In the midst of a global pandemic, this year’s 420 is gonna be a weird one. And not in the usual way, either.
Stoners are being faced with a uniquely difficult conundrum on this holiest of holidaze due to new health concerns over consuming cannabis in light of the novel coronavirus. The uncertainty in the air is palpable.
But lots of cannabis connoisseurs are making the switch to ingesting rather than inhaling their drug of choice, with some trying edibles for the first time ever. That’s because medical professionals are recommending people stay away from smoking or vaping anything, including cannabis, as it might cause lung and airway damage that puts people at a higher risk for serious harm from the coronavirus.
Edibles are a smokeless alternative to getting high. But they’re also a very different beast
Still, health-conscious cannabis consumers have already responded swiftly. Marijuana Business Daily reported that around mid-March, there was a surge in edible sales (and, to a lesser extent, concentrates and topicals) in California, Colorado, and Washington — often at the expense of pre-rolled joints and flower.
Edibles are a smokeless alternative to getting high. But they’re also a very different beast. Even the most experienced cannabis aficionado should brush up on their edible knowledge to guarantee smooth sailing.
So whether you’re new to edibles or just less experienced with them, here are some important tips, facts, and safety measures to ensure your smokeless 420 is lit but not loony.
Consuming cannabis is fundamentally different from inhaling it
This one sounds pretty obvious but bears repeating and a more in-depth understanding.
Ingesting versus smoking or vaping cannabis causes vastly different experiences. That’s because they rely on two totally different body functions to break down the drug’s chemicals.
“Inhaling cannabis produces rapid onset and promotes a cerebral head-high since the cannabinoids go directly into the bloodstream,” explained Guy Rocourt, chief product officer at Papa & Barkley, a California-based cannabis company focused on products for medicinal use. Edibles, on the other hand, are processed through the gut first and produce more of a body-high.
The effects of inhaling cannabis are not only more immediate, but fade faster. Meanwhile, edibles take longer to hit (generally about 1-2 hours or more) with longer-lasting effects (generally 3-6 hours or more). Everybody’s digestive system reacts differently to edibles. All of that makes it much trickier to get a predictable, controlled high from edibles.
But it’s not impossible if you’re hyper-aware of the most important factor in determining whether you have an enjoyable versus face-melting edibles experience.
WATCH : How to bake CBD-infused chocolate chip cookies
Dosing, dosing, dosing
The key to a great trip is taking the right dosage for you. The problem is that this varies greatly from person to person and edible to edible, largely depending on the unique variable of your biology. Some have attempted to make generalized dosage charts, but the reality is far more complicated.
“Factors like consumption method, age, weight, frequency of cannabis use, sex, personality, strain of cannabis, current mood and existing mental health conditions all play a part in an individual’s reaction,” said Leanne Blommaert, the technical manager of product and process innovation at the Canadian branch of NSF International, a public health and safety organization that offers third-party certifications for a variety of goods, including CBD products.
“Finding the most efficacious levels of cannabinoids for your body is a personal journey,” added Rocourt.
Lauren Gockley, a chef and director of edibles at the cannabis-infused truffle company Coda Signature, related it to the process of figuring out what type of alcohol you like best and how much you can could handle when you first took a sip.
“You really need to put your scientist hat on and through trial and error and experimentation, become a conscious consumer when it comes to edibles,” said Gockley. “And that’s part of the fun.”
For several years, 10 milligrams of THC per serving has been a standard set by both the industry and many state regulators. However, for about as long, there’s been a microdosing movement evangelizing even smaller doses.
There’s a classic saying for edible dosage: Start low and go slow. But Gockley means really low, and really slow — like 2.5 milligrams at most the first time, then amping up to 5 milligrams next time if that felt good. Observe how each dosage affects the length and intensity of your high.
Whatever you do, do not take more because it feels like it “didn’t work,” even after two hours.
Gockley emphasized that the dosage that works for someone else is not a reliable indicator of what will work for you. Moreover, don’t expect your tolerance for inhaled cannabis to translate into how many edibles you can handle since the experience is so different.
Set the right conditions
There are a variety of other impactful variables to consider, like your physical and emotional state.
“Be aware of the choices you make before you even consume the cannabis: What did I eat? Did I consume alcohol? Am I hydrated?” she said. “For a consistent experience, you want your body to be at a kind of equilibrium, so it’s in optimal condition to absorb the cannabis.”
