Cannabis Edibles 101 – A Historical Odyssey, Pros, Cons, and Health Insights

The days of only being able to use cannabis by smoking a joint or eating a brownie are long gone. Today, it is possible to vaporize, drink, or even absorb the substance transdermally. You can even rub it into the skin in the form of a cream.

However, cannabis edibles’ popularity has endured, with the market stronger than ever. There is a certain mystique that surrounds products like hash brownies, and in this guide, I explore the following:

  • The history of cannabis edibles
  • What edibles are and the most popular options
  • Dosing, onset time, and how long the effects last
  • The benefits and dangers of this form of marijuana consumption 
  • Things to consider before using edibles 

Let’s begin!

A Brief History of Cannabis Edibles

It’s quite likely that humans were consuming marijuana long before recorded history began. However, we have to wait until between 2000 and 1400 BCE for the first written mention of marijuana-infused food. 

It came in the form of bhang, a cannabis-infused drink that’s enjoyed in India to this day. Bhang is made with rose water, nuts, spices, yogurt, and marijuana. In this ancient era, the Hindu community consumed the interesting concoction as a means of worshipping Kali or Shiva. Notably, the Vedas, a collection of Hindu religious texts, viewed marijuana as one of five ‘sacred’ plants.

Fast forward to approximately 1000 CE, and there’s evidence of a cannabis jam, called Majoun, that the Berber Tribes of North Africa used. This particular recipe traditionally included nuts, honey, kif, datura seeds, and cannabis extracts. 

Edibles’ Journey to the ‘West’

In all likelihood, marijuana edibles were used in Europe long before being mentioned in a book written by the Italian humanist Bartolomeo Platina in the 15th century.

The 19th century saw the popularization of cannabis edibles, thanks to the exploits of the famous Club des Hachischins, which translates to “Club of the Hashish-Eaters.” This group consisted of several prominent writers, such as Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, and Alexandre Dumas. They met in Paris in the 1840s and enjoyed consuming drugs like opium and hashish. 

It’s worth noting that, towards the end of the 19th century, cannabis-infused edibles such as candies were sold in the United States as medicinal aids. Indeed, an issue of Vanity Fair in the 1860s mentioned a product called “Hasheesh Candy.”

Cannabis Edibles in the Modern Era

As you probably know by now, the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act outlawed cannabis throughout the United States. This didn’t stop people from experimenting with marijuana edibles, though. 

Alice B. Toklas famously published a cookbook outlining a recipe for what she called “Hashish Fudge.” The ingredients are similar to Majoun, and whether the author tried to or not, she began a revolution of sorts. The 1960s and 1970s were characterized by the creation of marijuana brownies and fudge as weed lovers concocted ever more delicious ways to consume the substance. 

This was also the era of “Brownie” Mary Rathbun, who famously baked, sold, and donated marijuana-infused brownies to individuals for medicinal purposes. 

In the early 21st century, several states followed the lead of California, where MMJ was legalized in 1996. Now that it was possible to procure marijuana legally, manufacturers quickly saw the potential offered by edibles. In the last decade or so, the market has grown exponentially, with an eye-opening array of products available. 

Marijuana gummies are among the most popular, but plenty of people still love hash brownies. 

What Is a Cannabis Edible?

It is a food or drink item that contains THC and other compounds, usually from marijuana flower, oil, or concentrates. Unlike smoking or vaping, edibles don’t negatively impact the respiratory system. They are ideal for MMJ patients with lung or breathing issues.

Edibles are also popular among individuals recovering from chemotherapy. If they use the right strain, it could provide a much-needed appetite boost. Consumption is as easy as eating or drinking the THC-infused product. There is now an impressive range of cannabis edible products, including:

Some brands have even created products such as THC coconut butter, cannabutter, olive oil, and flour!


Perhaps you’re wondering why people feel the need to smoke or vape marijuana. Why can’t they just consume raw cannabis instead? The reason is that raw cannabis doesn’t contain the THC known to cause an intoxicating high. Instead, it has THCA, which is delta 9 in its acid form. While raw weed has a variety of vitamins and minerals, it doesn’t provide the sought-after ‘high.’

