Disclaimer: Keep out of reach of children. For use only by adults 21 years of age and older.
Cannabis edibles are nothing new. You’ve likely seen them referenced in many TV shows and movies - the infamous cannabis brownie. If you asked people who don’t smoke cannabis to name two ways of consuming the plant, many of them would surely say smoking and eating cannabis edibles.
But what are cannabis edibles, exactly? How are they made? Can you just toss a bag of cannabis into your brownie batter? (Hint: you can’t, no matter what your friend says.) And how do you dose an edible? How long should you wait before eating more?
Rest assured, we’ve got all the answers in this week’s WeEdu lesson: everything you need to know about edibles!
What Is An Edible?
“Edible” literally means something which can be eaten, though it’s typically used as an adjective instead of a noun. However, in the cannabis world, “edible” is shorthand for a cannabis edible: any food or beverage item that has been infused with cannabis. Yes, there’s the familiar cannabis brownie, but there’s so much more than that. Dispensaries carry all types of edibles, including cookies, potato chips, pretzels, candy, and even pizza sauce! There’s more than just food, too; you can even get beverages like tea, juice, lemonade, and coffee that come infused with cannabis!
Dispensaries offer a range of different types of food and drink to choose from, but they also offer plenty of options when it comes to balancing THC and CBD. Some edibles are purely THC, some are purely CBD, and still others are a mix. You can get THC to CBD ratios that come in varying concentration ratios like 1:1, 1:2, 2:1, and so on.
There are several pros and cons to using edibles as a consumption method. The biggest benefit of oral consumption over smoking is that edibles are safer for your throat, lungs, and airways. Edibles also prevent exposure to chemical byproducts like carbon monoxide, which is present in smoke. The biggest risk when it comes to edibles is accidentally taking too much due to the delayed onset of effects, which is why proper dosing and education are so important.
How Are Edibles Made?
Infusion is an important aspect of making cannabis edibles. You can’t just dump an ounce of cannabis flower directly into some cookie dough or put it on a sandwich. That would taste disgusting, it would not let you feel the effects of your cannabis, and it would be a huge waste of money.
To make a cannabis edible work, you need to use activated cannabinoids that your body can process. Cannabinoids are activated by heat, which is why cannabis is so frequently smoked or vaporized. But that doesn’t mean you should just light your cannabis flower on fire if you’re trying to make edibles.
The easiest way to activate the cannabinoids in your cannabis flower, like THC and CBD, is through a process called decarboxylation, or “decarbing” for short. Decarbing means that you use a chemical reaction (in this case heat) to remove a carboxyl group from a molecule, forming a chemically unique new molecule. During the decarboxylation process for cannabis, heat transforms inactive THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) into active, psychotropic THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) - the compound in cannabis that makes you feel stoned. The THC is then extracted, typically by heating the decarbed flower in a fat like butter, coconut oil, or olive oil. THC bonds easily with fats, which is why butter is often the preferred starting point for many people making edibles at home. Once the THC has been absorbed by the fatty oil or butter, any residual plant matter is strained out and discarded. You’re left with butter or oil that’s rich in THC. Once it cools, you can use this butter to make baked goods or simply apply it to bread and eat it on a sandwich.
You can also use cannabis extracts, like Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), instead of decarbing your own flower. RSO works for edibles because the cannabinoids in the extract have been decarbed while cooking off the solvent used for extraction. You’ll need to be careful, though, as homemade cannabis butter and other edibles do not have measured THC dosages. As you can see, it’s also a bit of a process to make your own edibles. It can absolutely be done at home, but it’s much easier to just buy edibles that have already been made.
When you purchase cannabis edibles from a dispensary, you’re buying food or a drink that’s already been infused with activated THC and tested for purity as well as cannabinoid content. Some products may be made with decarbed flower cooked in butter or oil as described above, while other products may use actual cannabis extracts. No matter which product you pick up from the dispensary, there’s nothing you need to do at home except eat or drink the edible you purchased - just make sure that you don’t consume too much! (More on that shortly.)
What Happens When You Eat Edibles?
Eating cannabis is very different from smoking it. When you smoke or vape cannabis, the THC is rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream and is therefore felt almost instantly. But when you eat cannabis, the edible has to be broken down by your digestive tract just like any other piece of food. After your body has digested the edible, the THC is converted to 11-hydroxy-THC in your liver. The whole process of digestion, absorption, and conversion can take upwards of an hour, though some experts caution that it’s best to wait up to two hours if you’re new to cannabis edibles just to play it safe.
The effects take longer to kick in when you eat cannabis (compared to smoking or vaping), but they will also last a whole lot longer. For most people, the effects of smoked or vaporized cannabis begin to wear off after approximately one to four hours, depending on a consumer’s tolerance. But the effects of edible cannabis can last upwards of four to six hours, and they’re typically felt much stronger than the effects of smoked cannabis.
When dosed properly, edibles can be a fun way to consume cannabis. But it’s important that you dose your edibles properly. Eating too much cannabis can cause you to feel sick, and the intense high can be very unpleasant and may feel overwhelming. Medical experts warn that ingesting too much edible THC may cause you to feel anxious and act erratically; some individuals even experience temporary dissociation and psychosis-like symptoms until the edibles wear off. Don’t let that scare you away from trying edibles, but take it as a word of caution on how important it is to understand proper edible dosing.
