Cannabis edibles are, for most people, a delightful treat – Tasty and effective, cannabis edibles will get you high in a completely different way from smoking or vaping and can be a unique experience for most.
But there’s always That One Person. The one who, whenever bites of brownie are being passed around, frowns a little bit and claims that edibles do nothing for them. Claims of “super strength” gummies or “mega THC” cookies do nothing for the poor soul who doesn’t feel like edibles give them much benefit, and usually their claims of edibles just not making them feel high are met with eye-rolling exasperation from those around them.
But we have good news. If you’re one of the many people who just never had the same mind-blowing experience off of an edible as your friends, you’re not alone. While the effectiveness of edibles can vary based on a lot of factors, it turns out that your unique DNA may be the key to why you simply cannot feel high on edibles.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at several factors that can keep people from reaching maximum effectiveness with their edibles, talk about what is edibles and how the various methods of consuming marijuana affect the human body, and why, depending on your personal genetic code, none of that may ultimately matter anyway. So let’s delve right in.
How Do Cannabis Edibles Work?
Unlike smoking or vaporizing cannabis (or taking in THC via sources such as tinctures), consuming THC has a vastly different effect on the body.
To understand how to get a high from the consumption of THC, understanding the decarboxylation process is important. In its raw, natural form, the cannabis plant contains THCA, a precursor to the THC molecule largely responsible for getting us high – As it stands, THCA has zero psychoactive properties, meaning that consuming raw marijuana will do little to make you get high.
THCA Needs Heat
When exposed to the proper amount of heat, THCA is turned into THC – More accurately, Δ9 (or “Delta 9”) THC. Heat removes the chain of carboxylic acid (hence “de-carb-ing”) attached to THCA that prevents it from fitting into the human cannabinoid receptors, allowing it to reach its full psychoactive potential and actually get you high.
When people are smoking or vaporizing cannabis, this step is unneeded, as the heat of being burned will naturally decarb your marijuana as it’s smoked – For marijuana edibles, this decarbing procedure would be vital to ensure they have any fashion of intoxicating effect.
Cannabis edibles are, by most consumers, noted for having a much longer duration and stronger high than smoking or vaping the same amount of marijuana. The reason for this is due to the method of intake.
The Method Matters
When Δ9 THC is taken in through the lungs (IE: smoking) or via other blood barriers in the body, it passes directly into the bloodstream and toward your brain/cannabinoid receptors – This will make people get high with a short duration but a stronger, more immediate come-on period, as the THC reaches your system almost instantly.
When Δ9 THC is eaten, it instead passes first through your digestive tract, making its way first through the stomach and then into the liver. Once inside your digestive system, the THC is then further processed by your metabolic system, turning it from the decarbed Delta 9 THC into 11-OH (or “11 Hydroxy“) THC.
Once having passed through the liver and into the bloodstream, this 11-OH-THC is further transferred into the bloodstream before making its way to the body’s blood-brain barrier; this process is why edibles can take so long to kick in but also explains their intense effects.
11 Hydroxy: A Harder Punch
11-OH-THC has an easier time of passing through said blood-brain barrier, and due to its transformation away from Δ9 THC, the overall bio-availability of the chemical is increased; 11-OH-THC is a much more potent cannabinoid binding agent than Δ9 THC when it reaches the CB1 receptors. Also, when smoking, not all of the Δ9 THC inhaled will reach the brain. In contrast, a larger percentage of the THC consumed from eating will be turned into 11 Hydroxy THC, making the same amount of cannabis much more efficient if eaten rather than smoked.
However, this isn’t true for all people, and as it so happens, several variations in our genetic codes may make edibles much more efficient for some rather than others. To understand this better, we turn to the topic of…
What Role Does Genetics Play in Cannabis Edibles?
As mentioned above, when Delta 9/Δ9 THC is eaten, it passes into the liver via the stomach. From here, our metabolic system begins work, breaking it down into forms more usable by our bodies – This happens to all things people ingest, from a slice of orange to your morning cup of coffee.
The Blueprint of Our DNA
For each person, the metabolic enzymes that break such things down are constructed from a template based on our own unique genetic code. So think of our DNA as a blueprint, off of which our individual cells and enzymes are crafted – Differences in our DNA can mean differences in the exact types of cells at work inside our bodies, leading to such personal differences as our skin, hair, and eye color.
The enzymes in our metabolic system are no different from cells that alter our hair pigment and can differ between individuals. And if you’re one of the unlucky people we mentioned at the top of this article, this, unfortunately, means that for some of us, no matter how hard we munch, no edible in the world will make us get high with the same intensity other people feel.
CYP2C9 and THC-COOH
In the wide assortment of metabolic enzymes present in our bodies, one, in particular, is responsible for breaking down Δ9 THC into 11-OH-THC: The enzyme named “CYP2C9”. This enzyme, produced by a specific gene also called “CYP2C9”, is what sets about the task of breaking down Δ9 THC into its more efficient 11-OH-THC variant. It’s this same enzyme that’s responsible for breaking down Δ9 and 11-OH THC molecules into THC-COOH.
