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Fast-Acting Edibles: What Are They and How Do They Work?

close up of woman's mouth eating candy

A new category of edibles is hitting dispensary shelves and shaking up the cannabis industry. Aptly called “fast-acting edibles,” these products promise significantly quicker onset times (the time it takes to feel effects) versus notoriously slow traditional edibles.

Let’s take a closer look at fast-acting edibles, how they work, and the new technology revolutionizing the cannabis edibles market.

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What Are Fast-Acting Edibles?

Consumers of traditional cannabis edibles know, regardless of the amount of THC present, it can take a long time to feel their effects — as long as 45 minutes to two hours.

That uncertain waiting game has misled many into believing they haven’t consumed enough and opened the door to potential overconsumption.

Fast-acting edibles offer many of the same benefits as traditional edibles, such as not requiring inhalation and being a generally more discreet way to consume cannabis, but with faster-acting effects. They’re said to have onset times averaging between 15 minutes and 30 minutes — a far cry from the two hours many have grown accustomed to.

It’s worth noting, however, that while the varieties of fast-acting products being manufactured include tinctures, beverages, gummies, and other edible cannabis products that consumers are already familiar with, their effects may differ from traditional edibles.

“There is a little bit of a difference in effects when it comes to fast-acting edibles,” Lisa Black, an education and training coordinator at Insa, said in a co-hosted webinar with Leafwell. “The things that we do to that THC molecule to break it down to make our bodies absorb it faster make the experience a little bit more akin to smoking or vaporizing.”

How They Work

The primary differences between fast-acting edibles and regular edibles are how they’re made and how they’re processed in the body. Both types of cannabis products contain cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, but fast-acting edibles utilize processes such as microencapsulation and nanoemulsion to boost the cannabinoids’ efficiency and make them take effect in the body quicker.

“It’s just breaking it down,” Black said. “It’s just breaking that big, fat THC molecule down so that your body has more of an opportunity to absorb it.”

For context, THC molecules in traditional edibles are processed (metabolized) in the liver, where they’re transformed into 11-hydroxy-THC and can last from six to eight hours. Fast-acting edibles are absorbed earlier in the digestive system and typically last about two to three hours.


While perhaps new to THC and other cannabinoids, microencapsulation isn’t new to pharmaceuticals generally. Simply put, microencapsulation is the process of encapsulating particles — in this case, CBD or THC molecules — to protect them from degrading in the stomach during digestion.

The result is increased short-term bioavailability of the cannabinoids and a faster onset time when metabolized in the small intestine.


With fast-acting edibles, nanoemulsion is best described as breaking down a cannabinoid-rich oil into microscopic particles. That process, in turn, enables those nanoparticles to mix with water and increases their bioavailability.

Nanoemulsion is especially prevalent among drinkable fast-acting products, such as seltzers and sparkling beverages, which are said to take effect in as little as two to 15 minutes.

The Bottom Line

Smoking and vaping are lauded for their fast-acting effects, but some medical cannabis patients may have aversions to consuming cannabis via inhalation. Fast-acting edibles represent a possible solution for those who don’t want to inhale cannabis and don’t want to wait a long time to experience relief from traditional edibles.

Furthermore, the quicker onset times of fast-acting edibles drastically reduce the tedious waiting game that often begs the question, “Did I take enough?”

While it’s always sound advice to start low and go slow with edibles, fast-acting edibles may mean cannabis consumers won’t have to go as slowly to find their ideal dose.

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