absorbed] in a different manner than it would be through smoking.”
Unlike smoking or vaping cannabis, cannabis-infused food and drink has to make that digestive system journey, and that journey comes with a whole slate of variables. As the European Journal found in their observations of cannabis-infused hard candies, the type of food product significantly affects the absorption process of edibles, but that’s not the only factor. Other variables that may affect how long it takes for edibles to kick in (and how long they end up lasting) include:
- Individual metabolism
- Individual tolerance levels
- Varying strains of cannabis
- Non-cannabis ingredients in the edible
- Body weight
- Overall diet
- Recent food and liquid intake
On that last note, it’s a rule of thumb that an edible will have a quicker (and likely more potent) effect when taken on an empty stomach and a slower, mellower effect when taken with other foods. Because of the wide variety at play here, it’s wise to wait an absolute minimum of 3 hours after ingesting an edible before you decide to take more. At Healthline, Alan Carter, a doctor of pharmacology, advises waiting at least 24 hours before trying another dose.
Edibles And THC
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the primary psychoactive component of the cannabis plant. It’s the naturally occurring ingredient that’s responsible for marijuana’s characteristic euphoric sensations as well as many of its medicinal applications, so it makes sense that the amount of THC in your edible is going to have a major impact on your experience, especially in terms of how it feels and how long the high lasts.
Typically, a single serving of an off-the-shelf edible contains about 10 to 15 milligrams of THC. On the lowest effective end, you’ll find some edibles with only about 2.5 to 5 mg of THC per serving; a hefty edible can pack 20 mg of THC or more. The higher the concentration of THC, the longer and stronger the effect of the edible. Keep in mind that THC content among smoking and edibles doesn’t line up one-to-one. Roughly speaking, the effects of eating about 1 mg of THC are comparable to smoking about 5.71 mg of THC, per a 2015 study commissioned by the Colorado Department of Revenue.
To learn more, check out our guide to properly dosing cannabis edibles.
How Long Do The Effects Of Edibles Last?
So how long do edibles last, anyway? The International Journal study reports that it’s typical for the effects of edibles to last for 6 hours or more. Again, that’s a common, baseline figure, but a much wider range is possible. The aforementioned European Journal notes that it’s not unheard of for the effects of an edible to last 8 or even up to 12 hours, especially for someone new to cannabis consumption. It’s also not uncommon for an edible to last only around 4 hours, which might happen when someone has developed more tolerance toward cannabis.
The International Journal also points out that some parts of that high feel different than others. Usually, peak absorption of THC into the bloodstream occurs at around 3 hours. This means that the effects of the edible will feel more heightened at this time, especially compared to the following comedown period.
How Do Edibles Make You Feel?
As Medical News Today reminds us, the euphoric effects of edibles are often more potent or more strongly felt when compared to smoking cannabis. In addition to that potency, the high from smoking or vaping THC typically only lasts about 1 to 4 hours in total, making it a significantly shorter experience. However, smoking and vaping are a more direct delivery method and can produce effects more quickly than eating or drinking edibles. Rather than traveling through the digestive system to the bloodstream, smokable cannabis takes effect almost instantly, as soon as the THC hits the lungs.
Another reason the high may feel more substantial when using edibles boils down to lipids. Because THC is extremely lipophilic, it finds the perfect bonding vessel in the fats that are naturally present in food (which is also why you tend to find more sweets among edibles than any other type of food). These fats help transfer cannabinoids very effectively across the cell barriers of the stomach and intestine, crossing the blood-brain barrier through the liver rather than the lungs.
Of course, edibles infused only with CBD, or cannabidiol, don’t produce feelings of “highness” or euphoria at all. That’s because CBD products don’t contain THC, so they’re not psychoactive in the slightest.
How Long Do Edibles Last In The Pantry?
For the most part, edibles have the same shelf life as their non-cannabis-infused counterparts — so a brownie lasts about as long as a normal brownie lasts, and the same goes for gummies and cookies and chocolate bars and so on. Speaking to Leafly in 2020, Scott Riefler of SORSE Technology says, “If the cannabinoid is introduced in an appropriate manner, we would not expect it to alter the shelf life of the food platform itself.”
But what about the potency of the THC in the edible? This also varies, but you can usually expect an edible stored in sanitary, temperate conditions to retain its efficacy for about 3 to 6 months. Oxygen is a big contributor to degradation, so more porous foods will lose potency quicker, just as these foods will expire more quickly (think about how long a lozenge can safely sit in your pantry compared to a loaf of bread, for instance). Likewise, exposure to oxygen can accelerate the process. Just as with cannabis-free foods, best-by recommendations and expiry dates on the package are a big help in terms of gauging both food safety and THC potency.
Edibles Are Personal
While following the dosage recommendations provided by each edible product’s manufacturer is absolutely essential, every person’s body processes edibles differently. That means that every individual feels their effects differently, too, from varying intensities to varying lengths and types of high.
As the only Massachusetts dispensary founded by a physician, we can’t help but be reminded of a phrase doctors like to apply to medication: Start low and go slow. That same golden rule very much applies to any new edibles journey. It’s far easier to take too high a dose of edibles than too low a dose, so it’s key to patiently gauge how your body responds. There’s no rush or race here; the experiences of others can help mentally prepare you for what’s to come, but much of the process ahead is about finding what works for you and you alone, steadily and safely.
Dan Ketchum is an LA-based freelance lifestyle, fashion, health and food writer with more than a decade of experience. He’s been fortunate enough to collaborate and publish with companies such as FOCL, Vitagenne, LIVESTRONG, Reign Together, Out East Rose, SFGate, Mistifi, The Seattle Times and more.
Harvard Health Publishing –
How Long Do Edibles Take To Kick In?
Medical News Today –
Edibles: How Long Do They Last?
Colorado Department of Revenue –
Marijuana Equivalency in Portion and Dosage
Do Cannabis Edibles Expire?
Analytical Cannabis –
How Long Do Edibles Last?