Patients looking for an alternative to smoking or vaping might find cannabis edibles are a better option. Here is some important information about consuming cannabis medicine as food.
What is Indica Cannabis
What are cannabis edibles?
Foods or beverages infused with any form of cannabis—plant material, oils, extracts or distillates—are classified as cannabis edibles by Health Canada[CT1]. Many people think of candies or baked goods, but cannabis edibles can come in almost any form [CT2] and offer a convenient alternative to smoking or vaping for patients.
All legal cannabis edibles are overseen by Health Canada and adhere to strict federal standards for testing and labelling. Canadians can access legal edibles through government-approved locations, including Medical Cannabis by Shoppers for registered medical patients.
To identify legal cannabis edibles, look for
The yellow Health Warning Label issued by Health Canada in both English and French
The red and black standardized cannabis symbol (like a stop sign with a cannabis leaf and “THC” lettering) in the package’s upper-left corner.
An excise stamp. Every province and territory has its own cannabis excise stamp affixed to cannabis edibles containing more than 0.3% THC content.
Beyond labelling, legal products must have less than 10 mg THC per package, limited caffeine levels (such as those naturally occurring in chocolate), and no added alcohol.
Types of cannabis edibles
There’s almost no limit to the kinds of foods or drinks that can be infused with cannabis, and the variety of commercially-made products continues to grow. Here are of some of the types of cannabis edibles available to patients:
Foods: In Canada, chocolates and gummies still dominate the food category, such as Edison Bytes Milk Chocolate Truffles and Foray Peach Mango Soft Chews Edibles. However, new and novel options are becoming more readily available, including mints, cookies and caramels.
Beverages: Cannabis-infused teas, such as Happy Hibiscus Maté Whole Leaf Infused Tea from The Green Organic Dutchman, might appeal to patients avoiding excess sugar or those who like a cup of tea to begin or end their day. Sweeter drinks are also available, such as cannabis-infused sodas, juices, and lightly sweetened sparkling waters. Because there are a large number of blood vessels in the mouth to absorb cannabinoids before they reach the intestinal tract, onset for beverages can be faster than with cannabis foods. You may feel the effects within 15 minutes, especially if you sip slowly. Otherwise, onset will take about one hour to 90 minutes, and lasts six to nine hours.
Dissolvable powders: These innovative, flavourless powders, such as Ripple from The Green Organic Dutchman, can be mixed into almost any food or drink—even a glass of water. The effects of powders are also felt more quickly [CT9] than with other cannabis edibles: about 15 minutes for onset and can last up to four hours. .
Oils: Maybe not technically a cannabis edible, oils work the same way by delivering cannabis medicine via ingestion. Titrated or built-in droppers makes it easy to add the right dose into your favourite foods. If held under the tongue, cannabis oil, such as Aqualitas AQ 20:0 High THC Cannabis Oil, can start to work within 15 minutes. Oil sprays, such as Zenabis High THC 30:0 Cannabis Oil Spray, may also take effect within 15 minutes. If cannabis oil is swallowed or taken with food, expect onset to occur within 90 minutes and lasting two to eight hours.
CBD edibles versus THC edibles
Because CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid, there is often confusion around the legality of food and beverages containing CBD only or products made from hemp-derived CBD. (Industrial hemp contains less than 0.3% THC and is used to make textiles, paper, and other commercial goods.) In Canada, however, all cannabinoids are regulated under the Cannabis Act. This means any food or beverage with added CBD is overseen by Health Canada, whether the CBD came from industrial hemp or cannabis, and can only be sold in compliance with the Cannabis Act[CT10] . In other words, you won’t find CBD-infused edibles in your local grocery or health food store, unless that store is also a licensed cannabis retailer.
What about hemp and hemp oil?
