Of all the compounds found in the cannabis plant, THC is the main event. The term “marijuana” refers to cannabis products with considerable concentrations of THC and is still the subject of much legal debate in the U.S. and beyond.
There are a lot of questions you might want answered, but one is more frequently asked: how long does THC stay in your system? Maybe you’re worried about blood tests, saliva tests, or hair tests and are hoping to learn more about detection time.
There’s no quick answer to how long THC stays in the body, with many variables at play. However, this article will address all the key concepts that come with the territory and offer some detox tips if you’re looking to take a different approach to cannabis use.
What is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main active compound found in the cannabis plant. The compound triggers psychoactive effects when cannabis is consumed, whether through smoking, edible consumption, or other intake methods.
The compound has been studied for hundreds of years, but research ramped up in the 20th century as the scientific community detected possible therapeutic benefits. Meanwhile, the recreational use of THC products has become mainstream with the legalization of commercial sales in many states.
THC is found in varying concentrations depending on the strain of cannabis in question, plus the production methods used to infuse it into edibles, capsules, or other consumables. It’s one of more than 100 cannabinoids found in the plant, though many cannabis products are developed to exclude THC in part or fully.
How does THC impact the body?
THC works by interacting with receptors in the central nervous system, mainly CB1 receptors, which are found in the endogenous cannabinoid system of the body. The compound reacts less strongly with CB2 receptors, which are expressed in the peripheral nervous system and other cells throughout the body.
Most notably, potent THC concentrations modulates our sensory faculties, changing how we perceive inputs, including sight, sound, taste, and more. It may also impact cognition and short-term memory, in addition to secondary effects on respiration, appetite, and motor skills.
These effects are all associated with the feeling of being “high” after consuming THC, and many users find the sensations to be pleasurable or therapeutic for different reasons. Users report relaxation, stimulation, heightened awareness, or calming effects from THC, though unwanted effects like paranoia or dizziness may also occur when consuming too much.
As more research on THC is conducted, we start to see more clearly how its benefits can be harnessed while mitigating downsides with proper administration methods.
How does the body process THC?
To understand how the body processes THC, we turn first to the endocannabinoid system or ECS. The ECS represents a vast neurological network throughout the body, spanning neurotransmitters, chemical receptors, and cells in the brain and organs.*
Because the ECS regulates everything from mood and movement to memory, immune responses, and emotional processing, it’s hard to summarize the impact of THC in short order. However, studies show that THC affects many ECS receptors, explaining users’ highly varied responses and experiences.*
While the ECS is the target of THC, the compound is metabolized similarly to other drugs, medications, and even food. When smoked, THC is rapidly absorbed in the blood and brain, while edible THC must first go through the digestive system. However, first-pass metabolic changes happen mainly in the liver, where most of our enzymes are activated in response to THC.*
THC metabolization happens through oxidation and hydroxylation, meaning that enzymes add oxygen and hydrogen molecules to the chemical structure. This first creates the psychoactive effects of 11-OH-THC, which becomes THC-COOH before being eliminated via urine or feces.
This whole process happens rather quickly—anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours, depending on the method of administration and other biological factors. This explains why the typical THC high doesn’t last for more than a few hours before the user returns to baseline. The THC delivery method plays a major factor is this duration.
How long does THC stay in your system?
Even after the acute effects of THC have worn off, the compound remains in the system for far longer than a day. It takes an average of five days for the body to eliminate 80 to 90 percent of THC, though the lingering ten percent can stay in tissues for weeks or even months.*
This means that detoxing fully from THC and moving out of the detection window can take longer than you might expect, and explains why you might need a structured plan to remove THC completely.
We’ll touch on some tips and tricks shortly, but for now, recognize the need to commit to a long-term strategy if your goal is to move away from THC entirely.
What factors impact how long THC stays in your system?
Many variables will affect how long THC stays in the system of a cannabis user, which means we all have different timelines for a THC detox. Let’s touch on the main three factors determining how long THC stays in the body, which will help you develop a plan.
The human metabolism is extremely complex, comprising the systems of respiration, circulation, physical fitness, digestion, and more. In short, it’s the summary of reactions that occur in the body to process, filter, and utilize the organic material we consume.