“Be aware of the choices you make before you even consume the cannabis: What did I eat? Did I consume alcohol? Am I hydrated?”
Again, exactly how those will change your experience depends on your individual biology and digestive system. So add those questions to your list of observations to keep track of while on your journey to figuring out how your body reacts to edibles.
Luckily for those staying at home, it’s recommended you take edibles in a safe space like the comfort of your own home, especially for first-timers or those unaccustomed to the experience. A tougher suggestion is to be around people who also make you feel comfortable and relaxed instead of doing it solo. So while practicing social distancing, that probably looks like a virtual 420 hang out.
Don’t trust strains to predict what your experience will be like
When it comes to flower, the indica and sativa categories are already suspect labels. But when it comes to edibles, they’re almost useless.
“You’re going to feel the effects of an indica, sativa, or hybrid more on the flower side, mostly because that’s where you retain the majority of your terpenes,” Gockley explained.
Terpenes are the compounds mainly responsible for a strain’s unique effects, flavors, and aromas. But in the process of making cannabis-infused edibles, you lose a lot of those terpenes.
You really can’t make declarative statements about the predictability of a consumer’s experience with edibles based on the already shaky assumptions of the strain binary.
The type of edible (and ingredients used) actually do make a difference
What matters more in an edible experience is the form in which you consume it, like lollipops versus chocolates, jollies versus gummies.
“When cannabis enters into the bloodstream quickly via an inhalable or sublingual product, it produces more of a head-high. A tincture, lollipop, or lozenge would be consumed sublingually,” said Rocourt.
Basically, anything you suck on instead of immediately swallowing tends to produce more of that head-high feeling. But other types of edibles like chocolates and gummies processed through the digestive tract tend to lead to that more sleepy, relaxed, “stoned” body-high.
The type of ingredients used in the edible also matters.
“A gummy versus a sublingual has a different makeup of ingredients. It could be water-based, sugar-based, or fat-based. And that will play a role in how it’s processed in your digestive tract,” said Gockley. So add those factors into your observations because, “it comes down to how your body digests fat or holds onto fat, or how much sugar is going to go into your bloodstream.”
That’s also why wholesome ingredients in your edibles matter as much as wholesome ingredients in your regular, everyday food. If you’re on that healthy ingredients wave when at the grocery, you should also be on it at the dispensary.
Papa & Barkley noticed that lots of edibles on the market (even those claiming vegan or organic labels) still relied heavily on unhealthy ingredients like sugar, tapioca starch, corn syrup, and a chemical distillation process.
“If you’re taking an edible to help you sleep through the night, for example, you don’t want it to be loaded with sugar,” he said.
Then there’s the world of edibles with high amounts of CBD compared to THC.
“Blending THC with CBD can help mediate the reaction of the THC. The two of those together really help control the psychoactive effects that the THC has on your system,” said Gockley. But once again, knowing what specific combination works best for you takes time and practice.
Generally, though, if you’re a beginner or prone to anxiety, Gockley suggests grabbing edibles formulated to have higher CBD content, but still have THC in them.
For those stockpiling, here are some storage tips
Storage feels particularly important to consider during the pandemic, when many of us are stockpiling cannabis along with our groceries (and toilet paper for some reason).
While the best practices for the longevity of an edible will vary depending on the type and ingredients, Gockley said cool, dry places are always best. Storing them in the fridge can help them retain potency for longer, but she doesn’t suggest it for more spongey and absorbent edibles like gummies and chocolates.
“There’s a level of humidity that can penetrate the product through a refrigerator, and those sometimes absorb whatever other flavors and aromas are in your fridge,” she said. “But, if you need to, storing in a refrigerator is perfectly fine. Just make sure that you wrap it really well and store it in an airtight container.”
If you refrigerate, give your edible about half an hour to an hour to reach room temperature so there’s less of a temperature shock. Going from an extremely cold to warm environment too quickly will create more unwanted moisture through condensation.
Generally speaking, the cannabis in an edible will not spoil or become toxic over time. But the other ingredients, like dairy, certainly can. So for optimal freshness and safety, be conscious of the “best by” date on the packaging when purchasing and consuming edibles.
There are other smokeless options for getting high
But, hey, maybe you wind up discovering that edibles just aren’t for you.
