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Side Effects of Edibles: THC vs. CBD, Dangers & More

Side effects can include paranoia, mood swings, increased blood pressure, and more. But some people use the products for conditions like insomnia or pain.

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Edibles are cookies, chocolates, candies, gummies, and other consumables laced with some form of marijuana. Since they move through the digestive tract, edibles work slowly. 

Key Facts

  • Edibles come in multiple forms, including brownies, chocolates, hard candy, gummies, and beverages.
  • Both CBD and THC edibles exist. Versions with THC are associated with more significant side effects and risks.
  • Edibles work slowly, but the impact can last for 12 hours.
  • Common side effects of edibles include bloodshot eyes, increased blood pressure, faster heartbeat, paranoia, confusion, and mood changes.

What Are Edibles?

Edibles include food, snacks, and beverages that contain marijuana. While these products are legal in many states and often look like standard food items, they come with various risks. 

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Edibles do not have an instant effect like smoking marijuana. These foods are often infused with THC, the chemical component that makes a person feel high, although CBD-only edibles exist. 

It takes longer to feel the initial effects of edibles compared to smoking marijuana. This delay can cause an inexperienced consumer to keep eating the item believing that they haven’t taken enough to get high.

Types of Edibles 

As legalization is increasing in the United States, so are the availability and use of edibles. Products are usually sold in these formats:

  • Baked goods: Any baked food can include marijuana. Common choices include brownies, cookies, and cupcakes.
  • Chocolates and hard candy: These may be bars, individual chocolates, truffles, lollipops, hard candies, or mints. 
  • Gummies: Soft, chewable candies or gummies are often infused with CBD and combinations. Buying CBD-only gummies is possible, but some combine THC and CBD.
  • Beverages: Marijuana-infused drinks include sports drinks, juices, and water.
  • Other foods: Beef jerky, butter, oil, and ice cream can contain marijuana. Manufacturers are inventive, and new varieties of edibles appear regularly.

CBD Edibles vs. THC Edibles 

THC is the psychoactive component of marijuana. CBD does not create the “high” we associate with the drug. 

The side effects of CBD edibles tend to be non-hallucinogenic and less intense than THC edibles.[7]

CBD EdiblesTHC Edibles
DizzinessPsychedelic hallucinations
Nausea or diarrheaNausea
Rapid heartbeatDizziness 
Facial flushingHeadaches
Dry mouthConfusion
Increased heart rate

Side Effects of Edibles 

An edible’s intoxicating effects don’t take hold for 30 minutes to 2 hours. The impact can last up to 12 hours, and some people feel residual effects for up to 24 hours.[5] Side effects during this time are common.

Short-Term Side EffectsLong-Term Side Effects
Bloodshot eyesBrain fog
Increased blood pressureMemory issues
Faster heartbeatReduced motivation
ParanoiaLearning issues
ConfusionAttention difficulties
Mood changesPhysical dependence 
Difficulty solving problemsMarijuana use disorder 
Memory loss

Short-Term Side Effects 

Edibles must move through your digestive system before they take effect. Typically, that takes about 30 minutes, but some people need an hour or two before they feel the full impact of the edibles they took. 

Short-term side effects typically last up to 12 hours, declining in intensity through that period. 

Long-Term Side Effects 

Marijuana side effects are closely tied to dosage. The more you take, the more likely it is that you’ll experience symptoms that persist. 

Long-term effects can last for about 24 hours. Some people feel altered for longer. 

Marijuana dependence and addiction are among the most serious of edible’s long-term side effects. Unfortunately, these issues are common. 

About 30% of people who use marijuana have some degree of marijuana use disorder.[6]

National Institute on Drug Abuse
Benefits of Consuming Edibles

Benefits of Edibles 

While all edibles can cause unpleasant side effects, some people accept the risks. They use these products to address common medical conditions. 

As of April 24, 2023, 38 states, 3 territories, and the District of Columbia allow people to use marijuana products, including edibles, for medical purposes.[1] Typically, people must provide a prescription to a dispensary to get started, and they must have a documented reason for using cannabis. 