In the case of THC, metabolic reactions take place mainly in the liver, relying on the healthy function of enzymes and the organ’s ability to break down components into excretable forms.*
Ideally, the liver will be able to handle reasonable servings of THC with ease, as the compound does not add significant stress to the system.
However, those with weakened liver function may have more trouble processing metabolites effectively, causing a longer reaction and lingering metabolites that may be stored in tissue throughout the body. On the other hand, those who metabolize THC more quickly may have shorter a length of time during which THC is in their system.*
What you eat greatly affects how THC is initially absorbed and how you experience its effects. The compound is well known as “fat-soluble,” meaning that moderate fat intake can increase the acute effects of the compound when first ingested.*
The caveat here is that THC metabolites cling to fat long after effects have worn off, meaning that individuals carrying more fat tissue may need to wait longer to achieve a complete detox.
On the flip side, healthy dietary fat in moderate amounts is not something to fear, even if your goal is a full THC detox. Remember this as you craft your detox strategy and aim to keep a balanced diet and lifestyle.
Serving and Frequency
Unsurprisingly, the amount of THC you consume and the frequency of use will impact how long the compound stays in your system before it’s fully flushed out. Smoking cannabis once or twice will not cause a heavy buildup of THC metabolites in the system, while daily use for months or years will tell a different story on a urine test.*
Knowing this, it’s hard to say exactly how long it will take to cleanse your body of THC, and timelines will vary based on the many factors discussed previously. While infrequent users may need a few weeks to cleanse, long-term daily users might need several months.*
As common sense suggests, starting your detox sooner than later is best if you anticipate a drug test on the horizon or are concerned about THC levels for other reasons. This is doubly true for heavy users or chronic users.
Also, keep in mind that different drug screens and testing methods detect THC with varying accuracy and durations. A urine test might detect cannabis consumption within a month of prior use, while a hair strand can show THC for three months or more. Most workplaces use urine drug tests, but this can vary.*
Is it possible to improve your body’s ability to metabolize THC?
Metabolic efficiency is hard to optimize, especially with so many factors beyond our control. Still, it’s possible to improve your body’s ability to metabolize THC and eventually clear it from your system.
Firstly, focus on increasing the amount of energy you expend on a daily basis. This can be done through focused exercise sessions or simply walking and moving more throughout the day. Even standing up more often may increase your metabolic rate.*
Next, optimize your diet with nutritious foods and aim for a slight caloric deficit if you’re carrying extra body fat. Crash diets are never a good idea, but a smart and steady fat-loss plan can work wonders for your overall health and THC detox.
Finally, focus on increasing your water intake and overall hydration, and consider adding metabolic-boosting ingredients like lemon, turmeric, or apple cider vinegar. These superfoods may increase your body’s ability to burn fat.*
What are some tips for a THC detox?
With the basics of THC detox out of the way, how should you approach your cannabis regimen without introducing more THC to the system? Here are some product recommendations to make your experience more smooth and enjoyable.
Full spectrum CBD
While full spectrum CBD contains trace amounts of THC, there isn’t enough of the compound to set you back on your detox goals. CBD is a great way to switch away from THC, and full spectrum products like our neuro water soluble are the perfect off-ramp.*
This blend contains high-quality hemp extract with calming CBG and ingredients like black pepper and juniper for enhanced focus.* If you want to reduce your THC intake even further, our broad spectrum neuro is also available.*
Many of us enjoy the benefits of THC but want simply want to take a break from smoking cannabis. Give your lungs a break and simplify your routine with edible delta-9 THC products from our Beyond line of products.
Here you’ll find more convenient, flexible ways to enjoy THC when you want and give your body a more balanced experience with plant-rich hemp compounds.* This full spectrum gummy blend offers the best of THC with added cannabinoids, keeping you in control of your intake moving forward. For even more versatility, check out this water soluble option with an emphasis on CBG.*
The bottom line
For some, THC is a part of the daily routine and only enhances your experience in work and life. For others, it may be time to take a break from smoking or start to phase out THC for the short or long term.
Our view at Sunmed is that an informed, science-backed approach is always the right one. That’s what we recommend for your cannabis journey, no matter where you want to go next.