Taken either recreationally or as a medical marijuana patient, long after the effects of cannabis edibles have faded, THC, in its inert form, will stay in your system.
Today we’ll talk about how our individual bodies process, store, and expel THC differently. We’ll give a few best & worst-case scenarios for how long THC stays in your system, and for those concerned about drug tests, we’ll talk about how for some tests, none of that may even matter at all. Let’s dive in.
THC & the Metabolic System
As discussed in our “Understanding 11 Hydroxy THC” article, when Δ9 (or “Delta 9″) THC is eaten, enzymes in our digestive system transform these edibles into the metabolite 11-OH (or “11 Hydroxy”) THC. It’s this alteration from D9 to 11-OH THC that gives marijuana edibles their unique and powerful kick, increasing bio-availability and overall efficiency from the THC that has been ingested.
After the Δ9-THC of edibles has been metabolized into 11-OH-THC, it passes through the blood-brain barrier, giving us the sought-after high from our consumed edibles before being recycled into the bloodstream again. Here, these same enzymes further metabolize the 11-OH-THC into THC-COOH, 11-Nor-9-Carboxy-THC, or “Carboxy-THC,” an inert form of THC that is no longer psychoactive.
It’s this THC-COOH that lingers in the human body for long periods of time; considered now a waste product, the THC-COOH is either flushed from the body as part of our natural biological functions or is stored in waste areas, IE: fat deposits.
How Your Overall Metabolism Affects THC Metabolism
How active your “basal metabolic rate” or “BMR” determines how quickly your body processes both incoming nutrients (and other chemicals) and outgoing waste – A faster metabolic rate equals a faster processing of the THC taken in from edibles and a faster processing of the inert THC out. Our metabolic rate often affects our body size and shape, leading us to our next topic on how long edibles stay in your system: Weight.
How Does Body Composition Affect THC in the Body?
As discussed earlier (and in greater detail in our article on “How Long Does An Edible Last?”), the inert THC-COOH byproduct of cannabis use likes to store itself in fat cells within the body. As simplistic as it is to say, if you have less fat, you have fewer places for the THC-COOH to build up inside your body.
This isn’t to say people with low body fat are completely home-free when it comes to never having THC-COOH stay in your system – What we consider “fat deposits” don’t have to be large and noticeable. Even areas such as the face, breasts, and buttocks can serve as repositories for THC-COOH.
Regular exercise and an active lifestyle will do quite a bit to help purge the latent THC-COOH from edibles/smoking out of the body. As you sweat and burn away stored fat cells, the THC-COOH is expelled as waste; though a week’s worth of jogging won’t remove all the traces of the edibles you had last weekend, it is a good start.
Amount of THC Consumed
The amount of THC consumed does affect how much THC-COOH will stay in your system, but just as important as
how often do you partake of marijuana edibles and other cannabis products.
Once you’ve consumed THC, you’ve consumed THC – It’s now in your body, and it isn’t going anywhere but out via the typical channels. How long that is, again, depends on a lot of personal factors. Still, regardless of whether you take one milligram or fifty, there is now a minimum amount of time before your body will be completely clean of any detectable THC. Then, every time you eat more edibles or re-dose, you’re back to square one; however long it is that your body takes to remove THC from your system, that counter is now reset.
A long history of cannabis use, both recreational and medical marijuana, can further increase this length of time – The more regularly you partake of cannabis, the more THC-COOH is built up in your body, and the longer it can stay.
The Average Time THC Is Detectable In Your Body
Again, many factors such as metabolism and body type determine the answer to “how long do edibles stay in your system?”. What we can say with relative certainty are two best and worst-case scenarios:
Best Case Scenario:
- Your metabolism is a rock star.
- Your abs could grate cheese.
- You don’t smoke but this one time you tried a “special cookie” at Coachella.
At a minimum, it will take at least 3 to 4 days after ingesting your edibles before your body is clear of a detectable amount of THC in a standard urine-based drug test.
Worst Case Scenario:
- The most exercise you get in a day is packing a bowl.
- And you do pack a lot of bowls.
- You were going to just eat one of your roommate’s cannabis granola bars but then you got kinda hungry and now you have to make a new batch before they come home from work. Again.
Expect around 30 to 45 days before you are cleared of any THC in your system detected in a urine test.
We give these two best & worst case situations because most individuals will fall somewhere between those two extremes. If we had to give an estimate, we would say edibles stay in the average person for about 2 weeks (if you were looking for an answer like “eight hours,” well, sorry to disappoint).
For those of us belonging to the latter camp (and I do mean “us,” this is a zero judgment zone), a healthier diet and exercise will help you clean edibles out of your system faster but not by much, particularly if you aren’t already a routine exerciser. At best, you may be able to shave your clear time down to three weeks, but still expect a solid month before you can be confident all the easily detectable THC has left your body. Of course, for heavy-set people, it will just take longer.
If a drug test is the reasoning behind your desire to answer the question of how long do edibles stay in your system, there are other types of drug tests out there that can detect the presence of THC over a much longer time span and exercise won’t help at all.
How Follicle Drug Testing Works
Along with other waste products, THC-COOH is also expelled from the body via the production of hair, meaning THC can be detected in strands of hair if tested. Though hair follicle tests aren’t as common as urine-based drug tests (typically due to expense), they are often employed in more “serious” conditions, such as government drug testing or a high-security job test.
Marijuana use is detectable in human hair for up to 90 days after the cannabis has been taken – No metabolism in the world will change that. There is little to nothing that can be done to remove cannabis from hair that’s already grown. However, if a casual/one-time user of cannabis is surprised by an unexpected follicle test, a slower metabolism can work to their benefit.
A person who has not had cannabis before and thus has no pre-existing THC-COOH in their system or hair will not produce hair with THC present for several days after the THC has been ingested. Those with higher metabolic rates, and faster hair growth, will produce hair containing THC within 3 to 5 days after ingestion; someone with slower hair growth may not have any THC detectable in their hair for up to 10 days past the point of ingestion. Score one for the slow metabolizers.