Food products with hemp or hemp-seed oil on the label contain less than 0.001% THC[CT12] by law. Cannabinoids, including CBD, cannot be added or further concentrated during the processing of food-grade hemp. As such, hemp-rich foods are used for their nutritional value [CT13] over and above any negligible cannabinoid content and do not fall under the Cannabis Act.
How do cannabis edibles work
While the effects of cannabis-infused foods and drinks may take considerably more time than smoked or vaped cannabis, they do offer patients more potent, longer-lasting symptom relief. After cannabis slowly passes through the intestinal tract, taking between 30 minutes and two hours[CT15] for traditional edibles (or 15 minutes for nanoemulsions, such as dissolvable powders) it is then metabolized by the liver before entering the bloodstream. As the liver breaks down cannabinoids, it changes the structure of delta-9 THC into 11-hydroxy THC, which is a much more potent compound. Compared to smoking or vaping, which converts just 20 percent of delta-9 THC into 11-hydroxy THC, ingestion converts all of it—100 percent. Once released into the bloodstream, 11-hydroxy THC can be felt in the body for up to 12 hours[CT16], whereas inhaled cannabis lasts up to six hours[CT17].
However, you won’t feel these effects by adding raw cannabis flower to foods unless you heat—or decarboxylate[CT18] —the plant material. Raw cannabis contains the precursors to THC and CBD, namely THCA and CBDA, which have their own potential for managing symptoms [CT19] but are not the cannabinoids most patients seek. When cannabis flowers are heated through smoking or vaping, these precursor cannabinoids are changed into THC and CBD, respectively. Patients who are comfortable making their own cannabis edibles from raw plant material heat cannabis in the oven or use a decarboxylation appliance before making their edibles.
How to read a cannabis edible package
Here’s everything legally produced cannabis edibles must show on their packaging, and what they all mean:
Standardized cannabis label: In compliance with the Cannabis Act, this red and black octagon with cannabis leaf and THC lettering is located in the top-left corner of all legal cannabis products. Even if a product contains no THC, the packaging will still have this label.
Health warning message: A yellow warning issued by Health Canada and must be present in both English and French.
Company logo: Indicates the licensed producer behind the product.
Brand name: Indicates the cannabis strain, type of cannabis edible, or both.
THC/CBD content: Expressed in milligrams, THC content cannot exceed 10 mg per package of cannabis edibles. There is no limit on CBD per package.
Equivalency to dried cannabis: Expressed in grams, this number informs patients how much of their allotted medical amount is deducted.
Ingredient list: As with any food sold in Canada, the ingredients list starts with the ingredient that weighs the most and ends with the ingredient that weighs the least[CT23].
Allergens: Any contact with priority allergens[CT24] is listed, whether the cannabis edible is made with this ingredient or manufactured in the same facility as these ingredients used: eggs, milk, mustard, peanuts, shellfish, fish, sesame seeds, soy, sulphites, tree nuts, wheat.
Nutrition Facts Table: Standard on most foods sold in Canada, the nutrition facts table breaks down serving size, calories, and 13 core nutrients[CT25].
A note about distillates and edible cannabis
Patients should be mindful of cannabis edibles labelled with a specific strain name, or those products labelled as Indica or Sativa. Many cannabis-infused foods are made with distillates—odourless, flavourless oils made up of isolated THC and/or CBD compounds. Distillates are very precise in terms of dosing, making them ideal for manufacturing cannabis edibles with accurate cannabinoid levels, and they won’t alter the flavour of the food itself. However, distillates are void of the terpenes, flavonoids, and other cannabinoids that all work together to produce a strain’s particular effect on patients, a concept known as the entourage effect. Even an Indica or Sativa designation isn’t accurate when it comes to distillates, since the origin of the isolated THC or CBD no longer applies without the other plant compounds present. Unless a cannabis edible label notes that it is made with full-spectrum cannabis extracts, don’t expect the same effects as inhaling dried cannabis flower of the same name. The flavourful terpenes and other plant compounds aren’t intact in most edibles.
