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As the recreational cannabis market grows and expands, the cannabis-infused drink is gaining popularity. There are many options, including cannabis-infused coffee, tea, soda, and water.

There’s a Difference Between Drinking Cannabis and Eating it

It is a common misconception that all edibles are created equal; a cannabis cocktail will be just like cannabis cookies. That is an incorrect assumption, and it is critical to understand the difference between drinking cannabis and eating cannabis. So let’s take a trip down our digestive system and see where cannabis edibles are absorbed into the bloodstream.

In the beginning, a cannabis cookie or soda first enters our bodies identically via the mouth. The mouth is an efficient cannabis absorber. This is where cannabis tinctures and lozenges (aka breath mints) are absorbed. After chewing, a cannabis cookie is swallowed by the esophagus into the stomach (same as the soda). This is where the pathway of cannabis cookie and cannabis soda will begin to diverge. The stomach is an acidic environment. Specifically, the stomach contains hydrochloric acid (HCl) and pepsin. HCl lowers the pH of the stomach to aid the digestion of food by enzymes that require an acidic pH to be active. Pepsin is a protease that breaks down proteins into smaller peptides.

Let’s follow the cannabis soda first…

When a cannabis soda enters the stomach, the acidic environment does not need to continue digesting the soda containing THC (it is already in a water-soluble liquid form), and the lining of the stomach begins absorbing the liquid. Water is a small molecule, it does not need to be further broken down or digested like proteins or fats found in food. This means that water and other water-based liquids (the cannabis soda) can diffuse through the phospholipid bilayer and pores that line our gastrointestinal tract. Think about a typical alcoholic drink, it doesn’t take two hours for a tequila shot to kick in, does it? So, if THC is processed into a water-soluble form like cannabis soda, it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream via the lining of the stomach and small intestine. What does this mean in practical terms? You will begin to feel the effects of a cannabis drink in 30-60 minutes and feel the effects for about 6-8 hours.

What about cannabis cookies?

After traveling into the stomach, HCl and pepsin begin to break down the larger solids into a thick slurry that is transported to the small intestine. During the time that a cannabis drink is being absorbed into the bloodstream (directly through the lining of the stomach and small intestine) the cannabis cookie is still being digested in the stomach and small intestine, the cookies THC has not been absorbed into the bloodstream. Once inside the small intestine, the pot cookie is absorbed into the bloodstream through the hepatic portal venous system, which is responsible for directing blood from the gastrointestinal tract to the liver. This is commonly referred to as “first-pass metabolism.” This is when THC from the cookie enters the portal vein traveling to the liver, where THC is metabolized into 11-hydroxy-tetrahydrocannabinol (11-OH-THC).

What to be Aware of

There are two major points to be aware of when it comes to a cannabis cookie. First, a cookie will take the longest to kick in (2+ hours). Second, 11-OH-THC is more potent than THC. What does this mean in practical terms? You will begin to feel the effects of a cannabis cookie in 2 hours and continue feeling these effects for 8-10 hours.

This is why cannabis drink options are growing. Many cannabis consumers like an edible that kicks in faster with a less-intense level of psychoactivity. If you have had a bad experience with a cannabis cookie (we’ve all been there), you may want to try a cannabis drink. It is a great option often described as an experience somewhere between a tincture and a cookie.

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