Why Cannabis Edibles Don’t Work For Some People

Cannabis edibles are trending big time. Not only do they offer many advantages that smoking simply does not, such as added discretion and no carcinogens, but for most users, they also provide a much more potent and long-lasting high. Unfortunately for some people, edibles just don’t work… at all.

This can leave a consumer with many questions. Are the edibles bad or is there anther reason why they’re ineffective? Can someone be immune to cannabis edibles? Surprisingly, yes, this is possible; and it relates to the complex way in which our bodies absorb and metabolize cannabinoids.

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The difference between edibles and other consumption methods

Let’s start with the basics… why do cannabis edibles affect our bodies so differently than smoking or vaping? Just like anything else that goes through our digestive systems, cannabis edibles need to metabolize before the effects can be felt. It’s not an instant sensation like the aforementioned alternatives would be and it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours to kick in, but the effects last much longer.

Food and supplements need to be processed by the liver, meaning more of the cannabinoid will be filtered out of your system because of the slower absorption time. There are also some individual factors that impact the onset and intensity of the effects, such as the specific cannabinoid consumed or a person’s metabolism.

Take THC for example; whether you’re consuming Delta 8 or Delta 9, the body processes all tetrahydrocannabinols the same, by converting them to a metabolite known as 11-hydroxy-THC. This process is known as first-pass metabolism. According to neuroscientist and medical cannabis adviser, Dr. Adie Rae, “The liver is responsible for this transformation, and specifically, the drug-metabolizing enzyme known as cytochrome P2C9 or CYP2C9. Even when you smoke, your liver still sees some delta-9 and turns it into 11-hydroxy-THC, but you get way more 11-OH when you eat cannabis.”  

When it comes to other cannabinoids, they also produced metabolites as well. Most abundant are hydroxylated 7-COOH metabolites, which are derivatives of CBD/cannabidiol. Like THC, CBD has first-pass effects in the liver. However, our bodies absorb these metabolites differently, and unlike THC, a large portion of CBD is excreted unchanged in the feces. So in other words, when you consumes a CBD edible, a significant portion of the active cannabinoid is going straight to your bowels, waiting to be wasted.  

You will still feel the effects of CBD even orally, but it will take a while longer and won’t be anywhere near as noticeable as the effects from a THC edibles, psychotropic activity notwithstanding. However, the effects you do feel will last much longer than if you had inhaled the CBD, and that rings true with any orally administered cannabinoid.

There are numerous benefits to choosing edibles over smokeables. First and foremost is the impact on your health. When you smoke – anything, cannabis included – you’re exposing your body to carcinogens and other harmful chemicals. Another reason people might choose edibles is because of the long-lasting effects. If you’re using cannabis to manage a chronic condition like ongoing pain, anxiety, etc., it makes more sense to eat an edible a few times a day as opposed to finding somewhere that you can smoke or vape every hour or two. They’re also more discreet, making them easier to travel with and use on the go or in the workplace.

Are some people immune to cannabis edibles?

Technically, yes. Because edibles can be so discreet, potent, and beneficial, many people find themselves seriously disappointment when they take some and realize they don’t work for them. Obviously there is no exact number on this, but even in my personal life I’ve met quite a few people who say they don’t feel anything when they use edibles, myself included.

Ok, to be fair, I wouldn’t say I don’t feel anything… but I definitely don’t experience any type of psychoactive effects. When I use edibles, I feel really tired and nothing more. Estimates indicate that anywhere from 10-15% of cannabis user do NOT experience the desired effects from cannabis edibles, and we can thank our intricate and complicated digestive systems for that.

Research shows that the effectiveness of cannabinoids administered orally can vary based on numerous different factors. Generally speaking, when people are unable to process cannabis edibles it can be narrowed down to one of two complications: digestion/absorption issues or metabolic issues.

Digestive issues

Sometimes, using cannabis for Gastrointestinal disorders can be a bit of a catch 22. On one hand, cannabis can be extremely helpful for someone suffering from these conditions; on the other hand, GI issues can often have a negative impact on how the body digests and absorbs cannabinoids. If a person is unable to absorb fats and nutrients, it’s highly likely that they will not be able to absorb cannabinoids either.

Disorders that can affect how your body absorbs and digests cannabis include: Fat malabsorption syndrome, Irritable bowel disease, Irritable bowel syndrome, gallbladder removal surgery, Lipase deficiency, Pancreatic issues, Issues with bile production, Cystic fibrosis, Chronic diarrhea, or history of other GI surgery.

Additionally, several medications are known to affect digestion and absorption as well. Just think about how many medicines you’ve come across in life that list “gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, etc.,” as possible side effects. This applies to both pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter medications.

Metabolic issues 

Another possible scenario is that metabolic issues are hindering your body’s ability to process cannabinoids. When using edibles, the cannabinoids are metabolized in the liver before being dispersed into your bloodstream. To be fully processed, the cannabinoids must pass through the incredibly complex CYP450 metabolic pathway, in which metabolic enzymes are produced to help our bodies further utilize certain compounds.

If a person’s body produces too little or too many CYP enzymes, they won’t be able to properly metabolize cannabis products. Some will metabolize them too quickly or too slowly so they won’t be able to properly take effect, others won’t metabolize them at all.

There are many conditions that can affect metabolic enzyme production. According to research from Prof of Pot, one of the reasons could be genetic. “There is a very strong genetic component that influences cannabis metabolism. These genetic components are the reason each individual responds to cannabis so differently. Some people are considered rapid cannabis metabolizers, while others are ultra-slow metabolizers. How your body processes cannabis could be genetic.”

Other elements that could work against your metabolism include age, muscle mass, diet and medications, age, hormone function and production, level of physical activity, and environmental factors such as temperature.

Could it be something else?

The good news is, aside from the above health conditions, there are some simple issues that could be preventing you from experiencing cannabis edibles to their fullest. One of the most obvious being that the dosage is too low, in which case, just find products with a higher concentration of cannabinoids and if that’s not possible, simply eat a few extra.

Assuming you’ve already taken that into account, then you can consider another common issue – maybe you’re using the wrong type of edible. All edibles are made with different strains, meaning they have a different blend of terpenes, minor cannabinoids and other compounds. If you’ve been trying mostly the same types of products to no avail, it might be time to start looking at some different brands and really learning more about the specific ingredients in each edible you’re trying.

And finally, another common issue I hear about is people trying to take edibles on an empty stomach. This is something I typically run into with recreational users rather than medical ones. It’s a commonly held belief that if you’re drinking to get drunk, the quickest way to achieve that is by drinking on an empty stomach, and many people apply the same principal to cannabis.

However, when it comes to edibles, it doesn’t work quite the same way. Yes, the cannabinoids will be processed faster if you take your edible on an empty stomach, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Again, with cannabis edibles, absorption time and metabolism are everything. If your body metabolizes cannabinoids too quickly, you won’t get the desired effects. Try eating a nice meal, drink some water, and think of the edibles as an ultra-relaxing dessert.

Final thoughts

For some people, edibles simply don’t work no matter what they do. Just like certain types of conventional medications don’t work for everyone – for example, I don’t do well with antibiotics – cannabis edibles don’t work for everyone either. Some patients claim to benefit from dietary supplements (Lipase specifically), or by making sure to accompany their edibles with an additional fat.

If nothing helps, you might want to try a sublingual tincture, nasal spray, or vaping. You could also try speaking to your local dispensary workers or even check out a cannabis helpline to see what options might be more suitable for you.

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