Space & Innovation

Does Eating Pot Make You Higher Than Smoking It?

As the popularity and public acceptance of marijuana grows, there's increased scrutiny around its effects. →

When a young man in Colorado ate a marijuana-laced cookie and then jumped to his death off a fourth-floor balcony last year, he became the first high-profile death related to marijuana intoxication since the state legalized recreational use of the drug - and the incident spawned a CDC investigation into the dangers of edible pot. The agency's findings were released late last week.

With an estimated 45 percent of Colorado's marijuana sales coming in the form of munchable pot, the report is timely and sheds light on a lingering question: Is the high from eating marijuana different than the one from smoking it?

And the answer is: kind of.

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Eating pot results in a more intense and longer lasting high, though it doesn't necessarily make you any higher.

"I don't know if I'd say it's more intoxicating," Mark A. Ware, director of clinical research at Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit, McGill University Health Centre, told The Daily Beast. "It's just different."

One of the main reasons for the difference? Edible marijuana passes through the liver before it enters the bloodstream - whereas smoked or vaporized marijuana goes straight to the lungs - and that process, dubbed the metabolic first-pass effect, can compound the psychoactive properties in the plant.

It also takes more time for the drug to weave its way through the liver, which means it takes longer to get high. People often ingest more of it while they sit around waiting to feel stoned.

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"When you're smoking, you reach a certain level of highness ... and forget to keep smoking," forensic psychologist Max Wachtel told USA Today. "It's in our nature to accidentally overuse edibles."

It can also be challenging to know exactly how many psychoactive compounds are in one serving. Colorado has set 10 milligrams as the standard dose per serving, with 100 mg maximum per food item. But the potency of different strains can vary. And clinical pharmacologist Kari Franson, a professor at the University of Colorado, told Forbes that she is "still skeptical" about attempts to standardize the amount in products.

Edible Vigilance The young man who jumped off the balcony had purchased the pot cookie legally and been instructed by the salesperson to eat just one serving at a time. Which he did - until half an hour or more passed by and he didn't feel anything. So he consumed the rest of the cookie.

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Consuming marijuana and then leaping to one's death is not typical. Pot has been associated with psychotic disorders like schizophrenia and the college student may or may not have had underlying, previously undiagnosed psychological issues.

But the student's death does highlight the possibly more intense experience of ingesting marijuana vs. smoking it. And, as the CDC report concludes, it highlights the need to be aware that "consuming a large dose of THC can result in a higher THC concentration, greater intoxication, and an increased risk for adverse psychological effects."

Medical marijuana gets all the headlines, but many legal weeds have traditions as medicines too. Although homeowners often consider these plants as lawn outlaws, weeds can serve as a floral pharmacy. However, would-be patients of the plants should consult a doctor before self-medicating.


Cichorium intybus, the light blue flower frequently seen along roads, provides the main commercial source of the compound inulin. Patients take inulin to fight high blood fats, including cholesterol and triglycerides, according to WebMD. Research published in Diabetes & Metabolism Journal suggests that inulin intake benefits women with type-2 diabetes by reducing the rate of blood sugar increase after eating. Inulin promotes the growth of certain bacteria in the intestines. While some believe this can help digestion, others suffer serious flatulence when the inulin-fed bacteria build up.

Some people add the dried and roasted root to coffee. Chickory coffee is especially popular in New Orleans.

Red Clover

Trifolium pratense contains chemicals known as isoflavones. These chemicals can act like the female hormone estrogen in the body. Doctors have examined the clover chemicals as a treatment for hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. However, doctors warn that women with a history or risk of breast cancer should avoid isoflavones, since estrogen-like chemicals have been associated with increased incidence of some cancers.

Milk Thistle

Silybum marianum has a 2,000 year history as a liver medicine. Modern research has looked at thistle extracts as a treatment for alcohol-induced liver damage. Substances in milk thistle, particularly the chemical silymarin, may protect the liver from damage after a person takes an overdose of other medications, including acetaminophen (Tylenol). Milk thistle may also be an antidote to poison from the deathcap mushroom (Amanita phalloides). Animal studies found that milk thistle completely counteracted the poison if given within 10 minutes of poisoning, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.


Native Americans used the milkweed (Asclepias sp.) as a contraceptive, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The milky, white sap that gives the plant its name served to remove warts. However, milkweeds also contain chemicals known as cardiac glycosides. These chemicals can cause severe illness in humans and livestock. Monarch butterfly caterpillars eat milkweed and build up high concentrations of glycosides, which makes the insects nasty tasting to predators.


Ancient Greeks and Romans used horsetail (Equisetum arvense) to stop bleeding, heal ulcers and wounds, and treat tuberculosis and kidney problems. My wife drinks horsetail tea to flush out her body’s system and help lose weight. The tea has a mildly bitter flavor, similar to chamomile. Research published in Ethnopharmacolgy found that horsetail tea increases urination which corroborates my wife’s contention that the plant is a diuretic, or a substance that increases urination. However, doctors recommend taking a multivitamin when drinking significant amounts of horesetail tea, because it can flush nutrients, such as vitamin B1, thiamin and potassium, out of one's system as well.


In the past, Europeans used remedies made from dandelion (Taraxacum sp.) roots, leaves and flowers to treat fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes, and diarrhea, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine take dandelions for stomach ailments and breast problems, such as inflammation or lack of milk flow. Dandelion leaves taste similar to spinach and contains vitamins A, B, C, and D, along with iron, potassium, and zinc.

Stinging Nettle

Urtica dioica can put the hurt on an hiker in shorts, but historically the plant has served to treat aching muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis and gout. People still use the plant to treat joint pain, and some studies have suggested that the plant can treat arthritis. Another study found that capsules of dried stinging nettle may reduce the symptoms of hay fever. Europeans frequently use stinging nettle root to treat bladder problems. Boiled nettle makes a side dish similar to collared greens.

For those who brush alongside stinging nettle, a remedy to the sting is often found growing nearby. Applying crushed up dandelion, horsetail, Aloe vera, jewelweed or the leaf of a dock or lock plant can counter the acid in the sting.


Like many of the medicinal weeds in this list, purslane (Portulaca oleracea) also makes a healthy snack. The plant contains a high content of omega-3 fatty acids. I ate some that grew in my yard and found it was somewhat sour. A little bit was good, but too much would be overpowering in a salad. In traditional Chinese medicine, purslane treats genito-urinary tract infections. Research published in Phytomedicine found that the plant reduced problems with cognition in older mice.


Since the age of the ancient Greek doctors have used plantains (Plantago sp., the weed in sidewalk cracks, not the fruit) to speed wound healing. In the training manual Survival, Evasion and Recovery, the U.S. Department of Defense recommends plantain as a poultice on wounds or as a nutrient-rich tea to treat diarrhea.


Traditionally, healers use burdock (Arctium sp.) to clear toxins from the blood and increase urination, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The plant also is used to treat skin ailments, such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis. The leaves and roots of burdock are edible and contains inulin, like chicory, so they may aid digestion and/or cause a nasty case of flatulence. Burdock also contains high quantities of antioxidants that can prevent damage to cells.