How Do You Dose An Edible?
Talk To Your Budtender
Budtenders are knowledgeable sources of information on any edible that the dispensary sells. If you ever have questions related to cannabis, you should always feel comfortable asking your budtender. In fact, many budtenders actually prefer having customers ask them questions rather than making uninformed decisions. Some questions you may want to ask your budtender include:
- “I’m new to cannabis edibles. What’s a safe starting dose, and how long should I wait?”
- “How strong is the entire package?”
- “What does this brand consider to be a single serving?”
- “How much THC is in a single serving? Will that be too much for a newcomer like me?”
Your budtender will be familiar with each product that’s in stock, and even if they haven’t tried that particular product, your budtender will know how to help you read the package. Which brings us to our next recommendation...
Always Read The Label
When you buy cannabis edibles from a dispensary, they’re required to come with lab results and accurate cannabinoid concentrations for the package as well as for individual servings. Regulations on legal cannabis put strict limits on how much THC can be in a package of cannabis edibles. For example, in the State of California, edibles may not exceed 100 mg of THC for the entire package, and individual doses must be either separated or clearly marked in increments of no more than 10 mg per serving. Some products offer lower THC concentrations designed for those new to edibles, meaning a single serving may be 5 mg of THC or less.
No matter what you think you know about edibles, you should always read the label and talk to a budtender at your dispensary if you’re unsure about how much of that product is a single serving.
Don’t Take Edibles On An Empty Stomach
Before you eat any cannabis edibles, it’s imperative that you take care of your body’s need for food and water. Eating cannabis on an empty stomach could make you feel unwell, and it may also cause you to feel more intense effects from the cannabis at a quicker onset.
Make sure you’ve eaten a healthy meal and be sure to drink plenty of water. It’s easy to forget to stay hydrated when you feel like you’re melted to the couch, but if you don’t drink enough water you may feel sick and could even get dehydrated. You should also avoid alcohol, as this may increase the effects of your edible while also causing dehydration.
Stay At Home And Get Comfortable
If you’re new to edible cannabis, don’t try to eat a cannabis cookie and go to the mall. You probably won’t feel too motivated to do much but relax once the edible kicks in, and you definitely will not be able to drive. Stay in, put on your pajamas, and spin some records or watch your favorite movie. Once you feel the full body effects of the edible, you’ll be glad that you’ve got a couch or bed nearby to curl up on.
Start Low And Slow
Whether you’re a cannabis smoker who’s new to edibles or you’re a newcomer to cannabis altogether, it’s important to start with a low dose. Some experts recommend that beginners should try 5 mg or less to start with - for context, that’s half of a cookie if the package says they’re 10 mg of THC per cookie. Find out how much a single serving of your product is and start with no more than half of the recommended serving.
Wait an appropriate period of time before consuming more. As a general guideline, it’s best to wait one to two hours for your body to digest the edible. If you started with 5 mg of THC and you’re still not feeling anything after two hours, you may want to try another small increment of 3-5 mg or less of THC, then wait another hour or two to see how it affects you.
Trying edibles for the first time requires a bit of trial and error. It’s important to remember that you can always eat more, but you can never eat less once an edible has gone down the hatch. Stick with very low doses of THC and give yourself plenty of time before deciding, “I’m not feeling anything yet.”
Remember That It Will Wear Off
If you’ve accidentally eaten too much cannabis, it’s important to remember that you’re not going crazy or experiencing any other crisis: you’re just really intoxicated. You’re feeling the effects of the edible, and they will wear off eventually. Unless you have a pre-existing heart condition or you’re experiencing continuous vomiting/diarrhea, you probably don’t need to go to the hospital - in fact, if you’re an otherwise healthy individual, there isn’t really much that a doctor can do for you to make you less high. There’s no magic antidote; a doctor would simply monitor your condition and wait for the effects to wear off, just like you would be doing at home.
If you think you need medical help then by all means seek help. But if you’re just panicking from the effects of the edible, the most important thing is to try and remain calm. There’s never been a fatal overdose on cannabis, so that cookie you ate is definitely not going to be the first. Have a snack (not a medicated snack - in fact, avoid any more cannabis for the night altogether), drink enough water, and put on something relaxing like your favorite album or movie. If you’re still feeling anxious, try laying down for a nap.
Be Safe And Have Fun
Following these steps will help reduce the risk of having a negative experience. Don’t let anyone’s anecdotal story scare you away from trying edibles - when dosed properly, they can be a lot of fun!
Ready to try cannabis edibles? Now you’ll know how to dose your edibles and what questions to ask your budtender. Stay tuned for our next WeEdu lesson, where we’ll be discussing cannabis sublinguals and suppositories!
- Best types of edibles - High Times
- Edibles healthier than smoking - Newsweek
- Difference between THC and THCA
- Decarboxylation - High Times
- Info on RSO
- Digestion and absorption - The Atlantic
- Smoking weed vs. eating weed
- Effects of edibles - Huffington Post
- California dosing regulations for edibles
- Tips on dosing - Leafly
- Weed THC calculator