The process of decarboxylation involves heating the marijuana, targeting cannabinoid acids such as THCA. Decarbing changes the plant’s molecular structure, which loses a carboxyl group and retains a hydrogen atom. In basic terms, it converts THCA into THC.

When you light a joint, you automatically decarb the marijuana flower by exposing it to heat. However, things work a little differently when it comes to edibles. If you’re planning to try a cannabis recipe, you need to decarboxylate the flower before proceeding.

A quick and easy way to do this is by placing your marijuana buds in the oven at 230 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes. This should do the job of decarbing your weed, ensuring it’s ready for whatever recipe you have in mind. You can speed things up by increasing the temperature to 265 degrees. By doing so, you reduce the oven time to nine minutes. However, you also risk burning off some compounds. 

How Long Does It Take for a Cannabis Edible to Kick In?

Newcomers to marijuana edibles should proceed with caution. It is a very different experience from smoking or vaping, which tend to show effects within minutes. In general, edibles take between 30 and 60 minutes to affect. However, for some users, it can take as long as 120 minutes. In reality, there is no way to tell until you try an edible.

Also, products such as THC gum, lozenges, and lollipops work faster because they are absorbed sublingually. Chewable products such as brownies, gummies, and cookies take longer because they travel through the digestive system.

Once you consume an edible, it is absorbed through the gut, and the liver metabolizes the compounds. The remaining THC and metabolites circulate through your heart and eventually reach the brain.

Factors that impact the onset time of marijuana edibles include:

A common mistake when using an edible is becoming impatient and taking a second dose soon after the first. This process could lead to several side effects, which we will outline later. If you are a first-time edibles user, wait up to 24 hours after consumption before trying another dose.

Cannabis Edible Dosage

Although edibles take longer to take effect than other forms of consumption, they are also potentially more potent. This is despite their relatively low bioavailability (absorption rate).

study published in Pain Research & Management in 2005 looked at the pharmacokinetics of cannabinoids. The researchers found that orally consumed THC has a bioavailability rate of between 4% and 12%. However, they also noted that the absorption rate of THC is highly variable.


Combining cannabis edibles with fats may boost THC’s absorption rate. This is why brands use ‘carrier’ oils such as MCT when selling CBD and THC oil.

The potency of edibles is also measured differently compared to cannabis flower or concentrates. While the latter options include THC percentages, edibles often outline total THC content in terms of milligrams. Most states that permit MMJ or recreational cannabis sales, however, have limits on how potent edibles can be. In Colorado, for example, adults aged 21+ can buy a maximum of an ounce of cannabis flower or edibles with up to 800mg of THC in total.

Many people choose to cut or divide their edibles into smaller pieces. For instance, a chocolate bar with 100mg of THC might have ten sections. Each one has 10mg of THC. As long as the product comes with third-party lab reports, you know precisely how much of the cannabinoid you’re consuming.

As for dosage, a beginner should remain in the 1-5mg range and wait until the following day to evaluate the effects. If these effects are minimal, increase by a maximum of 2.5mg. An intermediate user could use 5-15mg, while an experienced cannabis user might have 20mg per dose.

How Long Does the Cannabis Edible High Last?

The THC in a marijuana edible is metabolized in the liver into a compound called 11-hydroxy-THC. This compound is significantly more potent than THC, which is why edibles can have a more substantial effect than cannabis flower. 11-hydroxy-THC has a longer half-life than THC and typically produces a sedative effect.

The duration of an edible high depends on several different factors, including the potency and dose of the product. The same factors that impact onset time also affect the length and intensity of the high. Typically, the ‘peak’ effect occurs around three hours after use. The intoxicating high is at its strongest at this point.

The high can last up to eight hours in some people, though this can vary enormously. A study published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal in 2017 found some interesting data. It explored the Twitter accounts of people who used cannabis edibles to learn more about their effects. One noteworthy finding was that the duration of the high is unpredictable.

What Are the Benefits of Edibles?

Edibles are threatening to dominate the market as medical and recreational users alike can’t seem to get enough of them. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why this is the case.

Health Benefits

Although cannabis is linked to a host of possible benefits, there’s a trend toward using marijuana-infused edibles for specific reasons. One of the most obvious is as an analgesic.

