Marijuana — colloquially called weed — refers to the dried flowers, seeds, stems, and leaves of the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plants.
It’s a popular drug used by millions of people either for pleasure or to treat chronic health conditions.
Weed can be used in a number of ways, but some of the most popular methods include smoking and vaping.
However, some people wonder whether it’s safe to eat marijuana and whether ingesting it has the same effects as smoking or vaping.
This article explains whether it’s safe to eat weed and the health effects — both positive and negative — related to ingestion.
Can you eat marijuana?
The short answer is yes, you can eat weed. In fact, marijuana-infused foods and drinks have been consumed throughout history, as far back as 1000 B.C.
Marijuana was used as medicine in ancient China and India and was introduced to Western medicine in the early 19th century. Edible applications, such as tinctures, were prescribed to treat various conditions, from chronic pain to digestive disorders.
Edible marijuana products were also used to relieve stress and induce euphoria, similar to alcohol.
Bhang, a beverage made from a mixture of the leaves and flowers of marijuana plants, has been consumed for centuries during religious festivals, such as Holi, a Hindu festival of love and color.
In the United States, recreational use of edible marijuana products became popular during the 1960s, and today, many different types of edibles are available, both legally and illegally, depending on state laws.
For example, gummies, candies, chocolates, capsules, teas, and oils are some of the edible marijuana products sold in both legal marijuana dispensaries and through the illegal marijuana market.
Edibles enthusiasts also make their own weed products by infusing butter or oil with marijuana and mixing it into baked goods and other recipes.
Though you can eat raw weed, it won’t have the same effect as consuming marijuana-based products, as marijuana has to go through a process known as decarboxylation to become activated.
Raw marijuana contains tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), compounds that must be exposed to heat, such as in smoking or baking, to turn into the active forms, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
Therefore, eating raw weed will not result in the same effects as consuming weed that has been heated, as in edible products like candies, tinctures, and baked goods.
Though you can’t get high from eating raw weed, some health experts believe that eating it may offer some health benefits due to the wide array of plant compounds it contains.
Yet, research in this area is lacking, so the potential therapeutic benefit of raw marijuana is still unclear.
Weed has been consumed in various forms throughout history for both medicinal and recreational purposes. Though you can eat raw marijuana, it won’t have the same effects as marijuana that has been heated.
Can raw weed get you high?
Researchers have now isolated cannabinoids. THC, CBD, and CBG are three compounds that may produce significant therapeutic effects.
However, these three cannabinoids do not occur naturally in high concentrations in raw weed. Raw weed contains these three cannabinoids with a carboxylic acid attached. Experts refer to these compounds as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic (THCA-A), cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), and cannabigerolic acid (CBGA).
With exposure to light or heat from smoking or baking, the carboxylic acid group detaches. This process is called decarboxylation. Without the carboxylic acid group, these three compounds have the potential to cause a therapeutic effect. It is only then that THC can result in a high.
People are therefore unlikely to experience a significant high if they eat raw weed.
Other effects of raw weed
Despite the lack of high from the carboxylated forms of THC, researchers are interested in the possible therapeutic effects of raw weed. These potential benefits may include:
Protecting brain cells
One study demonstrated that THCA might have a protective effect on brain cells.
These findings may be important for experts in neuroinflammatory diseases and neurodegenerative conditions such as Huntington’s disease. THC may be an interesting therapeutic option in these cases.
Inhibiting tumor necrosis
Another study, this time in the journal International Immunopharmacology, also tested the effects of unheated cannabis extract.
The researchers note that THCA was able to inhibit the tumor necrosis factor alpha levels in immune cells. Furthermore, this inhibition lasted for a long time.
Further studies will be necessary to confirm the effects of THCA on the immune system and its applications in immune conditions.
Providing antinausea effects
Researchers are also interested in the possible antinausea effect of THCA.
In another study researchers explored the antinausea effect of THCA in rats. The researchers demonstrated that it was effective in reducing nausea and vomiting.
They suggest that THCA may be a more potent alternative to THC in the treatment of nausea and vomiting. Further studies are necessary to find out whether or not these effects also occur in humans.
Researchers have also demonstrated the antinausea and anti-vomiting effects of low doses of cannabidiolic acid. Also, cannabidiolic acid made the antinausea drug ondansetron more effective. Further studies in humans are needed to confirm these results.
Challenges in research
One of the difficulties associated with studying the effects of THCA is its instability in nature. The carboxylic acid group detaches easily from the compound.
For example, researchers have demonstrated that THCA is unstable in ethanol. After 10 days at 77ºF (25ºC), only 33% of the THCA remained in ethanol. Losses of THCA even occurred after freezing.
Although researchers suggest that there are many possible medicinal uses of raw weed, they must ensure its stability to prevent THCA from converting quickly to THC, which causes a high.
Alternative ways to use weed
According to one study, smoking is the most prevalent form of marijuana use. Vaping is another common form of consumption. However, both vaping and smoking can have adverse effects on the lungs.
Consuming marijuana in the form of edibles could be a way of using weed without harming the lungs.
The effects of edibles differ from those of raw weed because the cannabis in edibles has gone through the process of decarboxylation.
The section below discusses edibles in more detail.
In states where recreational marijuana use is legal, 11% of people who use it take it in edible form. In states where only medical marijuana use is legal, there is a 5.1% prevalence of edible use. Only 4.2% of people report consuming edibles in states where marijuana is illegal.
Researchers have also found that baked goods and candies are the most consumed edible marijuana products in the United States.
Manufacturers also produce marijuana infused:
- sublingual drops
- mouth sprays
People who do not want to smoke, who do not want to smell of smoke, or who feel anxious about inhaling weed may wish to consider consuming edibles instead.
It is possible for a person consuming marijuana in the form of an edible to take too much. They may not notice this immediately because the high may be delayed. To avoid taking too much, eat a smaller amount and wait for the effect.
People are unlikely to get high from eating raw weed. Cannabis naturally produces potentially inactive compounds. These include THCA, which is THC with a carboxylic acid group attached, among others.
Some researchers are interested in the possible medicinal benefits of THCA, as it has demonstrated early evidence for neuroprotection, immunologic effects, and antinausea and anti-vomiting effects.
People who want to get high from consuming cannabis can prepare raw weed in baked goods. Heat and other factors cause the carboxyl group to detach from the compound. In this form, THC will have psychogenic effects.
A person can also consume marijuana in drinks, spreads, mouth sprays, and pills.