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11-Hydroxy-THC: The Reason Why Edibles Can Be So Powerful

Natasha Winkler

by Natasha Winkler

November 15, 2021 03:54 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 4 Minutes
Medically reviewed by Dr. Abraham Benavides

Ever wonder why the edibles you eat seem to hit you way harder? The real difference between edibles and smoking or vaping is that with edibles, a much larger fraction of delta-9 THC—commonly referred to as simply THC—makes it to the liver first. When you eat edibles that contain THC, your liver converts about 50% of activated THC to 11-hydroxy-THC (11-OH-THC). While there is some undiscovered science behind it all, we know that it can really blast you off if taken in excess.

The Difference Boils Down to Metabolic Pathways

There is a collective variety of different and interesting ways to consume cannabis. However, out of all the methods, edibles are known to be one of the most potent. They are associated with highs that are much longer in onset, duration, and with an increased psychoactive effect. Edibles are also notorious when it comes to some levels of predictability. They take much longer to kick in than smoking, making it much easier to overdo it. Smoking and vaping are far easier to control, as users can simply take things toke by toke.

11-Hydroxy-THC Can Cause Powerful Effects

11-hydroxy-THC isn’t actually found in the cannabis plant, and it’s not even an ingredient in your cannabis edible. This potent medicinal chemical is actually created by your body when it breaks down THC.

When you ingest THC orally, this powerful and plentiful cannabinoid travels through your digestive system and eventually reaches your liver, where it’s broken down into molecules called metabolites. Several metabolic enzymes also play a role in this process, which is referred to as first-pass metabolism. First-pass metabolism breaks down THC into 11-OH-THC as well as 11-carboxy-THC (11-COOH-THC). Many researchers believe that the effect of 11-hydroxy-THC is four times stronger than THC when it comes to psychoactive effects, which contributes to edibles feeling stronger than other delivery methods of cannabis.

As an active metabolite, THC is particularly effective in crossing the blood-brain barrier, resulting in a more intense high. Inhaled THC undergoes a different metabolic process because rather than passing through the stomach and then the liver, the THC travels directly to the brain.

Here’s a fun fact: The human brain contains more CB1 receptors than opioid receptors. This is one of the many factors contributing to the quality of “high” people get from cannabis.

What We Do Know About 11-Hydroxy-THC

We know that 11-hydroxy-THC has more profound effects through a massive pool of anecdotal experiences documented over the years. While there hasn’t been nearly enough research on the specific medical effects of cannabis, consumers have been enjoying the benefits of edibles for their medical needs for thousands of years. Much of the scientific research on 11-hydroxy-THC is older and, unfortunately, focuses more on the ability to detect it in urine samples and blood assays, as well as bioavailability, rather than its psychoactivity.

The Benefits of Edibles

For one thing, edibles have longer-lasting effects. While they take longer to start working—typically 60–120 minutes (average of 90 minutes) as opposed to 3–10 minutes with smoking—they can last much longer (20-30 hours). A cannabis edible high usually lasts 6-8 hours, while the high from smoking only lasts around 1-4 hours, depending on consumer tolerance.

Check out this article for more information on the effects of edibles compared to other consumption methods: From Smoking to Dabbing to Edibles, How Long Does a Cannabis High Last?

Users have noted that the effects of edibles are slightly more sedative than when smoked cannabis. This can make edibles a great choice for conditions like insomnia. A dose that is taken a few hours before bedtime can aid in a strong sense of sleepiness. In addition, orally consumed cannabis doesn’t allow for the lung irritation some cannabis smokers report.

Be Sure to Eat Before You Medicate

There are some circumstances where you may not feel much of an effect from an edible. After consuming edible cannabis, the liver performs the first-pass metabolism. Here, sometimes many cannabis patients and enthusiasts experience some problems.

The liver can be so good at breaking down foreign compounds that it breaks down the THC in the edible too much to produce an effect. Often referred to as the “first-pass effect,” the liver’s initial metabolism can mean that the effects of the edible won’t work. To resolve this, try eating a meal prior, as it can increase the concentration of cannabinoids up to threefold and overall last longer as well. This will also slow down the activation time of the edible, though.

Post Your Comments

Adam says:

May 29, 2020 at 5:32 pm

So if I have friends that do not get feel a thing from edibles (even dispensary ones) even if they eat 100mg, what does that mean for them? Do they have potential issues with organs in their body? They feel flower/vape but they say they feel absolutely nothing from edibles no matter how long they wait or how much they eat. They are not large people either, regular ht/weight.

Lauren says:

June 1, 2020 at 9:37 am

Every experience is relative and, unfortunately, there’s no way to really explain. It could be that they just have naturally high tolerances or the way their digestive system processes THC. 100mg is considered an average dose for a regular consumer. Perhaps they should try a stronger dose?

Jed says:

November 4, 2020 at 11:47 pm

No way, if you don’t have any tolerance 100mg will absolutely wreck you and leave you couch locked.

Also, the metabolizing of thc in the liver requires a certain enzyme, so if your friend feels nothing, either their tolerance is extraordinarily high, and they should probably take a break so they aren’t wasting so much to tolerance, or they have so little of that enzyme in they body that edibles are not an effective method for them.

Paul says:

February 1, 2023 at 2:52 am

I have the gene for ultra-fast metabolizer. For me, even with no tolerance, 100mg is kind of a starting point for me. I’ve done as much as 500mg. That was mind blowing, but no big deal. I was easily able to make a couple of afternoon appointments the next day with no problem.

Richard Boyce says:

May 30, 2020 at 1:52 am

I’ve eaten edibles twice. The first time didn’t really feel anything worth talking about. But the second time it hit me about 2hrs after eating it and let me tell you I thought I was going to die. (With this covid-19 crap going on you can understand why I felt that way). When it hit me it was like a freight train. My head started to spin. Started sweating profusely white as a gost. Managed to make my way into the shower to let cold water over my head and body. (Thank god I have well water because it was nice and cold). I needed my body to cool down hell I was still sweating with the cold water just not as bad as I was without cold water. Managed to cool down enough so that I could go lay down under a really cold ac and a fan. I figured maybe I wouldn’t feel like I was spinning so much and possibly hopefully pass out. Which I did. Both edibles came from the same place same batch. But 2 totally different outcomes

Timothy Bakke says:

January 11, 2022 at 9:44 pm

Yeah I started making my own edibles with wax. Because I never felt edibles but holy crap. Yeah I experience alot of those intense feelings as well


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