Eating Marijuana vs. Smoking – What’s the difference?

We’re going to cover the differences between eating marijuana vs. smoking it. This article will compare the effects on your body, the experience, side effects, life insurance, and potential adverse effects. 

We’re keeping the biology/chemistry jargon to a minimum so you won’t need to recall what you learned in middle school. 

Let’s dive in. 

We’re putting out this article for information purposes. Specific health questions should be directed to a medical professional. But if you have questions about insurance, we are insurance professionals and can help at (888) 987-8447.

Quick Summary

There are pros and cons to both eating and smoking cannabis. Smoking has a shorter wait time and shorter highs but can irritate your lungs and throat. Eating has a longer wait time and more prolonged effects, but your liver is doing the heavy lifting. 

Amount of THC

One of the nice things about dispensaries is they have to list the active ingredient (THC and CBD) content of their products, whether that’s the flower, vape oils, or food products. 

differences between eating and smoking cannabis

Smoke products create more difficulty with controlling the precise amount of THC consumed with smoke products. For example, on a vape cartridge, it might give you the expected THC consumption for a three-second draw. But the strength of the pull and draw time (most people don’t use a stopwatch) are both factors that can vary. Meaning the amount of psychoactive ingredients varies. 

It also can take the oils a bit of time to warm up and soak through the wick to get transferred into vapor, then filtered through the mouthpieces – again affects the amount of THC delivered. 

Smoking the flower of the cannabis plant can also vary based on how much is packed into a bowl, whether you grind it, and filtration methods. 

Conversely, cannabis edibles are required to have the exact dosage per piece or serving. The manufacturing processes can make that variable too. In some gummies, the THC can be on the outside in a sugar or powder coating. The coating can flake off in transit as the pieces bump against each other, leaving the majority of the active ingredients as dust in the bottom of the bag. 

Larger edibles come in forms you’re supposed to cut to dose yourself. Most people will not get out their kitchen scale (if they even own one) to cut a precise piece. 

Edibles are also regulated. Depending on your state, that could be 5 mg per serving or 10 mg per serving. Most advice for recreational consumption recommends starting with a low dose of 5 mg per serving and seeing how you feel after two hours. Medical advice advocates more caution, beginning with 2.5 mg per serving. 

Different Experiences

The experiences of eating versus smoking marijuana come down to how the body processes the THC and CBD and the delivery mechanism to your brain. 

Smoking is the fastest way. The chemicals go straight into your lungs, where they pass directly into your bloodstream and then your brain to create the psychoactive effects. 

The effects only take minutes. They also don’t last as long as the effects of edibles. People report smoking highs lasting anywhere from 45 minutes to upwards of two hours. Perhaps with that sluggish feeling following directly after for another hour. 

Your body processes marijuana edibles differently, resulting in a different experience from smoking. 

When you eat a gummy, the edible travels into your stomach, where your digestive processes go to work. Your digestive tract breaks down the gummy in your stomach and intestines, delivering the THC to your liver, which then processes it and sends it into the bloodstream and finally your brain. 

The process takes a little while. That’s why you see all the warning labels on the packages saying effects can take up to two hours.

Time to activation can vary even within a box of the same product. It depends on what your metabolism is doing that day. (Have you just eaten? Did you exercise recently?) It could affect the time between eating the edible and feeling its effects. 

On average, it takes about 40 minutes to start feeling the effects if you haven’t eaten anything recently. There’s nothing else in your stomach for your body to work on. On the other hand, eating a gummy after a large, heavy meal means it will probably be a bit longer before you feel anything. 

As a result of the more involved digestive process, the high will last longer with edibles. It’s not delivered to your brain all at once, like a puff into your lungs. Your digestive system continues processing the chemicals, releasing them over time. Highs can last a couple of hours, sometimes up to four, depending on your sensitivity, how much you take, and again what you’ve asked of your digestive system that day. 

Also, edibles affect women and men differently. A study found that women react more strongly than men to a 5 mg dose, but men are more sensitive to a 15 mg dose than women.

Dispensaries are also starting to offer products more tailored to personal preference through terpene combinations. You’ll see products marketed as “calm,” “creative,” or “energizing” which offer different effects for the type of high a consumer wants. 

Side Effects

The side effects of consuming marijuana are fairly well known:

  • Red eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Coughing
  • Esophageal irritation
  • Munchies
  • Anxiety/paranoia
  • Increased heart rate
  • Time passes differently

Definitely don’t drive. Operating heavy machinery or working with hazardous tools is not a great plan either. 

Adverse Effects

There is not yet any strong evidence linking smoking only cannabis to lung cancer, like we have for tobacco. Preliminary studies indicate that irritation of your lungs and bronchial tubes can happen with cannabis smoke. 

You’re putting foreign stuff into your lungs, which are remarkably delicate. It’s expected, like how people who live in areas with high air pollution tend to have more lung troubles, particularly children.

That’s why many people use water and ice as filters for the harshness of smoking flower.

