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Cooking with Cannabis - How do edibles work?

Eating cannabis is nothing new. Cooking with cannabis is one of the most ancient forms of preparation of the plant, with cultural traditions going back centuries, if not longer. In the motherland of indica, certain regions on the Indian subcontinent have been enjoying Bhang Lassi for as long as they can remember. Warmed milk, honey, spices, and a little indica make for a relaxing and warming preparation.  

But it's 2019, and Bhang Lassi is only one edible option among thousands. With the right tools, you can learn to put cannabis into just about any food you want. From infused Strawberry Lemonade to BBQ or Nacho Cheese Sauce, to finally perfecting a perfect batch of potent Brownies. If you can dream it, you can infuse it.  

Cannabis Edibles are taking off because they bring the plant to an entirely new level. Both delicious and experiential. But do you know why the experience of an edible is so different than from smoking or vaping? Understanding how cannabis works when digested can change the way you approach it as an ingredient, to improve the way you cook with it.

Edible Basics 101 - What is an Edible?

There are a handful of ways we enjoy cannabis today. You can smoke and vaporize dry flower and concentrates, with the cannabinoids and other compounds absorbing into the bloodstream through the lungs.  

Edible cannabis is any product that requires digestion. Edibles include any food, drink, or even capsule that you swallow. Your metabolism does the work of transforming cannabinoids into the ones you know and love. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD have to fight their way through the digestive juices, which alters how they affect us.  

Are cannabis oils and tinctures considered edibles?

Tinctures, oils, and oral sprays are dosed orally but are not technically edibles.  The cannabinoids usually never reach your digestive tract. Instead, they absorb through the lining of your mouth.

Topical preparations of cannabinoids don't enter into the bloodstream at all. Creams, salves, massage oils absorb into our skin and do their magic there.

How Does Your Body Consume THC and CBD from Edibles

After decarboxylation (exposure to heat over time, but more about that here), the raw cannabinoids in cannabis turn into active ones like THC and CBD. While there are benefits from raw cannabinoids such as THCa, generally most people desire THC and CBD.

When smoked or vaped, cannabinoids enter quite quickly into the bloodstream through the lungs. Oral sprays and tinctures, through the lining of your mouth. However, an edible goes through the digestive system and must get broken down in the stomach before any cannabinoids enter into your body.

Once digested, your body sends the cannabinoids to the liver. Then it begins the tedious process of metabolizing the available compounds. Ingested THC eventually transforms into a compound called 11-hydroxytetrahydrocannabinol (11-OH-THC). This compound is highly intoxicating, even more so than straight THC. The new THC metabolite, 11-OH-THC, easily crosses the blood-brain barrier. The story is the same for other cannabinoids like CBD. The ability for the cannabinoids to cross through the blood brain barrier so easily is why edibles are known for their sudden and intense onset, they may take longer to hit you, but when they do they mean business.  

How Is This Different from Inhalation Methods?

Inhalation of THC, or any other cannabinoid, has a relatively quick onset, and short duration. Keep in mind, THC is the only intoxicating compound found in cannabis. A few puffs from a joint will come into effect within five minutes, but the onset of an edible is much more difficult to predict.

An infused food or drink has to contend with the digestive system before giving you the full effects of your cannabis. According to a literature review on the subject of cannabis edibles, "weight, metabolism, gender, and eating habits also contribute to how soon and for how long someone will feel intoxicated following oral ingestion." Effects may come on immediately but can take upwards of 90 minutes to appear.

This is part of the reason why edibles are the leading cause of cannabis-related emergency room visits. Unsuspecting consumers assume their infused treat failed to kick in, and they sneak another piece. Suddenly they are contending with two doses. So if you are new to cannabis edibles, please follow our regular advice and start low, and go slow.  

Start Low and Go Slow When Trying Edibles

We hope that learning and understanding how edibles are a different form of consuming cannabis gives you more insight into making safe and healthy choices when it comes to experimenting with edibles. It is always best to start LOW and go really, really slow. Edibles are a great, fun way to consume cannabis, but caution is needed to ensure a positive experience.  

How long do edibles last? How long do edibles take to kick in?

Because your body metabolizes the cannabinoids from edibles (instead of absorbing them through the lungs), a cannabis high typically lasts much longer than other types of consumption. Depending on dose and metabolism, your cannabis experience could stretch out for four to six hours and in some cases longer.

The experience is also more intoxicating compared to inhalation because your body is processing 11-OH-THC (not THC). A recent study pulled the data on cannabis-related emergency room visits to "compare adult emergency department (ED) visits related to edible and inhaled cannabis exposure."  

They found visits due to inhaled cannabis typically meant symptoms like upset stomachs, nausea, and vomiting - classic signs of 'greening out.' But emergency room visits tied to edible consumption caused acute psychiatric symptoms, intoxication, and cardiovascular issues.  

Merely knowing that eating or drinking an infused goodie can trigger a more powerful high is a good first step towards keeping the experience safe and fun. Keep the first dose low, and never go back for seconds until you know what you are dealing with. Even the most experienced cannabis-gurus have made the mistake of taking that second plate of delicious THC-infused Pesto Tortellini. Greening out is not fun, and never worth the risk. Take it slow, and don't worry if the effects take an hour or more to kick in.

How to Safely Enjoy Edibles

Edibles are a great innovative way to enjoy cannabis, but they deserve a warning. Edibles take a varied amount of times to hit, unique to each person and the dose of the cannabis in each edible these variables combined with the intensity of edibles can quickly become unenjoyable. We hope you take edibles seriously and respect the warnings of start low and go slow, there is a lot of fun to be had with edibles, but overconsuming and becoming way too high is all too common. Start low and go slow until you are more experienced with dosing and can better predict your personal response.

What's Cooking in Your Kitchen?  

With the safety notes aside, what do you have on the menu this weekend? Dig into the basic recipes like cannabis-infused butter or cannabis-infused coconut oil. Start experimenting! The fun is often in the process of cooking and perfecting the recipe.

If you have moved beyond the based cannabutter infusions, we highly suggest an infused simple syrup for a cocktail or an alcohol-free cannabis mocktail. Any recipe can turn into a cannabis-infused one with a set of basic skills. The sky's the limit for your cannabis edible creations.