THC-COOH is the inert byproduct of cannabis consumption – It’s what’s left over after the THC itself has been used by the body & brain. This waste product is often expelled from the system via the usual channels (sweat, urine, etc.) or otherwise stored inside the body’s fat deposits. So under normal circumstances, your Δ9 and 11-OH THC molecules will pass into the body, make you get high, and then be turned into THC-COOH on the way back out of your brain. But for some of us, the CYP2C9 enzyme is… a bit over-zealous.
Three Types of Genetic Code
We go over this briefly in our “How Long Does an Edible Last?” article, but there are three variations of the CYP2C9 gene, each of which produces one of three different variants of the CYP2C9 enzyme: CYP2C9 AA, CYP2C9 AC, and CYP2C9 CC. Each of these genotypes has a varying amount of efficiency, with AA being the most efficient and CC being the least, with AC somewhere roughly in between. Unfortunately, where cannabis is concerned, efficiency is a very, very bad thing.
As mentioned earlier, the role of the CYP2C9 enzyme is to break down cannabinoids (and other substances) into more useful forms for the body. Unfortunately for those carrying the AA variant of CYP2C9, this efficiency can mean that ingested Δ9 THC can be converted twice, first into 11-OH-THC and then further into THC-COOH before it even reaches the bloodstream. So all that expensive edible you just ate? Most of it is, quite literally, turned into waste before it can even make you get high. Sad but true (and again, for more reading on the subject, check out our “How Long do Edibles Last?” article linked above).
How Can I Make Edibles More Efficient?
If you’re one of the unlucky souls carrying the CYP2C9 AA genotype, unfortunately, there isn’t much you can easily do to counter its sheer efficiency. Sorry. The world of edible cannabis products may simply forever be wasted on you. But just because you have a difficult time feeling the effects of an edible doesn’t mean you have CYP2C9 AA enzymes, and it may be worth exploring different methods of making your edible high more efficient.
Traveling Down the Internal Highway
First, understanding some basic concepts about the digestive and metabolic system is important. For this, we will be referring to a recurring, somewhat cliché, metaphor: The Digestive/Metabolic Highway. As the name suggests, we’re going to think about both of these systems as a highway, with the chemicals you’re ingesting as vehicles traveling along the road.
When you ingest an edible, you’re ingesting more than just THC – You’re also ingesting fats, proteins, and other carbohydrates from the edible itself. After all, that weed brownie is still filled with flour, sugar, oil, and all the other things that make a normal brownie so delicious.
Congestion in Ingestion
All of the various ingredients in your edible contain molecules that contribute to the traffic on your digestive highway; keep adding more and more cars, you’ll eventually have a traffic jam somewhere along the way. Of course, everything will still end up at its destination (your cannabinoid receptors) eventually, but it’ll take a longer time if more vehicles are out for a drive.
Further still, some molecules (such as carbohydrates from sugars) take longer to break down than others – On the metaphorical highway, this is the difference between a traffic jam filled with small hybrids and a traffic jam filled with the same amount of semi-trucks, increasing the length of time until you get high.
Avoiding a Metabolic Pile-Up
Thankfully there are some easy ways to help alleviate this. First, try to consume your edible on an empty stomach; the less already present in your digestive system, the more quickly your THC will pass through to your liver. Also, try to find edibles with lower amounts of fats, carbohydrates, and other substances – Tinctures are an option but may not have the exact same effects or high as more traditional edibles (more on that in a minute).
The overall efficiency of your metabolic system also plays a huge role. Each individual person’s metabolism has a different level of efficiency – Again, back to the highway metaphor, think of these as lanes on your road. Someone with a less efficient metabolism may only have two lanes available, while someone with a high metabolic rate may have a full-on six-lane interstate. While we don’t want the individual enzymes in the metabolic system to be overly efficient, we want things available for processing as quickly as possible. The better your metabolic rate is, the more quickly your edible will take hold.
Sleep, Exercise, and a Cup of Tea
For fast action, foods naturally filled with caffeine, such as coffee or tea, can help speed up your metabolism quickly; the same with foods rich in capsaicin, such as chili peppers. However, most tips for improving your overall metabolic rate typically involve larger “lifestyle choice” type actions and aren’t things you can easily do in the moment if you want to make your edible more efficient right now. Leading a healthy lifestyle, including a good diet high in protein, getting plenty of rest, and routine exercise, will all help to increase your body’s metabolism over time.
Of course, again, dosage form also matters; edibles with a lower ratio of other molecules-to-THC will have a faster, more streamlined experience passing through your system. But sometimes, an edible leaning more toward pure THC can have the opposite effect from what you might expect.