This makes sense, given that edibles can last for several hours. This makes them a better option than a tincture or joint if the goal is to enjoy long-lasting relief. That being said, the fact that it can take a while to feel the effects means edibles aren’t ideal if you’re in serious pain and want immediate relief. 

Some MMJ patients like eating edibles to help with cancer-related symptoms. They find that it is a more palatable form of the drug than anything else around. 

Even people who might classify themselves as recreational marijuana users may use edibles to manage anxiety. Once again, the long-lasting effects could prove ideal if you want to get through what’s potentially a stressful day. However, please remember that the intoxicating high can be potent, so don’t eat an edible if you plan to drive or have any important tasks to complete that require your full concentration.

Ease of Use & Taste

Cannabis-infused edibles are among the easiest ways to consume weed. All you have to do is take a bite, chew, relax, and wait for the effects to come. There’s no need to worry about using a dropper as you do with a tincture, nor must you roll up a joint with great care (okay, you can buy pre-rolls, but you get the picture).

Furthermore, there’s an element of discretion with marijuana edibles that you don’t get with other products. For example, when you smoke a joint, the smell is pretty pungent and noticeable, plus you have to contend with the rank odor of stale smoke. There are no such issues with edibles.

Then there is the fantastic taste. Brands are creating cannabis edibles that taste like candy bars. We’re at the point where you don’t even know you’re consuming weed until the effects kick in.

Finally, there is the small matter of dosage. As long as the seller includes third-party lab reports with each batch of products, you can rest assured that the amount of THC specified on the package is close to what you’re consuming. 

The Experience

Anyone who has used marijuana edibles and joints can tell the difference in how they feel afterward. First and foremost, you need to wait a while when using an edible. By contrast, the effects of a joint occur fairly quickly but won’t last as long as when you consume weed orally.

The fact that edibles are metabolized differently (as outlined above) is also a big deal. What you’ll find is that when the high kicks in, it does so with great potency. As long as you use a sensible dosage, however, you’re likely to find that the high is entirely pleasant. Furthermore, you’re still able to function at a reasonable level.

Are Cannabis Edibles Safe?

One myth surrounding edibles is that they are completely safe. While eating cannabis may be better for the lungs, there are some problems associated with the practice.

The ease of use is, in itself, potentially dangerous. It is much easier to over-consume a cannabis edible than it is to smoke too much marijuana flower. Remember, it is possible to purchase up to 800mg worth of edibles in Colorado, for example. That is the equivalent of up to an ounce of incredibly high-potency flower.

Even the most experienced smoker would struggle to get through a full ounce in a day. In contrast, you could theoretically eat an entire 800mg of edibles in one sitting. This is especially the case when you take into account the delicious taste!

Remember, the 11-hydroxy-THC compound is more potent than THC, which leads to intense, possibly dangerous side effects.

Although there are no confirmed cases of deaths explicitly from a cannabis edibles overdose, the possible side effects are severe and can include:

  • Cognitive and motor impairment
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased stress on the heart

Cannabis Edibles & Tragedy

The intensity of the high could prove overwhelming and terrifying. It may also lead to devastating outcomes. In 2014, Levy Thumba made the mistake of eating an entire cannabis cookie containing 65mg of THC. He lost control of his faculties and ultimately died after falling from a hotel balcony in Denver.

study published in CMAJ in 2020 found that young people and older adults were the two most at-risk groups when it comes to overconsumption of cannabis edibles.

Another study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2019, looked at the possible harms caused by edibles. It reviewed the number of people who went to emergency rooms in a large urban hospital in Colorado. Researchers found that between 2012 and 2016, there was a 200% increase in cannabis-related ER admissions.

During this period, edibles comprised less than 1% of cannabis sales by THC content. Furthermore, only 3.6% of marijuana users say they consumed edibles. However, edibles were involved in approximately 11% of cannabis-related ER visits. There were three deaths associated with marijuana in Colorado during this period. All of them were related to edibles.

The delayed onset of the high is one of the main factors. However, the added potency of the experience also plays a role.

Considerations When Using Cannabis Edibles

Before you begin on your edibles odyssey, it’s important to know as much as about this group of products as possible. The more knowledge you’re armed with, the less likely you are to fall foul of the many traps that await the uninitiated. Here are a few things to consider if you’re interested in using marijuana-infused edibles.

