Take Two

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

HighQ: Here's what happens to your body when you eat marijuana

by Jacob Margolis | Take Two

Founder of Marigold Sweets Vanessa Lavorato makes her most popular cannabis-infused chocolates, Fleur de Sel Caramels, in her home on Thursday morning, Dec. 22, 2016. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Take Two host A Martinez has never consumed marijuana, but if he did he says he would prefer to eat it, not smoke it.

I've heard the same thing from other people since marijuana was legalized in California. Why? They say that eating it is a less threatening idea than smoking a joint.

The thing is, as plenty of you know, eating marijuana can go very wrong. So, I wanted to dip into the science behind what happens to your body when you ingest weed and how to make sure that if you do, you don't eat too much.

THC's trip through your body

The story of how edibles get you high is a story about the journey of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) through your body. Even though there are 400-500 different chemical compounds in marijuana, according to Dr. Thomas Strouse, Medical Director of the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA, THC is the primary compound in marijuana that's responsible for getting you stoned.

Once you eat a marijuana-laced brownie or chocolate chunk, your stomach acid breaks it down over the course of several hours, then the THC then begins to move through your system.

The process through the gut is slow, as the THC is absorbed through the small intestine and into the bloodstream. It eventually makes its way to your liver, where the organ may extract and metabolize some of it, making it available for your body to use.

After that, it goes to your heart, which then pumps it into your brain. It's at that point when things get trippy. That's because there are brain cells that have special cannabinoid receptors on their surface, which allows cannabinoids, including THC, to bind to them. They're part of something called the endocannabinoid system.

When your brain is flooded with cannabinoids, the behavior of those brain cells changes. And in turn, your experience changes as well, depending on where a particular receptor is located.

For instance, smoking pot can give you the munchies because the property of the neurons in the hypothalamus, which controls hunger, can be altered by incoming cannabinoids.

"There are cannabinoid receptors in the hippocampus…which are very important for the processing of memory and learning and memory,” says Dr. Daniele Piomella, Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology at UC Irvine. He says that when altering the property of the neurons there, memories aren't properly stored. "That’s why sometimes people also use cannabis to be more creative. To have new ideas. People who smoke cannabis make associations that [other] people don’t make," he says.

If you eat too much

If you accidentally consume too many miligrams of THC in one sitting you can flood your brain with too many cannabinoids, overwhelming your system. As a result, you might end up anxious, dizzy, nausesous, and on a trip that might last several days.

"If you eat an edible and you don't feel anything…wait. Wait at least an hour," says Vanessa Lavorato, the owner of Marigold Sweets, a maker marijuana-infused chocolates for dispensaries in Los Angeles. "If you still don't feel anything, wait longer because you should feel something. If it doesn't feel like enough then you can eat more after two hours."

The reason you have to wait for an effect when you eat edibles, but not when you smoke marijuana, is because of how the THC is absorbed into your system. When you inhale marijuana smoke with THC in it, its quickly absorbed through your lungs and a whole bunch of the cannabinoids flood your brain at once. The effects are nearly instant. The process through your gut is slow. 

Lavorato recommends that beginners start off with five milligram doses of THC at the most. The edible's packaging should indicate how much THC is supposed to be in it. But, there's no regulation of edibles at this point, so you're relying on the manufacturer to tell you accurate information. Be careful.

If you do go overboard, Lavorato has some sage advice, "You're in for the ride. You just gotta buckle up, put on a funny movie and just try to tell yourself that everything's going to be OK."

Both Piomelli and Strouse agree. You're going to be just fine.

Series: High-Q: Your California pot questions answered

This story is part of Take Two's look at the burgeoning, multi-billion dollar marijuana industry in California, with audience Q&As, explorations of personal narratives and an examination of how the industry is changing the world around our audience.

Read more in this series and call or text us your questions at (929) 344-1948 or tweet reporter Jacob Margolis.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Enjoy Take Two? Try KPCC’s other programs.

What's popular now on KPCC