Why Cannabis Tinctures May Not Work Like You Think
A cannabis “tincture” is usually a solution of Delta 9 THC (and other cannabinoids/terpenes) contained inside of an alcohol – This helps increase the overall bio-availability of the THC present by ensuring it isn’t covered by other molecules, allowing it to pass more swiftly into the bloodstream for a more immediate high.
Tinctures are often meant to be used by people orally, held against the gums or underneath the tongue – These areas are thick with blood vessels contained right against the surface of the skin, making the absorption of the THC almost instantaneous. And while this will certainly get you fast-acting and noticeable effects, that doesn’t make it the same as actually ingesting a cannabis edible.
The Metabolic Highway Bypass
As we mentioned earlier, part of what gives a cannabis edible its uniquely strong and long-lasting effects is the conversion process from Δ9 THC to 11-OH-THC. Unless Delta 9 THC passes through the body’s digestive system, it will not turn into 11-OH-THC – Period, full stop, cannot and will not happen.
11-OH-THC can only occur when broken down by the human body’s metabolic processes, and taking in THC via other sources (IE: directly into the bloodstream) means you’re “only” going to get high from the effects of the Delta 9 THC; same as if you’d smoked or vaped.
This doesn’t mean tinctures can’t make you get high in the same ways as an edible – If the tincture is swallowed swiftly (preferably washed down with a sip of water or juice), it will reach your digestive system as quickly as possible. You may still “lose” some of the Δ9 THC to your bloodstream, but most will reach your metabolic system, allowing it to turn into the 11-OH-THC that gives an edible high it’s je ne sais quoi.
Will Mango Juice Make My Edibles Hit Harder?
An oft-repeated (and blogged about) bit of “wisdom” states that mango juice will help humans process THC, allowing it to bind to the CB1 cannabinoid receptors inside the body with more efficiency leading to a better high. Unfortunately, as with a good majority of oldskool cannabis “facts” and folklore, this help may not hold up to modern scientific scrutiny.
We discuss this a bit more in our article on “Everything You Need to Know about Indica vs. Sativa.” Still, the interplay between THC and the other terpenes/cannabinoids contained within cannabis is very important. More than just the THC itself, terpenes play a large role in shaping and altering the effects of a strain of cannabis – Different combinations of terpene types and other cannabinoids (CBD, CBN, etc.) are what give specific strains higher sensations of alertness, drowsiness, energy, creativity, in a process casually referred to as “the entourage effect.”
Of Myrcene and Mangoes
One of the most prominent terpenes found in cannabis is called “β-Myrcene,” or more commonly just “myrcene.” Myrcene is found in a host of different plants, including lemongrass, bay leaves, cardamom, and, yes, mangoes. Cannabis also has high percentages of myrcene, with many strains commonly carrying over 45% of myrcene in their total terpenoid profile.
So how does all of this tie into mango juice helping you get high? The theory is that myrcene helps bind cannabinoids (such as THC) to the body’s cannabinoid receptors – The more myrcene you have, the more your CB1/CB2 receptors will be ready & available to slot in the THC molecules, meaning a bigger high. The easy solution? Eat a mango or drink a glass of mango juice before you get high – This will make sure your cannabinoid receptors are as receptive as they can be.
But The Truth Is…
Unfortunately, this isn’t backed by science. In a study published in May of 2020, a New Zealand-based research team determined that for whatever the entourage effect is, it isn’t caused by interactions of terpenes at the cannabinoid receptors. So while terpenes certainly do still have something to do with how different strains of cannabis affect us differently, terpene interaction with CB1/CB2 receptors isn’t it.
Still, they obviously do something, so why not just eat a mango anyway? Well, while we certainly recommend eating mangoes for the sake of their own deliciousness, it’s important to know that the amount of myrcene contained in the average mango isn’t enough to add much to your high.
Comparing studies of myrcene content between your average Cannabis sativa strain and your average mango strain, we can see that a half gram of cannabis contains roughly 4 milligrams of myrcene. In contrast, a single mango will contain somewhere around 0.09 milligrams – Doing the math, this means that the myrcene contribution from the mango isn’t significant in the slightest. People will get way more myrcene out of smoking a single joint than eating even several mangoes in a row.
There are a lot of varying reasons why cannabis edibles may have a hard time affecting certain people, and unfortunately, at least one reason edibles won’t make you get high that’s impossible to overcome. And while we would argue that “something” is better than “absolutely nothing,” if you’re someone with the CYP2C9 AA enzyme? It may be better to just stick to smoking your weed to get high rather than getting a tiny buzz from expensive edibles.
Still, consuming over smoking cannabis is a unique experience, and we would say it’s worth experimenting with diet, exercise, and other metabolism-boosting body hacks before giving up on the world of edibles entirely. Just don’t expect folk wisdom “miracle solutions” like mango juice to solve the problem. Best of luck with your next edibles session – Happy munching!