According to a 2020 UN report, around 192 million people used weed in 2018, a number that proves its widespread popularity across the globe.
People use weed for different reasons – medicinal, spiritual, recreational, etc. Numerous studies have confirmed that thanks to some of the chemicals found in weed, controlled and moderate use of medical marijuana can treat and alleviate severe pain caused by chronic illnesses. This has led to the legalization of medical marijuana in several countries around the world.
On the other hand, its psychoactive quality is why a lot of people use weed as stress relief, for relaxation, and for the enhancement of leisure activities.
To understand the nature of weed and its common usage, in this article we’ll talk about the ways in which the body processes weed and how long it takes for weed to enter our system so that we feel its effects.
Let’s get started!
What Does Weed Consist Of?
Before we get to the nitty-gritty of how weed affects our body, let’s take a moment to dissect its most important compounds.
The Cannabis plant is where we get weed from, a complex plant with over 400 different chemicals that integrate with each other. Cannabis is made up of hydrocarbons, amino acids, terpenes, sugars, nitrogenous compounds, etc, but its most famous chemical group are the cannabinoids.
The two most well-known cannabinoids are delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). The THC compound is what gives weed its psychoactive quality and produces the “high” effect on the user. On the other hand, CBD is a non-intoxicating compound explored and used for its anti-inflammatory properties.
Some studies have shown that combining the two increases clinical efficacy while reducing adverse effects.
Both THC and CBD, together with the rest of the cannabinoids, interact with the cannabinoid receptors of the body to produce their effects.
Cannabinoid receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system and are located throughout the body. There are two main types of cannabinoid receptors – type CB1 and CB2.
The CB1 receptors are found in the brain, i.e. in the cerebral cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, and cerebellum, as well as the liver, kidneys, and lungs. CB2 is primarily connected with the immune system.
How Does THC Affect the Body?
This information is really important as it tells us that psychoactive compounds like THC have some kind of effect on the functions of these brain regions related to cognition, emotional responses, memory, motivation, and motor coordination (Hu & Mackie, 2015).
However, studies show that compared to alcohol usage, the effects of cannabis on cognitive tasks are more subtle. Unless we’re talking about extreme cases of chronic users, the effects produced by weed are not long-lasting.
For example, THC has been found to increase the level of dopamine, which is why weed smokers feel a bit euphoric. People who smoke weed have reported they feel more relaxed, they have heightened awareness, and are more sensitive to light, sound, smell, and touch. Other commonly reported effects are hunger and increased sexual pleasure (Osborne and Fogel, 2008).
How Can You Consume Weed?
It’s worth noting that the intensity of the mentioned effects depends on a number of factors. The most important one is how you consume weed.
The main ways in which you can consume weed are via inhaling (smoking marijuana or vaping), ingesting (edibles and topicals), and dabbing (smoking a high-THC concentrate of weed through a pipe).
Smoking marijuana is often the most typical way of consuming this type of drug. You can do this by rolling a joint, or by using an e-cigarette, also known as vaping.
Topicals are cannabis-infused oils, lotions, and butters, some of which are key ingredients in making weed edibles.
Edibles can come in forms of candies, cookies, brownies, gummies, tinctures, and other food products made from weed and they contain a higher amount of THC compared to a joint.
How Does Weed Affect the Body?
When people smoke weed, the inhaled weed gets into the bloodstream through the lungs faster than when they ingest it. Typically, the psychoactive effects of THC can be felt in just a couple of minutes after smoking. Once you stop, the high lasts for a couple of hours depending on how much and how long you smoked. Also, if the THC levels present in weed are higher, your high will last longer.
How Is THC Processed?
In comparison, weed edibles need to go through the digestive system and liver before the weed compounds enter into your bloodstream and reach the brain. As a result, it takes around 30 to 60 minutes for a weed edible to kick in. However, the effects of edibles can last up to 6-7 hours (McClements, 2020).
Moreover, since THC and CBD are both lipid-soluble, once the liver’s metabolic enzymes turn them into metabolites, they’re absorbed and stored in the fatty tissues. This means that if your body fat level is higher, the cannabinoids will attach to more fatty tissues. An individual with a faster metabolic rate will get rid of the cannabinoids faster.
Studies have also shown that mixing weed with alcohol results in longer-lasting and stronger weed effects.
Finally, to produce weed strains with greater psychoactive power, cannabis growers have been working on breeding techniques that help them increase the THC potency of the plant. The higher THC concentration makes the weed effects immediately apparent and more enduring.
The Sensitization Period
A lot of first-timers or infrequent smokers have reported having trouble getting “high” and enjoying the effects of smoking weed.
Experts believe that this has to do with the so-called sensitization period, i.e. the period it takes the body to get used to a new substance such as weed. Because of this, it might take a few tries before your body “learns” how to react to weed and you finally feel the effects.
Effects of Marijuana
Whether it’s your first time using cannabis products, or you have rolled the occasional joint here and there, a marijuana high can give you a few side effects as well. While some side effects of marijuana are harmless, like marijuana increasing your dopamine levels and giving you the munchies, others can make you paranoid, give you anxiety, or even hallucinations.
For that reason it’s important that you:
- Keep yourself hydrated;
- Don’t get behind the wheel when you’re high;
- Don’t consume weed on an empty stomach;
- Be careful of the concentration of THC in your product, in order to minimize negative side effects;
- Beware of how long do edibles take to kick in (wait for a longer amount of time before topping off with another edible).
On average, it takes just a couple of minutes for weed to kick in and for its main psychoactive compound THC to produce its effects including relaxation and mild euphoria, altered sensory perception, heightened mental awareness, and muscle-relief. These effects typically last between one and four hours.
What consumers should be mindful of are some of the factors that can produce a more long-lasting and stronger reaction such as combining weed with alcohol or consuming weed with higher THC concentration and potency.
In the case of weed edibles, the effects are felt approximately one hour after ingesting weed but might last up to seven hours.
Hu SS, Mackie K. (2015). Distribution of the endocannabinoid system in the central nervous system. In: Pertwee RG, editor. Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology. New York (NY): Springer
McClements, D. J. (2020). Enhancing Efficacy, Performance, and Reliability of Cannabis Edibles: Insights from Lipid Bioavailability Studies. Annual Review of Food Science and Technology, 11(1). doi:10.1146/annurev-food-032519-051834
Osborne and Fogel (2008). Understanding the Motivations for Recreational Marijuana Use Among Adult Canadians. doi: 10.1080/10826080701884911