Others use edibles as a substitute for other marijuana products. To them, edibles allow for a safer high with fewer risks. 

These are a few benefits commonly associated with edibles: 

Nausea Control 

Medical marijuana products are most commonly used to address nausea and vomiting caused by cancer treatments.[2] Chemotherapy can cause intestinal tissues to malfunction, leading to severe vomiting and dehydration. Some people get relief from marijuana products, including edibles. 

Anorexia Treatment

Some chronic conditions (such as HIV/AIDS and cancer) can lead to persistent anorexia. Weight loss leads to muscle weakness, which can make a person feel even worse. Edibles can boost appetite and help people start eating again. 

Pain Relief

People with some kinds of pain, including discomfort from nerve disorders or muscle spasms, get relief from marijuana products like edibles.[2] Since these products don’t contain NSAIDs or other stomach-harming ingredients, they could be a better choice for some people. 

Seizure Control

People with seizure disorders, including epilepsy, may get relief from marijuana products like edibles.[2] Other medications may work better, but edibles can provide relief to those who haven’t responded to other medications. 

Improved Sleep

Small studies suggest that cannabis products can improve sleep quality. In some cases, people can switch from prescription insomnia solutions to cannabis and get better results.[3]

Better Marijuana Experience

In studies of people who use edibles, people say they choose them over smoking because edibles are more discreet, don’t come with the toxins of cannabis smoke, and offer a more relaxing high.[4] These opinions aren’t easy for scientists to prove or disprove. 

Are Edibles Addictive?

Edibles contain marijuana compounds. In 2015 alone, about 4.0 million Americans met the diagnostic criteria for marijuana use disorder.[6] Since edibles are just another form of marijuana, they can cause addiction. But important product differences exist.

When experts research the addictiveness of marijuana, they focus on THC. This potent ingredient can alter brain chemistry and cause compulsive drug use. Since many edibles have a high THC potency, these products could be dangerous. 

Research on CBD’s addictiveness is less clear. Studies suggest it works on pathways used by addictive drugs, including glutamate and opioid receptors. But researchers don’t believe it has addictive qualities.[8] If you’re using CBD-only products, your risk of marijuana addiction should be lower. 

But consumers should be aware that many products sold as CBD-only could contain THC. In a 2020 report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, researchers found that 49% of products labeled as CBD had some THC.[9]

Dangers of THC Edibles

“The need for additional regulation of edibles is evident given the frequency of cannabis overdoses and accidental pediatric exposures.”[4]

While THC edibles continue to grow in popularity, they are associated with various risks, including the following:

Unintentional Overconsumption

For people who have not eaten THC edibles before, there is a high danger of overconsumption. 

Edibles need time to take effect. People unfamiliar with this delayed onset may consume more. Once the effects kick in, they may feel overwhelmed.

One instance of overconsumption occurred in 2014 when a Colorado man jumped off a building and died after consuming an entire marijuana-infused cookie edible when his recommended dose didn’t work quickly enough.[4] 

Poor Regulation

The amount of THC listed in items is poorly regulated, leading to inconsistent labeling and state-to-state inconsistencies. It’s hard for consumers to obtain accurate information about the products they buy. 

Variations in Potency

The strength of THC varies widely across different growers, manufacturers, and food producers. Variable potency makes it nearly impossible for users to rely on labeling to regulate how much they are consuming.

Accidental Consumption

THC-infused candies, chocolates, and edibles often look like common products that do not contain THC. This can lead to accidental consumption by children, pets, or people who don’t wish to take THC or CBD.

THC edibles are often packaged in multiple doses per container. Children who mistake edibles for standard gummies or chocolate may eat all the contents in one sitting.

Adolescent & Teen Use

Teens consume edibles to reduce their chances of getting caught using marijuana.[10] Edibles also appeal to teens who don’t want to smoke or want to avoid smelling like marijuana smoke.

