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Does Weed Hit Harder on an Empty Stomach?

Science says one thing, but my tripping-balls brain and screeching-munchies stomach say another

I’ve become radically stoned under many circumstances: In the mornings and evenings; through good times and bad times; for scientific research and unbridled amusement — the list goes on and on, and these diverse experiences have taught me that the effects of weed work on something of a circumstantial basis. What I mean is, the way weed makes me feel is decidedly dependent on my immediate condition and surroundings, even more so than whatever dank bud I smoke.

One persistent example is what happens when I smoke on an empty stomach: I consistently and immediately become struck with debilitating munchies, so much so that my belly aches and my energy levels plummet until all I can manage to do is drop crackers into my mouth as I exist on the couch.

It would be safe to say, in my experience, that smoking on an empty stomach results in something of a more powerful high, but perhaps also a less pleasant one, concentrated mostly on the sad happenings in my depleted stomach. There are others with a similar experience, too. “The high is typically more potent,” one redditor writes. On Quora, meanwhile, another stoner adds, “Smoking weed on an empty stomach make[s] me feel sick, and it doesn’t have the same effect as when you have anything in your stomach.”

Which feeds into my theory that the effects of weed are circumstantial: Perhaps weed just augments the hunger — as well as the pain and lethargy — an empty stomach already provokes. But all of this is purely anecdotal, so I hit up several cannabis experts to learn more about the science behind this phenomenon.

From an edibles perspective, of course, having one on an empty stomach can generally promote a quicker, more intense high. “Notably, this paper recommends that oral THC capsules (dronabinol) be taken on an empty stomach,” says weed connoisseur Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Interestingly, though, he also points to a study that shows eating high-fat foods, like breakfast burritos, can actually increase the absorption of CBD into the body.

Now, this is an interesting distinction, one that suggests the type of food in our stomachs can have as much of an impact as whether there even is food in our stomachs. This makes some sense when you consider that THC and CBD are highly lipophilic, meaning they tend to combine with fats. The effect this results in, however, seems to be somewhat hit or miss. “Absorption of oral THC is most definitely affected by the state of one’s digestive system,” says cannabis researcher Dale Gieringer. “The bioavailability of oral THC varies greatly and is influenced by the contents of the edible in which it is carried — for instance, the fat in chocolate may glom onto THC molecules, potentially shielding them from absorption by the body, while alcohol-based tinctures expose THC more directly to the system.”

You can already see some contradictions here: One study shows that high-fat foods promote the absorption of one cannabinoid, while our expert says high-fat chocolates could do the opposite with another cannabinoid. The thing is, both can be true, depending on all kinds of things that could happen in our stomachs, the kinds of fats at play, and of course, the weed itself. Generally, though, because of the ways in which cannabinoids are metabolized, taking an edible after eating should produce a more even-keeled high than taking one on an empty stomach. This could be because, as that earlier study suggested, CBD in particular becomes more bioavailable alongside high-fat foods, and CBD is known to have a calming effect on the more authoritative, intoxicating THC.

When it comes to smoking on an empty stomach, however, current science seems to suggest that I’ve been tripping this whole time. “The state of one’s digestion shouldn’t have any effect on smoked THC, other than you’re more likely to get the munchies if you’re hungry,” Gieringer says.

In the end, I guess I was both right and wrong: On one hand, from a scientific perspective, smoked weed should result in the same effect no matter the contents of our stomachs. On the other hand, weed makes us hungry, and when we smoke it while hungry, we become really, really hungry.

So to review what we learned today, always put the crackers on the coffee table before you smoke.