The Beginner's Guide to Edibles
Weed edibles are a tricky business. If you’ve never eaten your way to a high before, you may be a little wary, even if you’ve smoked many a joint. Edibles, as the kids say, hit differently.
You’ve likely heard the “I ate too much of a tasty, chocolatey edible and freaked the eff out” stories, whether from friends, family members, or from New York Times opinion columnist Maureen Dowd’s much-discussed coverage of her Colorado weed-tourist trip.
Truth is, as more and more states have legalized and monetized the selling of cannabis, proper dosing labeling has been a major issue, but it’s getting better. Back in 2014, Dowd’s caramel-chocolate cannabis-infused candy bar did not provide advice on how much to eat; if she were to visit another legal weed state today, it would.
Whether you’re planning to be a pot tourist, or are a retail-state resident turning over a new leaf for fun (or to address a medical concern), using edibles doesn’t need to be scary, or feel like a roll of the dice. We spoke with three industry professionals to get all your newbie questions answered.
What exactly are edibles?
Edibles are THC-infused food products in some shape or form, such as baked goods, gummies, or chocolates. Josh Hawkes, a Denver-based budtender and weed podcaster for the show Two J’s Later, describes four categories of edibles: sativa-only, indica-only, hybrid (a mix of sativa and indica), and pure CBD.
What’s the difference between sativa and indica?
The terms describe two primary strains of cannabis. “I always think of sativa and indica as high and stoned [respectively],” says Hawkes. “Sativa is more functional, uplifting, and energetic. It’s a ‘head high,’ more creative and goofball inducing. Then I always tell people that ‘in the couch’ is a great way to remember the effects of indica. Much like the commercials of NyQuil where they take it in bed because that’s where you’re going to end up, people taking indica edibles definitely tend to be a bit more relaxed and sedated. It’s more of a body high.”
Let’s also take a moment to explain CBD, which is increasingly popular, THC-free, and widely available even in states without legal weed. A cannabis plant compound and one of the top most commonly occurring cannabinoids (along with THC), CBD is popular because it offers potential medical benefits in a non-psychoactive product—in other words, it will make you feel good physically, but won’t get you high.
What type of edible should I try if it’s my first time?
Pick the type of high (or relief) you’re seeking first, then an enticing product that will deliver that result. Cookies and brownies may be a mainstay in the industry, but if you want something a little different, Hawkes recommends gummies or chocolate bars because they’re not as intimidating. “There are a lot of people who already take gummy vitamins or supplements,” says Hawkes. “And who doesn’t enjoy chocolate?”
Any unusual ones, or favorites, to recommend?
Dez Kane, another Denver-based budtender, is particularly fond of the cannabis stroopwafel. She says the edible version of the traditional Dutch treat is basically like the outside of a waffle cone, but in a caramel-drenched circular shape. “It has like no hashy taste whatsoever. You can even smell them and they’re kind of a cinnamony caramel. They’re just excellent.”
Hawkes says he thinks the most unusual (and probably his favorite) edible on the market right now is beef jerky, made from bison meat. “It’s thick-cut strips of sweet-and-spicy- or teriyaki-flavored goodness. The flavor isn’t overpowering, and you can still taste the bison meat,” he says. “As far as edibles go, it’s pretty much the only savory option that’s out there. Everything else is sugar-based.”
I went to the dispensary, purchased some edibles and I’m ready to give this a try. Now what?
Kane and Hawkes both share the same advice: go low and slow.
“10mg is considered a single serving for an adult. For somebody who’s never had an edible before, you should start with less,” advises Dr. Margaret Gedde, a physician who provides medical marijuana services through Vibrant Health Clinic in Colorado Springs. “5mg is a reasonable first-time starting dose. […] Once that 5mg kicks in, it will not be overwhelming.” (It’s worth noting that states differ on their dosing recommendations. In Colorado, “The state has recommended a 10mg dose as a recreational dose, so all edibles come in either 10, 10mg pieces, or one chunk with 10 scored bricks,” explains Hawkes. California and Washington are the same, at 10mg, but Oregon has set a 5mg THC per serving maximum.)
After that first dose, wait at least an hour, or an hour and a half, says Dr. Gedde, to figure out if you feel anything and what you feel. If it does kick in, you can then decide whether to ingest more or not. She adds that an edible high lasts longer than an inhaled high, so know that it won’t just wear off quickly.
It’s really important, Dr. Gedde adds, to “think about the numbers.” In other words, know how many milligrams of THC is in each product you buy, and know whether you need to cut it into pieces or if you can eat the whole thing. Note how much you start with, how much time you’re waiting, and, if you decide to add, how much you’re adding. Tracking this process during your first few times will help you reach a more consistent high later on (and make purchasing products easier, too).
“Work up to that feeling that you’re looking for, and just realize that it does take time,” says Hawkes (who typically recommends that new users wait two hours after the first dose). “It’s not like smoking where you get instant gratification.”
Why is figuring out the correct dose of edibles so tricky?