Adolescents are especially vulnerable to marijuana side effects. Of people who start using marijuana in their teens, 17% develop an addiction to the substance.[6]

Increased Poisoning Reports

In 2020, there was a rise in reported poisoning incidents from edible marijuana. These instances involved children under 12 years old, mostly 5 years old or younger.[11]

Irregular Heartbeat

A recent study from the Annals of Internal Medicine compared emergency room visitors who consumed cannabis edibles with visits from those smoking marijuana. The study found that 8% of people who consumed edibles had irregular heartbeats compared to 3% of those who smoked marijuana.[12] 

Increased Risk of Driving Accidents

Since cannabis can slow reaction times and act as a sedative, it increases the risk of accidents when impaired people drive. An accident could harm the person behind the wheel, and it could harm others too. 

Higher Risk of Psychotic Disorders

The relationship between marijuana and mental health issues like schizophrenia is complex. But research suggests that people with a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia can have an earlier onset of the disease when they start using marijuana.[13]

How Are Edibles Different From Smoking Marijuana?

Edibles and smokable weed can contain the same active ingredients, and they can appeal to the same type of user. But these two products are very different. 

People who smoke marijuana feel the impact of their dose immediately. The drug passes through the lungs and into the brain, delivering information about how much the user took.

People who use edibles must wait for their dose to take hold. They may believe they know exactly how much they’ve taken based on the labels on their products. But the delay can lead people to take much more than they need. 

Researchers say the side effects from edible cannabis last longer than those from smoking the drug.[5] Your body needs time to process the drug through the digestive tract, so it can take longer to eliminate the active ingredients. If you have a bad reaction to edibles, you’ll feel uncomfortable for up to 12 hours. 

Marijuana smoke can contain toxins. Each dose can put delicate lung tissue in direct contact with harmful agents. Eating marijuana products doesn’t come with these risks. Sometimes, it’s a safer choice for people with chronic lung conditions. 

Managing Marijuana Addiction 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says 30% of people who use marijuana have some degree of marijuana use disorder.[6] People with a marijuana addiction can’t stop using the drug even when they want to do so. 

While it’s hard to overcome a marijuana addiction alone, treatment can help. Outpatient treatment for drug addiction can put you in touch with talented professionals. With medication and therapy, you can overcome your triggers and stop spending money and time on your addiction. 

You’ll also gain skills that enable you to build a better life in recovery. While the prospect of quitting marijuana for good may seem impossible, you can do it with the right help. Reach out today.

Updated January 19, 2024
  1. State medical cannabis laws. Published June 9, 2023. Accessed June 22, 2023.
  2. Medical marijuana. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Published November 4, 2021. Accessed June 22, 2023.
  3. Vaillancourt R, Gallagher S, Cameron JD, Dhalla R. Cannabis use in patients with insomnia and sleep disorders: Retrospective chart review. Can Pharm J (Ott). 2022;155(3):175-180. Published 2022 Apr 15.
  4. 7 things you need to know about edible cannabis. Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. Published June 2019. Accessed June 22, 2023.
  5. Cannabis (marijuana) research report: Is marijuana addictive? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published July 2020. Accessed June 22, 2023.
  6. Iffland K, Grotenhermen F. An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2017;2(1):139-154. Published 2017 Jun 1.
  7. Prud'homme M, Cata R, Jutras-Aswad D. Cannabidiol as an Intervention for Addictive Behaviors: A Systematic Review of the Evidence. Subst Abuse. 2015;9:33-38. Published 2015 May 21.
  8. Byington, L. FDA study finds some CBD products are mislabeled. Food Dive. Published July 9, 2020. Accessed June 22, 2023.
  9. Friese B, Slater MD, Annechino R, Battle RS. Teen Use of Marijuana Edibles: A Focus Group Study of an Emerging Issue. J Prim Prev. 2016;37(3):303-309.
  10. Gummin D, Mowry J. Beuhler M, Spyker D, Bronstein A, Rivers L, Pham N, Weber J. 2020 annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System (NPDS): 38th Annual Report. Clinical Toxicology, 59:12, 1282-1501,
  11. Monte A, Shelton S, Mills E, Saben J. Acute illness associated with cannabis use by route of exposure. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2019, Volume 170 (Issue 8): 531-537.
  12. Is there a link between marijuana use and psychiatric disorders?.
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