Pulling the cannabis smoke through the water in a water pipe first cools it. Now you aren’t pulling hot smoke into your lungs, damaging them with heat. It’s also supposed to filter out some of the bad bits. That’s why cleaning your water pipe is essential because nasty gunk builds up in the water. Change your water every time, and clean it regularly.

effects of smoking vs eating marijuana

There’s even less research into the adverse effects of eating cannabis. 

One might guess that since it’s processed in the liver, it’s probably not wise to combine it with other drugs (like alcohol or over-the-counter pain meds), particularly those also processed in the liver. Again, no research. But making your liver work harder than necessary isn’t great for its long-term health. 

The biggest anecdotally documented adverse effect of edibles is getting too high. You won’t overdose from eating it, but you might feel like you’re dying. The danger lies in the long wait time between consumption and the effect. Some people decide that it must not be working and smoke or take another. Doubling down on intake can lead to the undesirable side effects of being too high: anxiety, paranoia, horrible body feelings, and general unpleasantness. 

Health professionals are starting to talk more about marijuana use disorder, which they classify as a cannabis routine that negatively affects your life in terms of work, health, and/or relationships.

Types of Edible Products

We talked about gummies which seem to be the most popular way for controlling the dose. Everyone knows about pot brownies. But there are a ton of ways to eat cannabis, and commercial enterprises develop more every day. Here are a few different types of edibles:

  • Pills
  • Sodas
  • Hard candies
  • Cookies
  • Salad dressings
  • Hot chocolate
  • Coffee

THC binds with lipids (chemistry word for fats or oils), so anything using butter, oil, and the like is fair game for bringing a dose of THC to your cooking. 

There are also pills and tinctures. The latter uses a dropper to put in your mouth and hold under your tongue before swallowing. 

It’s a good idea to ask about which part of the edible product the THC is in when shopping for edibles. If it’s on the sugar coating, like we mentioned earlier, then it can be knocked off and end up in the bottom of the container, making it an expensive gummy bear. 

Different Consumption Methods of Smoking

We’ll cover the common methods, but there are many different ways to smoke.

The most basic is a joint, ground cannabis flower rolled into smoking paper. 

Then there are types of pipes. A basic glass pipe, which may have a carb (a thumb hole) to allow control over extra air flow. This increases the burn on the cannabis, and helps keep it from going out. 

Some pipes add a water chamber. The smoke passes through between the bowl and the mouthpiece. This is also called a water pipe, or bong if you’re old school. There are also rolled marijuana cigarettes. Vape cartridges use different types of oils as carriers for the THC/CBD. Different states have various regulations about what precisely a vape cartridge can contain. 

Beyond even regulation, there are different production techniques like live resins and distillates – enough options to leave you dizzy after the dispensary employee spends 20 minutes giving you their opinion on each. 

Another less popular option, but health nuts seem to like it, is proper vaporizers. It’s a large table-top box with a hookah-like hose. You grind the flower and put it in the box, which heats it to the smoke point of THC, which is lower than the smoke point of the flower. In theory, you aren’t smoking the whole plant, just the active ingredients. 

There are even more ways than the ones listed here, but these are the more common ones that don’t require a large amount of processing post-purchase. 

There is no official best way in terms of minimizing health effects. But a good guideline is the more filters between your lungs and the fire, the better. 

Eating Marijuana vs. Smoking for Life Insurance

Life insurance companies only underwrite what they can reasonably measure. 

Most life insurers will decline any recreational cannabis consumption. Twelve companies allow recreational smoking, and most of those don’t even apply smoker rates. They only care about how many times per week or month you smoke. 

Get a review of those companies here.

The advantage is putting your cannabis consumption on your life insurance application with one of these companies means they can’t deny the claim later for cannabis reasons. 

Some insurance companies test the frequency of smoking based on the amount of byproduct that shows up in the life insurance drug test. However, many of the companies that we recommend do not test for THC. They will rate you on the usage you put on your application.

Since there’s no way to test methods of consumption in the current medical exam, you don’t get any brownie points for choosing edibles over smoking. There is no difference here to the insurance company. 

A note on medical marijuana use: the insurance company only cares about the medical condition that triggered the recommendation. They don’t care that you’re using marijuana to treat the condition. So your life insurance will be based on your medical history and not the smoking. 


Studies and peer-reviewed papers are coming out with increasing regularity. There are some known risks associated with both smoking and eating cannabis, but they don’t seem to be much more severe than living somewhere with moderate-to-high air pollution or overworking your liver. 

Eating gives more prolonged highs, but you have to wait longer for onset of effects. Smoking is more immediate and effects have a shorter duration. 

How Marcan Life Insurance Can Help

We’re an independent life insurance agency with the sole mission of keeping track of marijuana underwriting policies. As more states legalize, the insurance industry is slow to catch up. We refuse to allow our clients to be unfairly penalized for their recreational activities or medical treatments. 

Give us a call with any questions at (888) 987-8447. Your information is protected through HIPAA and, therefore, 100% confidential.