Avoid these common mistakes.
The wild world of weed edibles is vast—and continues to grow. There are gummies, brownies, cookies, hard candies, mints, drinks, capsules, dissolvable tablets, and more. Exploring all these options can be a fun adventure, but edibles can also be intimidating because their effects last so much longer than when cannabis is inhaled. And once you ingest them, there’s no turning back. So here’s what you need to know before diving in.
Edibles are touted as a way to have fun, but also as a way to manage some health conditions, particularly pain and sleep issues. And there is some research to suggest they can be helpful. There is strong evidence that cannabis can help reduce chronic pain symptoms and moderate evidence that it can help alleviate short-term sleep issues associated with some health conditions, according to a comprehensive 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. But those findings don’t address ingestible cannabis specifically or individual products on the market now.
Much of what we know about cannabis in medicine comes from either animal studies or anecdotal evidence, Sara Jane Ward, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pharmacology at Temple University who studies pain management with CBD and cannabis, tells SELF. Although these types of studies can be helpful, experts would generally like to see much larger and more robust studies before offering specific recommendations about how to manage symptoms.
This gap in research is a byproduct of the legal status of cannabis in the U.S. Right now cannabis is still a Schedule I drug, which is the federal government’s most restrictive category, SELF explained previously. The prohibitionist mindset that keeps cannabis there is the same system that continues to support a drug war that sends far too many people—particularly Black and brown people—to prison and props up law enforcement systems that perpetuate racist violence. This is one reason it’s crucial to be mindful and intentional about where you spend your money on cannabis products, prioritizing diverse-owned dispensaries and products wherever possible.
But without much guidance, the consumer is left to make a lot of choices about which products to use on their own. Although that trial-and-error process can be intimidating, it can also be fun. “Enjoy the experimentation because it should be enjoyable,” Sara Payan, cannabis educator and public education officer at the Apothecarium, tells SELF. Even if the product you’re using isn’t ultimately right for you, take this time to be mindful and learn more about how your body reacts to these experiences. Cannabis offers one of those rare opportunities that we can pause and evaluate, she says.
Whether you’re a total newbie to the world of cannabis edibles or you’re back from a long break, it’s important to know what to expect. Read on for some expert-backed tips about how to try weed edibles in a way that’s as safe and (hopefully) enjoyable as possible.
1. First, determine whether edibles are right for you.
Edible cannabis products are particularly helpful for some people at managing some health conditions, but they’re not necessarily right for everybody. So, first, think about what you want to get out of this cannabis experience and, maybe with the help of your doctor or a specialist, determine whether an edible is the best way to achieve that.
Cannabis is legal for medical use in only 36 states and D.C. But even if medical cannabis is legal where you are, it’s understandable that you might not feel super comfortable talking to your doctor about using it. If that’s not a conversation you want to have with them or if they aren’t equipped to discuss it in the detail you’d like, you can go to your state’s health department website to find a list of doctors who are licensed to certify cannabis patients. (Here’s New York’s list, for example.) They’ll be able to provide helpful guidance about using cannabis in your unique situation, which might include edibles.
Inhaling cannabis, through smoking or vaporizing it, will allow the compounds in it to act quickly, but the effects will last only three to four hours, Jordan Tishler, M.D., president of the Association of Cannabis Specialists, tells SELF. “Edibles are the opposite,” he says, likening them to extended-release medications. “They’re slow to work, but once they work, they last much longer.”
That makes weed edibles a better choice than inhalation for people who need longer-acting effects, like those dealing with chronic pain or insomnia. But they’re maybe not the best choice for people who need fast-acting relief from conditions like headaches. (Again, it’s important to remember that there are no FDA-approved prescribing guidelines here—much of what we know about cannabis medicine is from animal studies, limited human data, and experience.)
The fact that edibles don’t require smoking can be attractive as well. “The primary reason why people seek to use edibles might be stigma,” Dr. Ward says. Edibles are generally more discreet than smoking and allow you to avoid any issues with inhaling smoke or vapor. For people who have compromised lung functioning (maybe due to a condition like COPD), edibles may be “a route that physicians would feel is safer for them,” Dr. Ward says.
2. Be aware that cannabis can interfere with some medications.
Products containing cannabis have the potential to interfere with other medications you may be taking. “That’s one of my biggest concerns for people who are using cannabis without consulting a physician or pharmacist,” Dr. Ward says. “There are certain interactions where using cannabis can increase or decrease the strength of other medications people are taking.”
Right now experts know more about this with CBD (cannabidiol), which is one component of cannabis. “CBD relies on the liver to be broken down,” Dr. Ward explains, so if you’re taking other drugs that use the same pathway, that can affect how the body processes them. Both CBD and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, generally considered to be the main psychoactive compound in cannabis) have been shown in lab studies to affect certain enzymes normally involved in processing many types of medications, including antidepressants and blood thinners, so cannabis could theoretically alter their functioning.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of studies in this realm. So the bottom line is that, if you regularly take medications, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor or a cannabis medicine specialist before using marijuana.
3. Start with a low dose—and take a good look at the product label.
The cardinal rule with cannabis (and especially edibles) is to start low and go slow, Payan says, meaning to start with a low dose and wait before taking any more. For people who are new to cannabis or new to edibles, Genester Wilson-King, M.D., an ob-gyn who specializes in the use of medical cannabis in women’s health and vice president of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, tells SELF that it’s crucial to start with a low dose—maybe even lower than you think.
