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A Quick Introduction to The Basics of Marijuana Metabolism

An area that is often misunderstood in cannabis, especially due to the various dosage forms, is its metabolism.

The method a patient uses to consume their THC will drastically determine how the product ultimately effects your body. The in-depth data behind the pharmacokinetics, what the body does to the drug, and pharmacodynamics, what the drug does to the body, is complex but the important thing to understand is that the various delivery methods will impact the amount of the desired medication that ultimately gets to the receptor to exert the physiologic effect.

This is known as bioavailability. Simplistically, bioavailability is defined as the fraction of the active form of a drug that reaches systemic circulation unaltered. The active site we want cannabinoids to get to are cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), which are found all over the body.

Metabolism of cannabis is determined by the route of consumption.

Inhaled: THC and its metabolites enter the bloodstream almost instantly via the lungs, achieve peak levels within 6 to 10 minutes. The bioavailability of inhaled THC is 10% to 35%.

Example = An average person smokes an entire vape cartridge with 1000mg total THC. The amount that had an effect would be around 100-350mg

Ingested: THC travels to the liver where most of it is eliminated or metabolized and then enters the circulation. The bioavailability of ingested THC is only 4% to 12%

Example = An average person ingests an entire brownie with 1000mg total THC (yes, that’s a strong brownie). The amount that had an effect would be around 40-120mg

Inhaled products bypass the metabolism of the liver which is one of the reasons it has higher bioavailability.

This is a very basic look at the metabolism of cannabinoids but as you can see there can be a large variation patient to patient, product to product, and day to day based on how it is ingested and other metabolic factors.

Stay tuned for more from the exciting world of metabolism 😉


  1. Price G, Patel DA. Drug Bioavailability. [Updated 2022 Jun 23]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan\

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