Cannabis products that contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, are becoming increasingly popular for their therapeutic effects, such as pain relief and reduction of inflammation. This has led to an explosion in the variety of cannabis products on the market that has left many people wondering how smoking vs. edibles vs. other methods of consumption affect how THC interacts with the body.

How Smoking Vs. Edibles and Other Methods Affect Absorption

Absorption refers to how fast and how completely cannabis molecules, such as THC, enter your bloodstream. There are a variety of ways that THC can enter your bloodstream, and each method affects how well and how fast your body absorbs THC.

Factors That Affect Absorption

Multiple factors affect the absorption of THC:

  • Formulation of the product
  • Dose
  • Method of consumption
  • Combination with food or other substances
  • Individual physiology

While people generally react similarly when consuming THC in the same quantities and by the same methods, everyone’s body is a bit different. As a result, two people can do the same thing but get different results.


Smoking is the most common method of consuming cannabis products. When people inhale THC, it becomes detectable in the blood within five minutes, and the effects usually become noticeable in about 10 minutes.

Smoking produces fast effects because the lungs deliver THC directly to the nervous system without the first-pass metabolism. The bioavailability of THC when smoking cannabis ranges from 2% to 56% with factors such as inhalation volume, duration, and the time between puffs playing a role. This means that when you smoke cannabis, between 2% and 56% of the THC in the product will reach your bloodstream.


When considering smoking vs. edibles, it is important to understand what happens when you consume cannabis as an edible. It passes through your digestive system, and your small intestine absorbs the THC, which then passes into the liver before entering the blood. It takes 30 to 60 minutes for orally ingested THC to become detectable in the blood and one to two hours for it to reach peak concentration. The bioavailability of THC from edibles is about 10% to 20%.

The experience of consuming cannabis in an edible can be different than other methods because when the liver metabolizes THC, it forms the metabolite 11-hydroxy THC. This metabolite has a high affinity for binding to the cannabinoid receptors which can make the effects of THC more potent.


Users consume sublingual cannabis products, such as tinctures and sprays, by placing the product under the tongue. When you consume cannabis this way, the blood vessels and skin under the tongue and mucosal skin of the mouth absorb the THC. The chemical then travels directly into the blood.

Absorption happens quickly with this method, usually taking only seconds or minutes. However, research suggests that the bioavailability and effects are similar to edibles.


Topical products can not penetrate deeply into the skin and do not enter the bloodstream. These products are generally used to treat the specific area of the body to which they are applied.


Transdermals are THC-containing patches that you apply to your skin and leave in place for multiple hours. Unlike topicals, which only act on the epidermal layer of the skin, transdermals can pass through to the dermis and into deeper tissues. This method of consumption bypasses the liver and delivers THC directly to the bloodstream.

How Smoking Vs. Edibles and Other Methods Affect the Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system is a lipid signaling system that plays an important role in regulating human body functions. The ECS impacts the nervous system, inflammation, immune function, metabolism, appetite, energy, cardiovascular function, homeostasis, digestion, learning, pain, memory, sleep, and stress regulation.

Researchers believe that problems with the ECS contribute to many medical issues, such as pain, psychiatric disorders, inflammation, and neurodegenerative diseases. Most of the effects people experience from consuming THC products result from the interaction of THC with the ECS.

Because THC is an oil-soluble compound, it does not break down readily in the blood. When you smoke a THC product, the THC will bind with the endocannabinoid receptors in your body within seconds. However, when you consume it as an edible, your saliva immediately starts breaking down the THC which is then further broken down in the stomach and the liver.

Once it becomes 11-hydroxy THC in the liver, it is more water-soluble, allowing it to easily pass through the body and the blood-brain barrier. When it comes to smoking vs. edibles, consuming edibles will result in longer-lasting and more intense effects than smoking.

Topicals primarily bond with the CB2 receptors of the ECS, which are part of the peripheral nervous system and exist in abundance in the skin. This produces an almost immediate local reaction but does not affect the rest of the body. The ECS plays a major role in regulating skin homeostasis which affects oil production, skin pigment, hair growth, wound healing, and how well the skin protects itself. When the ECS functions properly, you experience less skin inflammation.

Additionally, the endocannabinoid system regulates the death, growth, and proliferation of skin cells. Activating CB2 receptors in the skin stimulate oil production. When the ECS functions efficiently, it increases or decreases oil production in response to conditions such as acne, pain, itching, or skin diseases, such as psoriasis.

How THC Works

THC has a chemical structure similar to anandamide, which is a naturally occurring brain chemical. This similarity makes it possible for the body to recognize THC and alter brain communication. Endogenous cannabinoids, such as anandamide, work in the same way as neurotransmitters that send chemical messages between nerve cells.

These transmitters affect the areas of the brain that control memory, pleasure, concentration, thinking, movement, sensory perception, and coordination. THC can attach to and activate the cannabinoid receptors on neurons in these brain areas to activate them, resulting in the various effects people experience when using THC products. THC also interacts with cannabinoid receptors to activate the brain’s reward system.

More About Smoking Vs. Edibles

TerraSol is a Wisconsin hemp dispensary serving Germantown and other cities throughout the state. We are certified CBD educators who can help you determine the right product, best dose, and most effective delivery method for your needs. To find out more about smoking vs. edibles, topicals, sublingual, and other cannabis delivery methods, visit us online.