Why Do You Want Edibles?

Perhaps you’re a recreational user who wants to have a new experience. Maybe you want weed to make the latest tired Netflix special from a former standup comedy legend seem funny. Alternatively, you might be seeking something that gives you a long break from crippling pain.

If you want to use cannabis-infused edibles for a medical reason, consult with a doctor first. Doing this ensures that you can determine whether edibles are the best way to reach your goal. 

For a lot of people, it’s about moving away from vaping and smoking. If you’re used to these consumption methods, remember that the high from an edible is VERY different. 

Timing Is Everything

Although marijuana can lead to a spike in energy, it is usually the case that edibles result in relaxation and drowsiness. As such, it’s best to eat the product in the early evening when trying it for the first time. 

If it causes you to feel sleepy, it makes getting to sleep that much easier. If this happens and you don’t want it to, you can change the dose to reduce feelings of fatigue. Also, as a novice, look for edibles with a 1:1 THC to CBD ratio if possible. CBD can take the edge off the THC, reducing the possibility of adverse side effects. 

Nothing Is Guaranteed

It’s a grave error to assume that your experience will be approximately the same as that of a friend, colleague, neighbor, or the dude who howls at the moon while licking walls. 

If you have minimal experience with marijuana, particularly edibles, there’s no way of knowing what to expect. One option is to speak with a budtender and be honest about why you want to use edibles, your expectations, and your experience level. Another is to be smart and use a really small amount at first. 

Not Every Edible Is the Same

Believe it or not, edibles don’t all work in the same way. Not many people seem to realize that there are “sublingual” and “gastrointestinal” cannabis edibles. 

You place sublingual edibles, such as strips, beneath your tongue. They enable the cannabinoids to enter your bloodstream quickly, and the onset of effects is much faster than with gastrointestinal edibles. 

As you can probably guess, gastrointestinal edibles are the products you probably thought about when arriving on this page. Patience is required when using such edibles, so take a small dose and wait as long as it takes. Do NOT take a second dose!

As an aside, when an edible includes MCT oil, it absorbs into the bloodstream faster than if it includes butter or another animal fat. 

Panic Stations

If you consume too much THC, particularly via cannabis edibles, you could experience some pretty unpleasant side effects. Your heart rate could increase significantly, and you may feel nauseous, dizzy, and even experience visual or auditory hallucinations in extreme cases.

Please note that all of the above will pass. If you have a bad episode, get in touch with a trusted friend so they can help you get through it. Typically, the most severe side effects will wear off in a few hours. Make sure you practice deep breathing, drink water, and try to get some sleep. 

Before we conclude, here’s a very quick overview of the pros and cons of edibles. 

Cannabis Edibles Pros

  • Easier on the respiratory system than smoked or vaporized cannabis
  • Edibles purchased from licensed dispensaries clearly outline THC content. Therefore, they can be easy to dose
  • Edibles offer a great tasting method of using marijuana
  • Massive variety of products on the market
  • The intoxicating high lasts longer than if you smoke or vaporize THC
  • Suitable for MMJ patients

Cannabis Edibles Cons

  • It takes longer to feel the effects than with other methods of using marijuana
  • It is easy to overconsume THC via edibles, which may lead to serious side effects
  • The potency of edibles is potentially overwhelming for some
  • More likely that children or pets will accidentally consume edibles than cannabis flower
  • Low bioavailability

Final Thoughts on Cannabis Edibles

As the name suggests, marijuana edibles are a form of the plant that a person can eat or drink. Once orally consumed, the compounds make their way through the digestive system and are metabolized by the liver. At this point, the THC becomes a stronger compound called 11-THC-hydroxy.

Edibles are a quick, easy, and delicious way to use marijuana. It can take up to two hours to feel the intoxication in some cases. However, the high is more robust and often lasts longer than other forms of THC consumption.

While cannabis edibles are popular amongst MMJ patients, in particular, they are not without risk. It is easy to consume too much THC via an edible, and side effects can range from mild to very severe. When using edibles, it is essential to use a small amount at first and wait a long time for the effects. If edibles are consumed responsibly, they are a potentially convenient and useful way to use cannabis.

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