“The biggest weed chefs, they only do about one milligram per plate”
Cannabis has a funny way of monopolizing words. Ask anyone who has tried to describe a musty room as “dank” or wanted to cook in a “pot” only to hear stifled giggles. Get your mind out of the bong, Shaggy. Those words have other meanings.
The term “edible” is one of those words. The dictionary says it means “able to be eaten” (and you could make the argument that Edible Arrangements, the fruit bouquet company, tried to claim dibs on the word association), but—more than anything—it has come to mean dank pot cooked into a delightful treat.
“Edibles” is a broad term for food infused with cannabis. And thanks to stoners’ ingenuity, it has expanded far beyond pot brownies. If it’s a food, it’s probably been edible-ized. Every flavor cookie, brownie, bar, or chocolate you can think of probably exists. But those are child’s play. The more advanced tier has cereal, cupcakes, K-cup coffee pods, vegan chocolates, hot sauce, hemp milk, pizza sauce, sour gummies, blueberry pie, granola, chili lime peanuts, savory pretzels, and even edible lube.
But within the expansive world of edibles is also one of the more controversial elements in the fight for legal cannabis. Most people who have experimented with them have some story or another involving a time when they “ate too much.”
But did they really? Dr. J.H. Atkinson, the co-director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, says that the metabolization process actually delivers less tetrahydrocannabanoids (THC, the psychoactive material in cannabis) to the bloodstream than smoking.
“After a drug is swallowed, it is absorbed by the digestive system and is carried through the portal vein into the liver before it reaches the rest of the body,” he says. “The liver metabolizes many drugs, sometimes to such an extent that only a small amount of active drug emerges from the liver to the rest of the circulatory system. In the case of cannabis, oral intake produces peak plasma levels of THC one-fifth or one-sixth than when THC is absorbed after smoking.”
But the amount of THC isn’t always the only factor in measuring its effects, says Dr. Atkinson.
“Even though the oral dose plasma concentration of orally ingested cannabis is lower, psychoactive effects following oral consumption can be more problematic,” he explains. “This is thought to result from the active metabolite of THC, 11-hydroxy THC, which is approximately three times higher in concentration after oral than after smoking. Because concentrations of both THC and 11-OH-THC peak between approximately 2 to 6 hours after oral dosing (and then decline over several days), psychoactive effects following oral administration of cannabis are delayed compared to when cannabis is inhaled.”
Cannabis edible products in a dispensary in Amsterdam
The problem, says Dr. Atkinson, compounds when you consider that people have a hard time titrating, or adjusting, the intoxicating effects of cannabis due to the delayed and variable onset of edibles.
“Consequently, edibles have been tied to the ingestion of excessive amounts of cannabis under the incorrect assumption that the initial dose had not produced the desired effect,” he says. “This is not unlike the situation that occurs with the inadvertent overdosing from opioids. Although methadone accounts for only five percent of opioid prescriptions, it accounts for 40 percent of overdose deaths. A nonmedical user might take repeated doses several minutes apart in an attempt to get high, only to succumb to delayed respiratory depression. It is our hope that the same inadvertent overdosing does not occur with edibles.”
On the bright side, overdosing is almost always benign when it comes to edibles. Usually, a user will be incapacitated for a few hours or have elevated feelings of anxiety. The website Medical Jane even has a “survival guide” for when you’ve eaten more than you can handle, with suggestions ranging from boosting your blood sugar level to staying hydrated. Usually, the site says, the effects will last for a few hours, and then you’ll return to normal. But it’s the exceptions that get the media attention.
In 2015, Food Safety News reported on the deaths of three separate individuals under the influence of cannabis edibles. The ultimate causes of death were varied, via suicide or murder, but all were reported as being linked to the ingestion of edibles in higher quantities than is suggested on packages. A law enacted in 2015 requires Colorado edible manufacturers to break their serving sizes up into 10-milligram (or fewer) dosages.
