By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD
Marijuana — colloquially called weed — refers to the dried flowers, seeds, stems, and leaves of the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plants (1).
It's a popular drug used by millions of people either for pleasure or to treat chronic health conditions.
Weed can be used in a number of ways, but some of the most popular methods include smoking and vaping.
However, some people wonder whether it's safe to eat marijuana and whether ingesting it has the same effects as smoking or vaping.
This article explains whether it's safe to eat weed and the health effects — both positive and negative — related to ingestion.
Can You Eat Marijuana?
The short answer is yes, you can eat weed. In fact, marijuana-infused foods and drinks have been consumed throughout history, as far back as 1000 B.C. (2Trusted Source).
Marijuana was used as medicine in ancient China and India and was introduced to Western medicine in the early 19th century. Edible applications, such as tinctures, were prescribed to treat various conditions, from chronic pain to digestive disorders (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source).
Edible marijuana products were also used to relieve stress and induce euphoria, similar to alcohol.
Bhang, a beverage made from a mixture of the leaves and flowers of marijuana plants, has been consumed for centuries during religious festivals, such as Holi, a Hindu festival of love and color (3Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).
In the United States, recreational use of edible marijuana products became popular during the 1960s, and today, many different types of edibles are available, both legally and illegally, depending on state laws.
For example, gummies, candies, chocolates, capsules, teas, and oils are some of the edible marijuana products sold in both legal marijuana dispensaries and through the illegal marijuana market.
Edibles enthusiasts also make their own weed products by infusing butter or oil with marijuana and mixing it into baked goods and other recipes.
Though you can eat raw weed, it won't have the same effect as consuming marijuana-based products, as marijuana has to go through a process known as decarboxylation to become activated (6Trusted Source).
Raw marijuana contains tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), compounds that must be exposed to heat, such as in smoking or baking, to turn into the active forms, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) (6Trusted Source).
Therefore, eating raw weed will not result in the same effects as consuming weed that has been heated, as in edible products like candies, tinctures, and baked goods.
Though you can't get high from eating raw weed, some health experts believe that eating it may offer some health benefits due to the wide array of plant compounds it contains.
Yet, research in this area is lacking, so the potential therapeutic benefit of raw marijuana is still unclear.
Weed has been consumed in various forms throughout history for both medicinal and recreational purposes. Though you can eat raw marijuana, it won't have the same effects as marijuana that has been heated.
Health Benefits Related to Edible Marijuana
Marijuana has many medicinal benefits and has been used to treat various ailments throughout history.
Today, edible marijuana products have a number of uses in the medical field and are becoming a more popular, accepted natural treatment in clinical settings.
May Benefit Certain Health Conditions
Edible marijuana products are often used to treat conditions, such as chronic pain, cancer-related symptoms, and anxiety.
Medical cannabis products can legally be prescribed in countries around the world, including Italy, Spain, Germany, and parts of the United States (7Trusted Source).
THC is one of over 100 active compounds — known as cannabinoids — in marijuana.
THC is the compound responsible for the psychoactive properties of marijuana products, including edibles, that may induce feelings of euphoria and relaxation (2Trusted Source).
Other compounds in marijuana, such as CBD, have been shown to have pain- and anxiety-reducing properties.
The powerful combination of therapeutic compounds in this plant makes it a popular natural treatment that effectively reduces symptoms of and eases pain related to various conditions.
Additionally, these products may significantly reduce pain and muscle spasms, relieve nausea and vomiting, enhance sleep quality, and improve depression and anxiety (9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source).
In fact, pharmaceutical companies manufacture oral preparations of marijuana-derived treatments, such as Sativex, which is an oral spray prescribed to treat pain and muscle spasticity (12Trusted Source).
Though edible marijuana products are prescribed and used to treat many other ailments, such as digestive and neurological disorders, high-quality research in these areas is lacking.
Therefore, the full therapeutic potential of marijuana is still unknown (13Trusted Source).
Edible marijuana is used to treat symptoms related to various medical conditions, such as cancer and chronic pain. However, high-quality studies are lacking, so the full effects of marijuana products on health are still unclear.
Potential Side Effects and Downsides of Eating Weed
Though edible marijuana products may benefit many conditions, some potential adverse effects may occur.
The main issue with edible marijuana products is that it can be very difficult to determine an appropriate dosage. Concentrations of THC vary widely depending on different factors, such as where the product was made and the quality of the marijuana used.
Additionally, unlike smoking weed, edible marijuana products have a long latency period, meaning it can take a while — sometimes hours — for it to take effect.
When marijuana is smoked, THC reaches the brain and takes effect within a few minutes. The effects peak at around 20–30 minutes after smoking and begin to wear off within 2–3 hours (10Trusted Source).
In contrast, the psychoactive effects of edibles usually take 30–90 minutes to kick in. The high feeling lasts much longer and typically peaks at about 2–4 hours after ingestion (10Trusted Source).
The effects of edibles can last for many hours, depending on how much was ingested, as well as your body weight, metabolism, gender, and other factors.
