If you’re reading this article, the odds are you know what THC is – The chemical in cannabis that provides both medical aid and pleasant highs when eaten or smoked. But as anyone who’s taken a few too many bites out of a pot brownie will tell you, while edibles may take a minute to kick in, when they do? They hit hard, with a full-on body and mental high that can last for hours on end. This may lead you to wonder any of the following questions:
- What makes edibles feel so much more potent than smoking cannabis?
- Does how you take your cannabis really make that much of a difference in its effects?
- And what happens to THC once it enters the body and bloodstream anyway?
If you’ve heard of 11 Hydroxy THC before and want to learn more, then today’s article is for you. We’ll talk about how the THC we’re all familiar with turns into 11 hydroxy metabolite in the digestive tract, the reasons behind its long-lasting effects, and even where it goes after it’s done getting you high. Ready to take a trip inside the human body? Let’s get started!
11 Hydroxy THC vs Delta 9 THC
When we think of cannabis, we typically think of THC. THC, known as Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol THC, or “Delta 9 THC,” is the molecule responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis (it gets you high). We talk about this further in our “How to Decarb Your Cannabis” article, but we’ll give you a quick recap here:
The natural and inactive form of THC – THCA – found in a cannabis plant has a carboxylic acid chain (CO2, one carbon, two oxygens) attached that must be removed through heat, turning it into Δ9-THC.
This happens when the cannabis is smoked/vaporized or must be induced by a process known as decarboxylation. If cannabis has not been decarboxylated first, then eating it will have no psychoactive effects; THCA must be turned into Δ9-THC before it can get anyone inebriated.
How Δ9-THC Effects Us When Smoked
When smoking, Delta 9 THC is taken in through the lungs, where it then passes into the bloodstream. Due to the plethora of blood vessels in the lungs and the bio-availability of the inhaled smoke, this lets the THC kick in quicker; immediate effects are almost instantly shown after inhalation, with more long-term effects settling in between five to fifteen minutes.
How Δ9-THC Effects Us When Eaten
Alternatively, when Δ9-THC is eaten, it passes through the gastrointestinal system, including the liver, where our bodies break it down into the metabolite 11-OH-THC, or “11 Hydroxy THC”.
Interestingly 11 Hydroxy THC does not naturally appear in the cannabis plant, nor will it ever come from smoking cannabis; it only forms as a metabolite after being ingested (and, as mentioned above, will only come from cannabis that has been properly decarboxylated; eating raw cannabis will not get you high).
Both this transformation and the way the 11-OH-THC is absorbed into the body give edibles their unique effect, leading us to answer the question of…
Why Edibles Hit Harder
When we smoke cannabis, the THC we intake passes very directly into our bloodstream but in a less-than-efficient manner. Being an oil-soluble chemical, THC won’t break down in the watery human bloodstream, meaning that even with as strong as some smokes can be, our bodies still aren’t getting the full potential of the cannabis being smoked.
The human digestive system has no such qualms and will set to work metabolizing anything we ingest that it can handle; the breakdown of these complex compounds results in what is known as metabolites.
Metabolizing Δ9-THC into 11-OH-THC
These metabolites are a deconstructed version of the more complex chemicals contained in the things we eat and drink, better suited to be used by the human body in a myriad of fashions.
In addition, as we already contain an endocannabinoid system, humans are capable of transforming other cannabinoids into forms usable by our existing cannabinoid receptors. And so, when we break down Delta 9 THC, it becomes the 11 hydroxy metabolite of THC, 11-OH-THC.
The transformation of D9 to 11-OH-THC begins in the stomach but is mostly carried on in the liver. From the liver, the 11-OH-THC is then transferred into the bloodstream, where it must further reach the blood-brain barrier before finally having any fashion of effect on the one who ingested it.
How long this process takes depends heavily on the person’s metabolic system eating the cannabis edible, but anywhere from one to two hours is commonplace. For more, though, check out our deep dive in the related article “How Long Do Edibles Last?“
Absorbing 11-OH-THC Into the Bloodstream
After reaching the blood-brain barrier, the 11 Hydroxy THC has a much easier time passing through than Δ9-THC does, thanks to the body’s work on breaking it down. This process makes much more of the 11 Hydroxy THC available to our system, making cannabis edibles highly efficient in multiple ways over the D9 THC taken in while breathing.
While being used by the body’s endocannabinoid system, both the 11 hydroxy and the Δ9-THC are further metabolized into 11-Nor-9-carboxy-THC (or “THC-COOH”), which is an inert form of THC that is deposited in the body’s fat. Here, the deactivated THC will linger for several weeks before finally being excreted; this THC-COOH is typically targeted in urine-based drug testing and analysis.
What’s It Like Taking an Edible?
Thanks to the higher efficiency of 11 Hydroxy THC and the way it’s metabolized in the body, this high will take longer to kick in but can last for anywhere from six to eight hours, with an “afterglow” effect often sometimes even carrying on into the next day.
In comparison to the effects of smoking cannabis, which are often noticed moments after inhaling, but the duration is shorter as well – The high will usually last around an hour or two before taking another puff is needed to keep the buzz going.
Medical Marijuana Edibles
And while edibles are great fun for a day spent laughing with friends, their medical benefits shouldn’t be overlooked either. Edibles can provide needed anti-nausea and sleep medication to at-risk patients without forcing them to take in harsh, potentially cough-inducing smoke or vapor.
The extended nature of the 11-OH-THC high can also be good for helping patients throughout the night, offering lasting relief for pain and other physical ailments and allowing them to rest.
Are Edibles Really 10x Stronger Than Smoking?
The short answer to this is “no”; the longer answer is “it depends”, and it’s hard (if not impossible) to tell.
Available scientific research into 11 Hydroxy THC vs D9 THC is pretty slim; most of the information comes from a series of studies completed in the 1970s.
These three studies essentially injected male marijuana smokers with concentrated Delta 9 and 11 Hydroxy THC solutions and measured their reactions. Though the 11 Hydroxy THC was the clear winner in these tests, we also now know more about how THC is altered through the presence of things like terpenes and how an individual body, liver, or digestive system will process 11-OH-THC differently.
In saying this, is the conventional wisdom that 11 Hydroxy THC will get you higher on average than Delta 9 THC correct? Likely, yes. But to put a blanket “ten times stronger” label on 11-OH-THC is a bit misleading. Sure, you can expect edibles to be stronger, but just how much higher you get may be a very personal, subjective experience.
Until more research is done on 11 Hydroxy THC, it’s hard to say just how much more it affects the human endocannabinoid system compared to its counterpart of Δ9-THC. However, we feel we can say with confidence that it isn’t a subtle difference, and anyone who’s impatiently had a bit too much of a cookie one weekend is likely to agree.
While there’s still nothing wrong with the quick-hitting action of just smoking or vaporizing your cannabis if you haven’t had the chance to try edibles and 11-OH-THC yet, it might be worth trying – The long-lasting, more noticeable effects of edibles mean they may not be suited for, say, munching on before a family gathering, but if you have a Saturday afternoon without much planned giving a cannabis cookie or some weed gummy bears a shot.
Just remember: Always read your edible’s dosage label and give it time to work its magic, particularly if it’s your first time – Impatiently chowing down on some more of your brownie might seem like a good idea thirty minutes into your experience, but your feelings on that might change after another hour or so, and the 11-OH-THC starts creeping in.
It’s also helpful to remember that it is impossible to lethally overdose on cannabis because it acts on the brain, but you can certainly have an uncomfortable experience if you overdo it.
We hope our article on 11 Hydroxy THC has been helpful and informative. Happy munching!