In regard to edibles, 5 mg of THC is generally considered a low dose, Dr. Tishler says. But if you know that you’re more sensitive to substances like this or you’re just anxious about what might happen, you can even start with something as low as 1 to 2.5 mg, Payan adds.
And if you know you want a lower dose to start with, it’s a good idea to choose a product that comes in that specific dose, Vanessa Niles, M.D., an ob-gyn and founder of Synergy Health, a California-based medical cannabis practice, tells SELF. That might be something like a gummy or capsule as opposed to a chocolate bar that you’d need to break up into individual doses yourself, she says. Payan also recommends the low-dose Petra mints from Kiva Confections as a great place to start.
A more moderate dose would be around 10 to 15 mg, Dr. Wilson-King says, and a high dose would be upwards of 20 mg. More experienced cannabis users may need to take 20 to 30 mg to get their desired effects, but most people can get what they’re after between 5 and 10 mg, Dr. Tishler says. Ultimately, though, a dose is just a starting point, Dr. Wilson-King says, and it may take some trial and error to figure out the right cannabis products for you.
The product you’re using should clearly say on the label how much THC it contains so you can take the right dose. In most states it’s a legal requirement for cannabis products sold at dispensaries to undergo some kind of formal testing before reaching the consumer. The exact regulations differ from state to state and the industry in general is dealing with issues around inconsistent results from different labs, Leafly explains. But in many states, consumers can look up testing results via a bar code on the product to provide some level of reassurance that it contains what it’s supposed to, Dr. Ward says.
4. Take your first dose in the evening, just in case.
One of the most common effects of cannabis is to make you feel relaxed and sleepy. That can certainly be a plus for many people, but others want to be able to use cannabis to manage the symptoms of a condition—and actually still be able to function.
The first time you try a new cannabis edible product, Dr. Tishler recommends using it in the evening. That way, if you do need to hit the hay, it’s not an issue and you can adjust the dose accordingly next time to make it easier to stay awake. “If you overshoot, then you can go to sleep and not ruin the whole day,” he says.
5. Wait at least two hours before taking more.
Here comes the “go slow” part of that golden rule: Edibles notoriously take a while to start working—sometimes up to two hours. If you’re used to consuming cannabis via vaping or smoking, this might be a challenge. “But if you’re not feeling relief in a few minutes, that does not mean you should take more,” Dr. Niles says.
You might get a little frustrated or bored and be tempted to take more because you assume that the first dose simply didn’t work. Then, of course, the first and second doses kick in and you’re suddenly in way over your head. “Boom—you’re having your after-school special moment,” Payan says.
The THC, CBD, and other compounds in cannabis work by interacting with the body’s natural endocannabinoid system. This system, which is composed of different types of cannabinoid receptors throughout the body and the brain, supports a huge variety of bodily functions, including appetite, mood, memory, pain perception, and body temperature regulation. When these systems are overloaded due to, say, eating a bunch of pot brownies, you can feel confused, anxious, dizzy, and nauseous, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. You might also have a high heart rate and can even develop auditory or visual hallucinations at high doses.
But as unpleasant as these effects may be, they’re temporary and unlikely to cause long-term issues. “You can feel like you’re going to die, but you’re not going to die,” Dr. Wilson-King says. Drinking water, taking a shower, practicing deep breathing, and sleeping can make you feel better while you wait for the effects to wear off.
To avoid this issue, the experts SELF spoke to all agree that you should wait at least two hours before taking another dose. And Dr. Tishler even recommends that beginners avoid taking more than one dose in the same 12-hour period. So if you take your first dose at night and don’t feel anything, just let it go and try again the next day.
6. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, get a nonmedicated version of your favorite treat.
With so much variety out there, you are sure to find an edible cannabis product that suits your tastes. And that is definitely a good thing, Payan says, but it can also sometimes make it tempting to eat more of that treat (and the THC it contains) than you’re ready for. Plus, the fact that cannabis can increase your appetite makes it even harder to eat just half of the chocolate bar.
That’s why both she and Dr. Tishler recommend opting for a less tasty edible and/or getting yourself a noninfused snack to enjoy with your edible. “This is not chocolate; this is medicine,” Dr. Niles agrees. “If you want brownies, go buy brownies.”
7. Try using premade cooking and baking ingredients.
From classic weed brownies to infused alcohol, making your own ingestible cannabis at home is a time-honored tradition. But because there are so many variables involved in that process, homemade edibles can be difficult to accurately dose, Dr. Ward says.
So, if you’re interested in cooking with cannabis, Payan recommends topping your meals with premade weed butter, oils, honey, and even hot sauce (like those from Potli) that come with known concentrations of THC. She also suggests getting creative by topping a (noncannabis) cupcake with frosting and something like Valhalla Chocolate so you can still enjoy baking and get a predictable dose.
8. Store your edibles safely.
If you’re going to be regularly keeping edibles in your home, you should be sure to store them safely away from kids, pets, or visitors who may not know what’s in them. Research shows that cannabis edibles are associated with an increase in E.R. visits, Dr. Ward says. That might be due to people ingesting them without realizing that they contain weed, so they feel high (maybe very high) without knowing why. Or it can happen when people unintentionally take too much, causing mental and physical symptoms, like feelings of anxiety and a high heart rate.
“These days it’s not just about keeping it away from children, but also friends and family who may not realize it’s infused,” Payan says, adding that the onus is on the consumer to store their edibles properly. Although taking too much cannabis isn’t lethal, it can be very unpleasant—especially if it’s unexpected. “It’s not fun to be feeling a certain way and not understand why,” Payan says.
Original article appeared on SELF | Author Sarah Jacoby