7 Differences Between Smoking Weed and Eating Edibles

December 08, 2023

With many states now legalizing medical or recreational cannabis, a growing number of Americans have access to this versatile plant in various forms. While traditional methods like smoking cannabis in a joint, bowl, or bong remain popular, edibles have emerged as a widely available option in most dispensaries. From gummy candies and luxurious chocolates to cannabis-infused coffee, there's an edible to suit every taste.

However, before you head out to purchase cannabis-infused brownies, it's worth considering another popular method of consumption: Vaping or Smoking Cannabis. For simplicity, this article will refer to both methods collectively as 'smoking.' While the debate between smoking and vaping is extensive, it's a discussion for another time.

Our focus here is on the differences between smoking cannabis and consuming it through edibles, including THC-Infused seltzers. The method you choose to ingest cannabis can significantly affect your experience, from the intensity of the effects to their duration. Depending on your personal preferences and needs, you might find one method more suitable than the other. So, why not sit back, grab a notebook (or a joint, or both), and explore the key differences between smoking and consuming cannabis in edible form?

1.  Onset and Duration

Smoking cannabis typically results in a rapid onset of effects, often within minutes, but these effects generally subside within a few hours. For those seeking a longer duration of effects, frequent use might be necessary. This method might be preferable for short-term relief or enjoyment.

Conversely, consuming cannabis edibles leads to a slower onset of effects, usually taking anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. However, the effects can last significantly longer, sometimes up to six hours or more. This delayed onset can be challenging for those unfamiliar with their tolerance, leading to overconsumption. It's common for beginners to consume excess edibles due to not feeling immediate effects.

Understanding what to expect with edibles, especially regarding their delayed and prolonged impact, is crucial for a safe and enjoyable experience. Being aware of these differences can help you make informed decisions about your cannabis use, whether for medical or recreational purposes.

Related article: Edibles 101: A Comprehensive Guide for First-Timers and Seasoned Consumers


2. Dosage Control

Controlling the dosage of cannabis is generally easier when smoking, as the effects are felt almost immediately. This immediacy allows users to adjust their consumption as needed. One can simply stop smoking once they reach the desired level of effect, avoiding further intensification.

However, with edibles, dosage control can be more challenging due to the slower onset of effects and potential variability in potency. It's common for those new to edibles to underestimate their strength, leading to overconsumption and possible discomfort, such as anxiety or paranoia.

Related article: Marijuana and Anxiety - Tips and Tricks To Overcome Your Paranoia While You're High

In most dispensaries, products, particularly edibles, are required to have the amount of THC or CBD clearly marked on their packaging. Yet, the accuracy of these labels can sometimes be questionable without independent lab testing. This uncertainty can make it difficult to gauge the exact potency of an edible. For those concerned about the reliability of pre-packaged products, preparing homemade edibles could be a preferable alternative.

Related article: How to Make and Dose Edibles With Cannabis Concentrate Oil

3. Intensity of Effects

Smoking cannabis typically results in a more immediate high, as the active compounds are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs. The intensity of the effects varies depending on the strain and is directly proportional to the amount consumed. By adjusting the quantity smoked, users can control the intensity of their experience.

In contrast, consuming cannabis through edibles leads to a slower, more gradual onset of effects, which often results in a more intense high. This is because the liver processes the THC in edibles, leading to different chemical reactions that produce a stronger effect. The duration of the high from edibles can also be longer, as the body takes more time to metabolize THC in this form. 

4. Availability 

Smoking cannabis is widely accessible, particularly since individuals can even grow their own plants indoors. However, for medicinal users, there are concerns regarding the safety of smoking. Vaping is often considered a lung-friendlier alternative, but some people prefer not to inhale any substances. Consequently, edibles are gaining popularity, especially in licensed dispensaries.

While edibles may be less readily available than smoked cannabis, their popularity is on the rise. The time-intensive production process and increasing demand can drive up prices. For those who cannot find their desired edible products or find them too expensive, making homemade cannabutter is an option. Of course, for those not inclined to cook, traditional cannabis buds remain a reliable choice

5. Discretion

Smoking cannabis, including vaping, often results in a distinct odor that can be easily recognized by those familiar with it. This can be a concern when in environments where discretion is important, such as at a family member's house who may not approve. While educating them about cannabis use is an option, it can sometimes be a challenging conversation.

Edibles, in contrast, offer a more discreet way to consume cannabis. Some edibles are packaged in ways that closely resemble non-cannabis products, which can be useful for avoiding unwanted attention. However, this similarity poses a risk, particularly around children, so it's crucial to store them responsibly. Additionally, edibles do not produce the telltale odor associated with smoking, further enhancing their discreetness

6. Potential for a Bad High  

As mentioned earlier, when smoking cannabis, it's generally easier to gauge how much you're consuming. This can reduce the likelihood of consuming too much, often referred to as 'greening out.' However, it's important to remember that regular smoking isn’t the best for your lungs. If you're a frequent consumer, consider varying your methods beyond just the traditional joints.

On the other hand, it's easier to accidentally ingest too much with edibles, which can lead to an overwhelming experience. This makes them a bit more challenging for beginners. The key with edibles is proper dosing – getting this right can significantly enhance your experience. If you pay attention to the dosage, edibles can be a safe and enjoyable method of cannabis consumption.

7. And the most important of all; Health Impact

Smoking, whether it’s cannabis or tobacco, is known to potentially affect lung health over the long term. Although cannabis is often cited as being less harmful than cigarettes, it’s important to remember that inhaling any smoke can have adverse effects. Moderation is key in all things, including cannabis use.

As for edibles, they are generally considered to have a lesser impact on lung health, since they bypass the respiratory system entirely. However, it's important to note that edibles are metabolized in the liver, and while current research doesn't indicate significant liver harm from moderate cannabis use, the full long-term effects are still a subject of ongoing study. For now, edibles are often viewed as a healthier alternative to smoking, but as with any substance, responsible use is crucial

Conclusion: Choose the Method That Works Best for You

Ultimately, the best method of cannabis consumption is a personal choice, varying from person to person. Some of my friends are dedicated to edibles for their long-lasting effects, while others prefer the immediacy of smoking or vaping. The key is finding what brings you joy and suits your needs.

For those seeking immediate relief from pain or anxiety, smoking or vaping can provide quick results due to the rapid absorption of cannabinoids into the bloodstream. On the other hand, if you're looking for an experience that lasts longer and may feel more intense, edibles are a great choice. They take longer to kick in, as they're processed by the liver, but the effects are often more prolonged and potent. Remember, the best choice is the one that aligns with your lifestyle and preferences. So, enjoy responsibly, prioritize your wellbeing, and find the balance that keeps you content and toasty.

Get Your Weekly Dose of Green

Subscribe for Exclusive Cannabis News, Weekly Deals, and the Industry's Latest Tech and Innovations!