All the ways of getting cannabis into the body can be separated into two categories, says Dr. Gedde. The first group, which is where edibles fall, metabolizes through the liver. The second group, which encompasses everything else (vaporizing/smoking/rubbing in salves to the skin/dissolving under the tongue), bypasses the liver and heads straight to the bloodstream.
When THC from the second group hits your bloodstream, you feel the high within minutes—and can adjust accordingly.
But liver processing takes time. “Timing, just as a general thing, is going to be longer than just about any other common medication you might take,” explains Dr. Gedde. “If you take an Ibuprofen, or Aspirin, it will kick in in like 20 minutes or so. Right off the bat, the cannabinoid metabolism is much slower,” she explains. “It usually takes roughly an hour to take effect. Some medications are slow like that but usually people expect to feel the effect quicker, so knowing that it’s just longer than most things in general is important.”
Dr. Gedde adds that some individuals also just have slower livers, and there’s another consideration as well: what you’ve eaten, or not eaten, recently. Somewhat counterintuitively, your edibles may be more effective if you take them on a somewhat full stomach. “Cannabis does absorb better with some food along with it because it gives the body something to work with to digest,” she says. “Otherwise it’s kind of hard to digest the cannabis oil. If a person takes a concentrated dose, or takes a dose in a very small form, without any food, like if a person swallows a capsule just with water, it doesn’t absorb as well, so it might not start to kick in until after a person eats, which could be hours later. So they’ll be like, ‘Nothing happened. But then I ate later and all of a sudden I was stoned.’”
On the other side, she says, understandably, if you take an edible with a large meal like Thanksgiving dinner, everything is slowed down. “The whole thing will take longer to kick in and longer to wear off.”
(Edibles are often a top choice for those taking cannabis for medical reasons because of this longer-lasting effect. They can offer better daily coverage, for instance, for someone treating or preventing chronic pain.)
To use a running analogy, edibles are a marathon, not a sprint, so Kane emphasizes: “Make sure you’re in a safe place, and make sure you’re paying attention to what your body is doing.” (And, sure, it can be tricky, but the budtender adds with a laugh, “have fun!”)
Is it OK to wash down my Friday night edible with an IPA (or a glass of Cab)?
“It’s not something that I would recommend,” says Hawkes. “I don’t typically mix marijuana and alcohol together. Some people do it. Some people have a great time with it. An IPA—you’re definitely going to feel the effects of the IPA well before you feel the effects of the marijuana.”
“A person can feel really, really bad if they’ve gotten too much of an edible cannabis dose, but there is no toxicity to the organs. There’s no need to go to the emergency room.”
A friend gave me some of her homemade pot brownies. Are they OK for me to eat?
“Be really cautious,” says Dr. Gedde, when you’re a newbie and it comes to homemade edibles, because of the lack of standardization and testing. You really have no idea what your friend used or how much, whereas when it comes to purchased items, “Within certain limits, you can pretty much rely on a label.”
Holy crap, I think I ate too much of my edible. What should I do?
“To anybody who feels that they are too high... have a glass of water and take a nap,” Hawkes suggests, because being too high is different than being too drunk. “We’ve all been too drunk or had too much to drink and we try to solve that with a cheeseburger and a soda or something. Well, with THC, if you intake more fat content, you’re gonna just send yourself into overdrive.”
Kane’s advice? “Find a mellow place to hang out, because it will wear off.”
Dr. Gedde agrees. “Wait it off. Drink water if you can. Definitely don’t combine with alcohol. That will make it all worse.” And be reassured that “there’s no danger,” she adds. “A person can feel really, really bad if they’ve gotten too much of an edible cannabis dose, but there is no toxicity to the organs. There’s no need to go to the emergency room.”
Seriously? All I can do is suffer through it?
If you do feel really terrible, there’s one more option Dr. Gedde offers: taking CBD to counteract the THC.
“CBD, of course, is the one that’s famous for not having the psychoactive effect. People have moved across state lines to get it for their kids. Part of what it does, is it actually is able to block the THC psychoactivity if you take them together. The CBD is able to sit on the same receptor on the brain that causes the psychoactivity and it shields it. […] Puffing on a CBD vaporizer, or liquid or tincture under the tongue, could get something in quickly and would help to balance that out.”
You can buy CBD through your local dispensary, but Dr. Gedde says you can also purchase it on many sites through mail order (including Amazon) and in health food stores, because CBD is an over-the-counter hemp crop product that’s grown in open fields and isn’t as restricted as THC. (It’s key, she says, for instance, for those taking edible THC for pain relief so they can get the body effect without being stoned all the time.)
It’s an easy way to “hack your high,” Dr. Gedde says with a laugh.
In the wake of the passage of the 2018 Farm Act, CBD is no longer considered a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance as far an congress is concerned—so even though the Drug Enforcement Agency still classifies it as such, it “can be purchased and consumed in all 50 states as long as it is grown in accordance with the Act,” according to CBD industry information resource CBD Central. Also accounting to CBD Central, if a product is marketed to have “therapeutic benefits or as a dietary supplement” it must be reviewed and approved by the Food & Drug Administration, so you’ll want to research the companies making and selling you the stuff.
This story was originally published in December 2017 and updated Nov. 24, 2020 with updated information on the legal status of CBD.