The combination of the highly variable THC concentration and the long latency period of edible marijuana products makes them very easy to unintentionally overconsume, which can lead to unwanted symptoms, such as paranoia and impaired motor ability.
Additionally, though rare, there have been instances of cannabis-induced psychosis, a condition usually related to overconsumption of edible marijuana products that results in symptoms like paranoid delusions, extreme sedation, hallucinations, and confusion (14Trusted Source).
Other side effects related to edible marijuana products include dry mouth, sleepiness, and changes in visual perception.
Another concern is that edible marijuana products often resemble regular candies, cookies, and other baked goods, posing a risk for children, pets, and other adults.
In fact, between 2005 and 2011, marijuana-related calls to U.S. poison control centers increased by 30% per year in states that decriminalized marijuana. Many of these calls were related to accidental ingestion of edible marijuana products (16Trusted Source).
Edible marijuana products are difficult to dose and take a long time to kick in. They also resemble regular food products, which may lead to accidental ingestion.
Is Eating Weed Safer Than Smoking It?
Though smoking weed is not often considered harmful, research has shown that inhaling marijuana smoke can negatively impact health, similar to cigarette smoke.
Both cigarette and marijuana smoke contain toxins, such as ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, that may damage your lungs and increase your cancer risk (17Trusted Source).
Yet, scientists emphasize that it's unclear whether or to what extent smoking marijuana influences cancer risk, as many available studies are of low quality, and confounding variables, such as cigarette smoking, affect study results (19Trusted Source).
In contrast, edible marijuana products have not been shown to negatively affect lung health or cancer risk.
Therefore, if you're concerned about the possible health risks associated with smoking weed, you may want to use edible marijuana products as an alternative.
However, because most marijuana research focuses on smoking weed, the long-term health implications of consuming edibles are still unknown.
Nevertheless, ingesting marijuana is likely safer than smoking it.
Marijuana smoke contains toxins that may negatively affect health. Though edibles are likely safer, the long-term health implications of these products are still unknown due to a lack of research.
How to Enjoy Edibles Safely (and Legally)
Many people enjoy using marijuana products to relax and ease stress, while some take edibles to treat or improve symptoms of a medical condition.
Either way, it's important to use safe products and choose appropriate dosages to avoid unwanted side effects.
If you're interested in using edibles to treat a medical condition, your healthcare provider is the best person to consult to learn if medical marijuana is an option.
Depending on where you live, you might be able to get a prescription. In the United States, 33 states allow the use of medical marijuana. It has also been legalized in countries around the world, including Italy and Australia (20Trusted Source, 21Trusted Source).
Some conditions that may warrant a medical marijuana prescription include chronic pain, anxiety, multiple sclerosis, terminal illness, and inflammatory bowel disease.
In contrast, recreational use of marijuana is illegal in many parts of the world, including most parts of the United States. Only 10 states, including California, Maine, Vermont, and Oregon, allow for the use of recreational marijuana products.
However, even though marijuana is legal to use in these states, it remains illegal at a federal level and is considered a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Schedule I substances are “determined to have a high potential for abuse” and are defined as having “no currently accepted medical use” (22).
Yet, many disagree with this classification, especially those who have seen firsthand that marijuana products offer powerful medicinal and therapeutic benefits for many people.
In fact, scientists have repeatedly questioned marijuana regulation, with some arguing that the current legal status is outdated and “thwarts legitimate research” exploring the potential of marijuana in the medical field (23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source).
Though both social and political views on marijuana are changing rapidly, for now, citizens must abide by the laws set forth by state and federal governments for the use of both medical and recreational marijuana.
Purchasing Safe Marijuana Products
When using edible marijuana for the first time — whether for medical or recreational reasons — it's important to do so safely.
Sticking to prescribed dosage and usage recommendations can help reduce your risk of potential negative effects related to overconsumption.
If purchasing edible marijuana products in a state where recreational use is legal, only purchase products from a licensed dispensary that you trust.
Licensed dispensaries are often required to have their products tested for safety and potency in state-accredited laboratories to be approved for sale.
However, testing protocols vary considerably from state to state, and some don't require laboratory testing (25Trusted Source).
It's important to note that marijuana bought from illegal operations or dispensaries that sell untested products can be contaminated with pesticides, mold, fungi, bacteria, heavy metals, formaldehyde, and other substances, which can pose serious health risks (26Trusted Source).
Dispensaries typically carry a variety of marijuana products with different concentrations of THC and CBD, which can be confusing for first-time buyers. Consulting dispensary staff is a smart way to find the best product to suit your needs.
The legality of marijuana varies, so the use of both medical and recreational marijuana products depends on where you live. Only purchase marijuana products from trusted sources and follow dosing recommendations carefully.
The Bottom Line
Edible marijuana products may offer various benefits, including reducing symptoms of chronic illnesses and anxiety.
Still, these products may cause side effects, react with common medications, and take a long time to kick in.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to use medicinal or recreational products legally. However, it's important to only purchase from licensed, reputable dispensaries that sell products tested for purity and potency.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
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