Luckily, there are lots of other smokeless ways of consuming cannabis. There are tinctures, capsules, and transdermal patches (but research on the efficacy of transdermals is still wanting and sometimes cracking open a capsule leads to some unpleasant sights).
Make sure you’re getting high-quality stuff from a reputable company. Many smokeless products, from oils to topicals, are a hotbed for pseudo-science bullshit that doesn’t actually deliver on the effect advertised.
There are still some safety concerns to consider with edibles
Unfortunately, despite appearing to be our safest option for COVID-19 related lung concerns, edibles don’t come with a wholesale, 100 percent safety guarantee.
In 2018, a 70-year-old man in Canada with a coronary artery disease reported severe chest pain after taking a cannabis-infused lollipop. Soon after he died at a hospital, where doctors said he also exhibited signs of extreme paranoia.
A lot of questions still need to be answered about exactly what role the edible played in his death (especially since the pain began just 30 minutes after consumption). But a study on the case published a year after by the Canadian Journal of Cardiology found that cannabis (edibles included) can lead to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, which raises the risk of a heart attack — especially for those with pre-existing heart conditions.
A 2019 Colorado study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine also suggested that a disproportionate number of cannabis-related emergency room visits came from edibles. To be clear, a majority of the visits were for patients who had inhaled cannabis. Inhaled cannabis is more popular than edibles and yet the edible visits were higher than expected, the study noted. The edible-related visits were also more likely to be for acute psychiatric symptoms (which ranges from just being too high to aggravating pre-existing mental illnesses), intoxication, and cardiovascular symptoms.
Andrew A. Monte, a University of Colorado associate professor who co-authored the paper, explained to Healthline that:
“There are more adverse drug events associated on a milligram per milligram basis of THC when it comes in form of edibles versus an inhaled cannabis… If 1,000 people smoked pot and 1,000 people at[e] (sic) the same dose in an edible, then more people would have more adverse drug events from edible cannabis.”
To reiterate, the reasons why edibles have a higher rate of these adverse outcomes is unclear. But the dosage problem likely plays a role since, as we’ve discussed, it’s easier to accidentally take too many edibles. Overall, the health risks associated with overconsumption of cannabis — whether smoked or ingested — are still far less deadly than other substances like alcohol.
But there are unique safety issues to consider with edibles, namely the potential that the wrong person (or even your pets) will eat them.
According to ABC, a 2015 Colorado study published in the New England Journal of Medicine discovered that, a year after edibles were legalized in the state, there was a 70 percent increase in calls to poison control centers about children accidentally exposed to cannabis. Overconsumption and accidental ingestion of edibles were also the main concerns in a 2020 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Where you get your edibles matters
That’s why Gockley is adamant about always keeping your edibles in the packaging.
“It’s child-resistant for a reason,” she said. “The packaging also has critical information about the product. Not just the potency, but also allergen warnings, ingredients, and other state-required warnings.”
Where you get your edibles matters. Know what to look for on the packaging and that you understand all the information to avoid any confusion.
Blommaert of NSF International advised consumers take the following into account:
Many of these products may be manufactured and marketed by small start-ups with little expertise in quality management, good manufacturing practices, and labeling requirements. Even established brands may have limited experience sourcing, authenticating, producing and packaging edibles.
Look for products that have been tested and certified by a third party. Look for the mark of an independent organization, rather than relying on quality assurance from the manufacturer alone.
Only purchase products that have clear indicators of THC and CBD levels on the packaging so you have a better idea of what to expect.
Check the dosage instructions carefully before ingesting the edible. Some outline THC and CBD levels by dose, but a single pack or even a single candy, gummy, or chocolate can contain multiple doses. (Third-party testing is meant guarantee consistency among the doses, too, but sadly not all brands get that extra check.)
While it’s more important than ever to consider the full scope of an edible’s health risks, coronavirus adds potential risk to just about everything. Even the guidelines for safely walking outside are changing as we learn more about COVID-19. Nobody can say for certain what’s safe and what’s not when it comes to cannabis and coronavirus.
But a good general rule of thumb is to consider whether the potential risks of an activity outweigh its benefits, then make your own personal decision. (Unless, that is, said activity poses a risk to the general public. In that case, it is your civic duty to not do it).
When done right, edibles can help you relax, blow off steam, and find some joy and laughter in these dark times. 420 celebrations will be different this year. But you can still stay safe, stay inside, and stay stoned.