With all the options available to medical marijuana patients today, many are choosing to explore methods of medicating beyond the traditional pipe or paper. Marijuana infused products, commonly referred to as edibles, provide another option to patients who cannot, or choose not to smoke their cannabis. Edibles come in many different varieties including brownies, candy, chocolate bars, cookies, drinks, pills, snacks, spreads and more. There are even some companies that offer a “medicated” meals-on-wheels service for patients that cannot physically leave the house.
Cannabis consumed orally enters the blood stream after being digested or broken down in the stomach and is absorbed in the intestines. Eating infused products is a healthier alternative to inhaling cannabis smoke because there is no exposure to carbon, tar, carcinogens, etc…
Some patients, such as those on supplemental oxygen, turn to cannabis infused edibles when smoking is no longer an option. For patients with eating and digestive disorders, edibles testing high in cannabidiol (CBD) are not only a great source of nausea-reducing medicine, but also a vital source of essential nutrients and calories. The same is true for cancer patients suffering from nausea caused by their treatments, and expecting mothers dealing with hyperemesis (morning sickness). Additionally, many patients choose edibles as their preferred method of consumption because they are a more discreet way to medicate, while others simply prefer the longevity of effects when ingesting cannabis compared to the fast-acting effects of smoking.
First-time medical marijuana patients typically start with a low dose of 10-15mg active cannabinoids (THC, CBD, etc.). However, only you can determine what dosage works best for you. This often requires experimenting with different potencies and types of edibles. It’s going to be a learning process through trial and error. Keep a journal and record your experiences with different products, dosages, and try to distinguish what ratio of cannabinoids in what dosage yields the maximum therapeutic effect for your specific ailment / health condition.
Different Types of Edibles
Though there are untold varieties of edibles available on the market today, infused edibles can all be split into three basic categories: those geared towards gastrointestinal uptake (digested through stomach), those geared towards oral uptake (through saliva), and a few that fit into a hybrid category that targets both.
The most common edibles are geared towards gastrointestinal absorption. Any edible where the cannabinoids are absorbed through the stomach falls into this category; this includes brownies, cookies, pill capsules, snacks and many more food-types. These edibles tend to take longer to activate within the body (sometimes as long as two hours), but produce a longer-lasting effect (up to eight hours of relief).
On the other hand, edibles geared towards oral uptake can affect a patient almost immediately but tend to wear off faster (within two to three hours). Edibles that you hold in your mouth for an extended period of time like suckers, lozenges, and tinctures fall into this category.
Some items, such as infused drinks and chocolate bars fall into a hybrid category because they are designed to be absorbed in both the mouth and the stomach. These type of edibles are a middle ground between oral and intestinal absorption, offering fast-acting relief (patients usually feel this type of edible within a half hour) that can last for four hours or more.
The Effects of Edibles
Because most edibles are exposed to some kind of heat during the cooking process, many of the inactive cannabinoids such as THCA and CBDA, are converted to THC, CBD, and CBN. This heating process, known as decarboxylation, as well as the high levels of THC found in edibles, work together to create an ideal treatment for many disorders / health conditions including chronic pain, muscle inflammation and spasms, autoimmune disorders, nervous system disorders, insomnia, and nausea — provided the patient is well enough to ingest the medication. The acid forms of THC and CBD (eg. THCA and CBDA) are highly beneficial and provide their own medicinal benefits, so finding infused edible products that are not completely decarboxylated is preferred.
While anyone can enjoy the benefits of edibles, patients suffering from Crohn’s Disease, an autoimmune disorder of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract that affects as many as 700,000 Americans, find this method of medicating extremely beneficial. This is because Crohn’s Disease occurs in the GI tract, precisely where edibles distribute useful active and inactive cannabinoids at the root of the problem.
Ingesting cannabis will affect you different than smoking the plant. However, exactly what effect edibles will have on you depends on several factors: the type and potency of the edibles you are using, your tolerance, your body chemistry, and even how much you’ve had to eat. Because the effects of eating an edible differ greatly from the effects of smoking, many first time users are caught off guard by the stronger potency and long-lasting effects.
