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To suck or swallow? The pharmacology of THC edibles


There are a lot of ways to take cannabis from smoking to brownies. A dichotomy even exists in some edibles. In other words, it will produce a different experience to suck on or swallow a cannabis-infused candy, for example. To understand the different consumption methods, we have to look into the pharmacology of cannabis and THC edibles.

Pharmacology of THC edibles.

How cannabis edibles work — Oral THC

  • Onset: 60-180 minutes
  • Duration: 6-8 hours
  • Bioavailability: ~6-14% with a 2.5-fold increase when formulated into a lipid (not nano-emulsified), and high variability depending on recent meals.

Active D9-THC takes time to pass through the stomach and into the liver. And depending on the edibles formula, only a small percentage of that THC survives and can be absorbed into the body.

Once the remaining THC arrives in the liver, a lot of biochemical stuff happens. First and foremost is the change that THC can undergo in an individual’s gut that contains enough enzymes. A section on the northern tip of THC’s leftmost ring switches from a methyl (-CH3) to a hydroxyl group (-OH).

To bind to the cannabinoid receptor with a bias for intoxication, fat-loving THC must contain at least one hydroxyl group. And while the converted form of THC, 11-OH-THC contains one more hydroxyl group compared to D9-THC. How this affects intoxication is not well understood.

THC under the tongue — oromucosal pharmacology

  • Onset: 15-45 minutes
  • Duration: 6-8 hours

Atypical of oral consumption, sublingual doses produce a fraction of the hydroxylated cannabinoids. This is because cannabinoids left under the tongue will soak directly into blood vessels, negating the liver until a second pass.

For clinical applications, sublingual doses are optimal. Humans can possess vastly different gut microbiomes which orchestrate enzymes that chew up THC. Therefore, quickly swallowed edibles are far more unpredictable amongst a large group of people. Although oral consumption does provide benefits for chronic illnesses.

A cannabinoid-infused edible left under the tongue will partially absorb through the mucosal membranes in the month. Whatever cannabinoid is swallowed, on the other hand, will go through the liver. And the same is true for terpenes, but less knowledge exists on their metabolism. For some people, of course, the long duration of edibles is still a preferred means of consumption.

Nano-emulsified THC edibles?

Experts think good sublingual formulations do not need to be nano-emulsified. Products emulsified into small enough droplets will, however, absorb into the blood before most metabolic conversions. Of course, pharmacology also depends on the type of THC edible and emulsion.

Let us know your preferred consumption method in the comments.


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