How do edibles work? Many a first-time cannabis consumer has asked themselves this question. And with absolute reason, as enjoying such products necessitates a minimum of understanding of their process.
Indeed, it is important to know what an edible will do to you, for how long, and how. This is why such products always come with a label, on which you can find warnings (“DON’T PANIC”), indications about serving size, onset time, and other details regarding the composition of your treat.
In this article, we break down the 101 on cannabis edibles for you. Read on, and consume responsibly!
A more accurate question would be: how do cannabinoids work? When you consume cannabis, it is processed by your body in different ways, depending on your chosen method of distribution. However, the effects are fairly similar, albeit more or less intense, and more or less durable.
When you smoke cannabis, the smoke, in which cannabinoids such as THC are contained, travels directly to your lungs, where it meets the millions of alveoli that line its walls. These alveoli absorb cannabinoids and redistribute them into the bloodstream. In a matter of seconds, they travel up to your brain, and ta-da! You are medicated.
When you consume an edible, there are two possible scenarios. If cannabinoids are released in more or less liquid form directly in the mouth, and especially under the tongue, they take the direct route to the bloodstream. If your edible is not of the kind that melts in your mouth, it needs to be digested in order to be processed by your organism. More specifically, it needs to reach the small intestine/liver. Once there, fats contained in the edible will be broken down, and eventually sent to your bloodstream in order to deliver nutrients, cannabinoids, and more, to the rest of your body. Depending on what you are ingesting, it can take from 20 minutes (under the tongue) to 2-3 hours (digested) for you to start feeling medicated.
(More on smoking cannabis vs. eating cannabis here.)
Which edible is best for which situation? There is a large gap between 20 minutes and 2 hours, a gap that could make or break you evening or day. So choose your edible wisely for a tailored experience.
“Space cakes” and other gastrointestinal edibles may be the most widespread type of edibles. They include cakes of all sorts, pretzels, cookies, biscuits, and anything that has been infused/cooked/baked with cannabis, rather than coated with it. This type of treats has been appreciated by cannabis enthusiasts for literal decades. Is it the absolute simplicity of making them, or the fact their wholesome flavours can perfectly mask a cannabis taste some prefer on the stealth side? Regardless, they are very popular not only in retail, but also when it comes to your average consumer making their own cannabis treats.
The process of digesting such products takes just as much time as any other food would take to be digested. This time depends mostly on your metabolism: if you have a fast metabolism, you may feel the effects of the ingested edible as soon as 1 hour later. If you have a slower metabolism, you may have to wait 2 to 3 hours before the desired effects kick in.
“Cannabis lollipops” and other sublingual edibles do not dispense effects as immediately as combustion does, but they perform faster than the aforementioned type of edibles. They include lollipops and similarly consumed products (such as hard candy). The main difference between sublingual edibles and gastrointestinal edibles is that the former release cannabinoids directly into the mouth, which allows them to enter the bloodstream through tissue. There is no sure-fire way to guarantee a sublingual edible will be as efficient as possible. Thoroughly ensuring it is properly absorbed under the tongue is something you can do, but ultimately, the efficiency of the delivery method will depend on the technique used to infuse cannabis into the edible, as well as the composition of it (fats, alcohol and emulsifiers do facilitate the process). All things considered, the worst case scenario is that you may not benefit fully from the desired sublingual delivery method. Yet, do not worry: wait a few hours for the cannabinoids to reach your liver, and you will eventually get right where you wanted to be. And for those looking for immediate medical relief without the possibility to inhale, consider vaporising instead.
It is to be noted that certain edibles are meant to be (or happen to be) “hybrids”. First, they release cannabinoids into the mouth as you enjoy them, and once swallowed, they take the long route towards your digestive system. These are edibles that can be ‘sucked on’ before being properly ingested: chocolate, fudge, drinks, etc.
An ordinarily potent edible provides effects that are experienced in a much more intense manner than with any other mean of enjoying cannabis. The intensity of these effects depend largely on how much cannabis is contained in the edible, and in which form. In order to obtain optimum information on this specific parameter, it is always a good idea to ask your dispensary/coffeeshop/baker friend.
Yet, dosage is not the only thing at play. Regardless of it, of what you have eaten/drunk, and of which activities you are performing while medicated, the culprit is 11-hydroxy-THC.
Indeed, when main psychoactive cannabinoid THC enters the human body, it is metabolized into 11-hydroxy-THC, which is significantly more potent. Moreover, this metabolite has the capacity to enter the brain much more easily, providing the consumer with much stronger exposure.
The conversion rate is especially high when cannabis is ingested, while somewhat inconsequential when combusted or vaporised: this is why edibles are the number one player on the potency front!
While the range of effects provided by cannabis is large and colourful, edibles have a tendency to be more body-focused. This does not mean that other effects will not be experienced. On the other hand, it means that edibles can be ideal for patients, notably for chronic pain, nausea, or inflammation.
However, many tend to seek immediate relief, whether they primarily use cannabis for medicinal or recreational reasons. With cannabis in edible form, the process is not always time-efficient. But with a minimum of preparation, it is still possible; plan ahead, and take in your edible mindfully for maximum impact.
Commercially available edibles generally contain very high concentrations of cannabis. Even for a frequent consumer, they can turn out to be overwhelming when the consumption process itself is uninformed or careless. Make sure you check all items of this list before you partake!
You may not be accustomed to reading labels of the food or other items you buy. In the case of edibles, doing so is a rule of thumb. Labels will provide you with information on serving size, and possibly on other elements such as cannabis strain, dose, etc. If you have been gifted a homemade edible, do question your baker friend. Do not underestimate the potency of a serving, even if you are an experienced cannabis smoker/vaper.
Consider having a snack or even a meal before you consume an edible. However, avoid consuming important amounts of food while waiting for your edible to release its effects. Depending on your metabolism, the potential added fats might enhance your experience (you may want to cross this bullet point off your list once you are more edible-savvy).
Once you have determined the size of your serving, consume it, and wait for the recommended time before considering consuming more. Do acknowledge from the get go that your first serving may be inefficient and stand your ground until you have waited for a sufficient amount of time.
Consuming cannabis in edible form constitutes a completely different experience than that procured by a joint (see above). If you are prone to experience intense effects when out and about as opposed to quietly sitting at home, maybe do stay at home, and/or surround yourself with at least one sober person you trust.
Why is it that regular consumers of cannabis stop experiencing most of the “undesired” side-effects cannabis can be responsible for? Of course, there is the question of tolerance, one that develops over time in case of frequent use. Some effects however, such as paranoia or anxiety, simply disappear because they were never meant to be there to begin with. A vicious circle of sorts takes place: one tries cannabis for the first time with apprehension, fear of the unknown escalates, eventually leading to anxiety and paranoia. Thus, if you embrace the experience with positivity, relax, and remember you are surrounded by trusted peers, cannabis will help mirroring all this back to you.
Are you an edible expert? Do you have tips and tricks? Challenging anecdotes about your first time dealing with an edible? Let us know in the comments.
And don’t forget: always help your novice friends by ensuring they are enjoying cannabis in a safe, friendly environment!