Despite CBD’s anxiety-relieving properties, many people experience a heightened sense of anxiety and paranoia when they initially ingest an edible. This is caused by various factors, but tends to mostly deal with fact that most people are not used to ingesting cannabis yet and have feelings of uncertainty, which leads to anxiety and paranoia. This seems to fade away the more you eat them, and get used to the effects.
When you smoke marijuana you only receive a small amount of the cannabinoids in each draw, although the effects will be felt instantly. This is unlike eating edibles which tend to hit you much more slowly. In fact, edibles take roughly 30 minutes to 1 hour to reach maximum effect, so be sure to allow adequate time before ingesting more. Eating infused treats tends to release the effects in waves as the cannabinoids are processed by the stomach and digested over a 2-6 hour period.
When selecting an edible, it is very important to pay attention to the potency of the product. This will help you determine how much of the product to eat, as many edibles are designed to be split into multiple doses. However, the exact potency of an edible can be tough for a patient to determine because the strength of an edible depends on the potency of the product used to infuse it.
“10-15mg of active cannabinoids is a good starting point for medical marijuana patients that are ingesting cannabis for the first time.”
Just like the old saying goes, you get out of it what you put into it, and the same is true for edibles. For example, a candy bar that contains five grams of shake or poor quality bud is not necessarily going to be stronger than one that has two grams of primo bud. Some manufacturers list their products in strengths such as 10x, 20x etc. Although these numbers help a bit with dosages (typically 5X per dosage, so 20X is 3-4 doses) it is impossible to determine exactly how much cannabis is in one of these products without asking. Other edible companies label their products with the amount of cannabis that is infused in grams. The problem with this, is that unless you know how potent that gram of marijuana was, there is no way for you to tell how potent the edible will be. The same goes for manufacturers who test their products for total cannabinoid content and list the number in milligrams (mg). These numbers can be misleading because they completely disregard the individual bioactive compounds in the plant (THC-A, THCV, CBD, CBN, CBG, etc).
10-15mg of active cannabinoids (THC, CBD, etc.) is typically a good starting point for medical marijuana patients that are ingesting cannabis for the first time. 30-100mg of active cannabinoids is considered a daily dose by most patients who consume cannabis regularly, although it will vary per individual. Only you and your caregiver can determine what dosage works best for you. Finding your ideal ratio of cannabinoids often requires experimenting with different potencies and types of infused edibles while tracking your progress in a journal.
When purchasing infused products, look for edibles that are lab tested, use quality ingredients, and have proper labels on the product’s packaging (including recommended dosage). Use the cannabinoid content numbers on the packaging as a rough guideline to determine your preferred dose. You may want to ask if the product is lab tested if you do not see any obvious testing data, although chances are the answer will be “what you see, is what you get.” Never hesitate to ask your budtender about a specific product, it’s their job to be educated on the subject and help you navigate through their wide selection of cannabis-infused products. They should be happy to give you advice on edibles as they interact with a lot of patients on a daily basis giving them the ability to hear feedback from people in similar situations as yourself.
Potential Health Risks
Edible medical cannabis is safe and will not cause any long-term toxicity. However, you may want to note that although edibles companies are supposed to operate out of commercial kitchens, following all health and safety regulations, there is no entity currently in place to assure compliance with these regulations. Unfortunately, because there is no regulation system in place to oversee edible or infused products production, patients must exercise caution when purchasing edibles. Most states require nothing more than a commercial cooking license to sell to a dispensary.
In addition, the quality of the cannabis that is used to infuse dispensary-bought edibles is nearly impossible to determine. Some companies use edibles as a way to dispose of marijuana that otherwise couldn’t be sold; like buds heavily laden with spider mites or mold. Because of this, it is very important to get your edibles from a trusted source that lab tests their products for potency, contaminants, and preferably terpenoid content.
Patients with severe allergies are advised to use extreme caution when selecting edibles, as the kitchen could be contaminated with trace amounts of nuts, gluten, lactose, or even pet dander.