A "Low Dose" bag of Dr. Norm's contains cookies with 5 milligrams of THC per cookie
Some companies have recently made moves to educate edible users on the difficulty of evaluating dosage. Dr. Norm’s Chocolate Chips, a chef-driven cannabis cookie company based in Los Angeles, offers dogmatic instructions on how to avoid overdoing it. Their tagline is “Know Your Dose” printed in large, bold, green capital letters on their packaging.
Peter Lograsso, co-founder of Green Gold Baking Company, agrees that keeping dosage low for edibles is the way forward, especially for nascent users.
“As it becomes more and more aboveground, people are going to read more about edibles,” he told me in an interview two years ago for a separate publication. “If someone has never eaten an edible before, there should be a product out there that they can take safely. I believe five or 10 milligrams is the maximum dose for somebody for the first time. The reason THC content is too high is because, in California, there’s all these stoners that’ve been getting high since 1996, and they want the strongest chocolate bar possible, because that’s what they’re paying for. What I want to try and change is the acceptability that someone can pay for THC in a manageable amount, and also for something that is healthy, organic, sugar-free, and made with coconut oil.”
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]The stigma is dying down. Moms and grandmas are smoking weed[/quote]
Moving even further away from the stereotype of the pot brownie are weed-infused dinner parties that have started sprouting up in states where cannabis is legalized. Rama Mayo, owner of cannabis marketing company Greet Street—the company who helped launch Dr. Norm’s—says these dinner parties are all anyone in the industry can talk about.
A recent dinner at Green Street I attended for the soft launch of the Dennis Hopper estate’s new cannabis company featured a full menu of regular food, as well as brussels sprouts with “medicated pesto.” I watched with amusement, as some attendees gingerly snacked on a single serving, while others grabbed multiple plates.
Brussels sprouts with medicated pesto
“The dinner party mentality is going to start coming in in a big way,” Mayo says. “We work with celebrity chefs like Chris Sayegh (aka The Herbal Chef) and Miguel Trinidad, who uses cannabis like another herb. The biggest weed chefs, they only do about one milligram per plate. That way, if you eat a whole plate, you’re not completely out of it, even if you’ve never smoked before.”
Mayo has seen edibles become normalized over the past few years, working with the band Sublime with Rome and Colorado-based edible manufacturer Dixie Elixir on the Orange Dynamite chocolate bar. It’s this kind of partnership with pop culture resonance that lifts edibles from being gray area mysteries to trusted products that offer the same kind of reliability that exists in, say, the regular packaged cookie industry.
Sublime with Rome x Dixie Elixir Orange Dynamite
“You have to remember, most of these brands are only about two to four years old,” Mayo says. “Edible brands are maturing like street wear did 10 years ago. It’s fine-tuning. The products are getting so much better, because people are testing. Here in California, no product has to be tested. It’s the equivalent of 7-Eleven just making the food with no info on it all day long. When we launched Dr. Norm’s, we did too many tests, because the people that run it are in the professional industry; they make noninfused cookies that they sell to other retailers, so they trade on their consistency. They spend an extra 75 bucks to test it two or three times. They overtest the batches, because their brand positioning is low-dosage, and they want to make sure they get that right.”
Cannabis edibles are growing up, and fast. The marijuana industry is booming, and edibles accounted for an estimated $3 billion in sales in 2016, according to Fortune.
“Theoretically, we suspect that edibles are chosen for one, health concerns about smoking; two, convenience of use; and three, avoidance of being caught smoking from the telltale aroma,” says Dr. J.H. Atkinson at CMCR.
“The stigma is dying down,” says Rama Mayo at Green Street. “Moms and grandmas are smoking weed. A couple of guys from Apple just came out with the best-looking edible for sure, Défoncé. I predict Chris Sayegh, the Herbal Chef, five years from now will have a show on the Food Network. Edibles are making weed more acceptable.”