Cannabis edible dosing guide
A cannabis-trained healthcare provider or pharmacist is your best resource for finding the right cannabis edibles and dosage to help manage your symptoms. Other factors that can influence how your body reacts to cannabis edibles include age, weight, gender, hormone fluctuations, energy levels, genetic makeup, and other medical conditions. The most important takeaway is to follow the adage: start low, go slow. Because cannabis edibles take time to work, and the felt effects are more substantial than with inhalation, begin with one serving of a microdose. (For example, divide a 10 mg chocolate into four x 2.5 mg pieces; if needed, divide in half again to make eight x 1.25 mg pieces.) See how you feel, then try again the next day. Here’s a general guideline:
Microdose: 1 to 2.5 mg THC: A good beginner dose for patients new to cannabis, or those sensitive to THC. Patients may feel mild relief from symptoms.
Low dose: 2.5 to 5 mg THC: This slightly higher dose may provide increased relief from symptoms and also be helpful for sleep.
Medium dose: 5 to 10 mg THC: Stronger symptom relief may be felt at this dose, as well as mild to moderate intoxication.
High dose: 10 to 15 mg THC: This level is appropriate for patients accustomed to cannabis, or those seeking relief from symptoms not managed with smaller doses.
Some patients may need even higher doses, depending on individual tolerance levels and persistence of symptoms.
What if I consume too much cannabis via edibles or beverages?
It can take hours for cannabis edibles to get metabolized by the body, and up to four hours to feel the full effects[CT29], so it can be easy to make the mistake that nothing is happening and reach for another dose. While there is no risk of dying from a cannabis overdose, an excess of THC may cause uncomfortable feelings. These can include:
Paranoia and anxiety
If you feel discomfort[CT30], find a comfortable place to rest until the cannabis works its way out of your system. Staying hydrated with water or juice can help, and a light meal may even slow THC absorption. The best thing to do is try to sleep, which will alleviate discomfort and help pass the time.
Children and pets are at the highest risk for cannabis poisoning as they may mistake edibles for regular food. Store edibles in a locked labelled, and childproof container in a location away from reach. If you suspect a child has ingested cannabis edibles, or you’re concerned about your own symptoms after consuming cannabis, contact your local poison control centre[CT31] or call our Shoppers Cannabis Care team at 1-844-633-2627 Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST, or Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST.
Can I make my own cannabis edibles?
Yes, patients can use cannabis flower, infused oils or dissolvable powders to make edibles at home. The advantage of using raw flower in homemade edibles is receiving the full-spectrum benefits of a cultivar that works well for your body’s unique needs. The disadvantage is the difficulty in achieving accurate, consistent dosing with every serving. For example, sprinkling decarboxylated (or heated) cannabis flower into a batch of cookie batter could leave you with some low-dose cookies and others with very high amounts of THC. More experienced cannabis home cooks usually infuse a carrier—such as butter, honey, oil (e.g. coconut, olive, sunflower seed) or alcohol—with decarboxylated cannabis flower before using in a recipe. You can more accurately gauge cannabis amounts in a teaspoon of carrier than a sprinkle of plant material.
There is also some math involved to determine how many milligrams of THC or CBD will be in each serving of food. A cultivar with a low percentage of cannabinoids will result in fewer milligrams per food serving, while strains with higher concentrations of THC will result in more potent edibles. Finally, consider your preferred cannabis strain’s flavour, which may lend a “weedy” taste to foods.
The easiest way for beginners to make edibles at home is to experiment with a cannabis oil or dissolvable powder in single-serving foods, such as smoothies or sauces. This way, you know exactly how many milligrams of cannabinoids you’ll be consuming, and can easily adjust the dose up or down for optimal symptom management. (Note that cannabis oil products are made with a range of carrier oils, from sunflower seed to grape seed to palm kernel. A quick check of the ingredients list will help you select the kind that works best with your body.)