The Beginner’s Guide to Eating Edibles (Safely)

There is a whole world of cannabis edibles out there—things have changed a lot since the days of nothing but homemade brownies. Today infusing cannabis into food and drinks has become a multimillion-dollar industry, with everything from big companies and small mom and pop shops creating tasty cannabis edibles.

In fact, you might find anything from gummies to infused salad dressing at gourmet dinners, weddings, yoga events, and on the set of television shows. This is especially true in states like California, which lead the way with cannabis-infused foods and drinks.

Smoking cannabis is still the most popular way to get your THC, but today’s consumers are eating cannabis more and more. This is in part due to concerns about respiratory disease and harm from smoking—because even though research suggests smoking tobacco is more dangerous than smoking cannabis, chronic smokers of anything can experience higher rates of breathing conditions such as bronchitis.

This may render edibles more appealing. Edibles are also more discreet—no chatter from neighbors or complaints about secondhand smoke.

Are Edibles Safe?

Still, we’ve all heard some stories about cannabis edibles, right? If you’ve never tried them, you may be worried about freaking out or getting sick.

There’s no evidence that anyone has ever died or overdosed from cannabis. But people have eaten too many edibles and had some bad experiences, for sure.

If you are smart about consumption and understand how cannabis-infused edibles work in the body, they are a safe option for both recreational consumers and medical marijuana patients. And while you can certainly make your own, it’s tricky and time-consuming—and there’s really no need. You can buy pre-packaged edibles from any local dispensary, or buy speciality products such as high-end cannabutter, barbecue sauce, salad dressings and oils, guacamole, you name it, in some locations.

What Are Edibles?

To take a step back, cannabis edibles are just any food or drink that is infused with cannabinoids. These plant compounds that occur naturally in cannabis include CBD and THC. In other words, edibles might just have cannabis itself in them, or they might have a specific range of cannabinoids or one in particular in them.

Edibles are an ideal choice for those who want to enjoy the benefits of cannabis but who don’t want to smoke it, and they vary widely in both potency and form. You can infuse brownies, chocolates, gummies, cookies, hot sauce, tea, cake mix, and many other edible items and render them more or less potent.

In fact, this points to the big mistake most noobs to cannabis-infused edibles make: we eat way too much.

For reasons we get into below, it can take awhile to feel the effects from edibles, and this—plus the fact that they’re tasty!—can lead to overconsumption. This is where the trouble starts.

Edibles are awesome when you consume them the right way. They are body-focused and potent, so they are ideal for anyone with insomnia who needs to get through more of the night, or people with nausea, pain, or lack of appetite.

But too much of an edible can produce a truly uncomfortable and lasting high. You might eat an entire cookie and feel fine—for awhile. But then you realize you are panicking, certain that you’ll be arrested, or who knows what.

(Read on below to find out what to do if you overdo it.)

Do Edibles Taste Like Cannabis?

Maybe. They can, so yes and no. The potency of the edible, which type of cannabis it is infused with, and its flavor profile as well as other factors influence how much an edible tastes like cannabis.

Edibles that themselves as food or drinks have strong flavor profiles, such as coffee or chocolate, are better able to hide the cannabis taste. Infusing candies with distillate may produce less plant-y flavor. High-potency edibles, predictably, also tend to have a stronger cannabis taste.

If you’re worried about edibles that have too much cannabis flavor, ask your budtender. They will know the best options among what’s available and have a great sense of the right flavor profile for you.

How Edibles Work In The Body

The feeling your body and mind gets from consuming cannabis will be very similar, whether you smoke it or eat it. However, the way you consume your cannabis controls how your body processes it, and that’s what determines things like intensity of the high and how long it lasts.

Smoking or vaping cannabis allows you to absorb the cannabinoids including THC through the lungs. This delivers them right to the bloodstream, producing effects in minutes. But those effects also wear off quickly, and are less intense than some other types of highs.

The body has to digest the food or drink itself to feel the effects from edibles as the THC is absorbed through the GI tract. The liver processes it and only then does the THC enter the bloodstream—meaning it will take at least 30 minutes and up to two hours for edibles to produce their full effects.

Effects from edibles are also highly individualized, just as the effects of drinking alcohol and consuming drugs are. If you have eaten little food and/or are smaller, it’s likely you’ll feel more effects from the same edible. Prior cannabis use and metabolism also play a role.

And of course, the specific type of edibles you use also matters. The body can break down some things more quickly than others. If you’re drinking your THC, you’ll probably feel the effects faster than if it’s suspended in a huge slab of cake or lasagna. And when you’re sucking on a THC-infused hard candy or mint, you absorb some THC through the mouth.

How Long Do Edibles Take To Kick In?

When you vape or smoke cannabis, you will feel the effects almost immediately. This is great for when you’re in acute pain, panicking, or otherwise need immediate relief. It’s also convenient because you can instantly feel how much cannabis you have consumed and decide more easily when it’s time to stop.

These kinds of signals go away when you eat or drink edibles. Your body needs a chance to digest and metabolize the beverage or food itself when you consume an edible before you feel the effects.

This means slower absorption time and slower time to kick in—although your metabolism also influences both. People with slow metabolisms may take up to two hours or even longer to feel effects, while those with faster metabolisms may feel effects within an hour.

How Long Do Edibles’ Effects Last?

This is the place where there is the most variation, because individual metabolism plays such a role. The body metabolizes cannabis via the liver, which means it takes longer for the onset and also ultimately produces stronger effects.

Typically, edibles are made with some form of highly concentrated cannabis, such as infused oil, cannabis-infused butter, or actual concentrate form such as distillate or hash oil. In other words, it’s not your standard 16% potency cannabis flower; it’s very concentrated, making it easy to dose too heavily. Remember that one piece, slice, or cookie may be more than one dose!

Consuming edibles on an empty or full stomach is another critical factor in how quickly you will feel the effects. On a full stomach an edible won’t slam you as hard, but on an empty stomach, it will hit you faster and harder.

Beginners with edibles should eat a meal first, and only then try their edible. You can’t eat the edible and follow up with food to come back down like you might chase alcohol with food—it doesn’t work that way. Unlike with alcohol, eating a meal if you feel like you have taken too much cannabis can actually help more into your system.

Read on below to find out what to do if you’ve had too much!

What Should You Look For On Edible Labels?

The cannabis industry is experiencing explosive growth, but it is still new. And because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate cannabis products—not even edibles. This means a standard, consistent set of rules on dosage from one product to another is lacking, and finding the correct dose is even more difficult.

As you shop for edibles and read labels:

  • Read the label to determine the actual portion size and dose, and then relate that back to your needs.
  • Look for properly packaged products with clear labels.
  • Don’t buy edibles without clearly labeled ingredients.
  • Look for lab testing results.
  • Support cannabis edible companies that create clearly labeled, quality packaging because this helps ensure that edible products are safe, consistent, and honest.

What’s The Difference Between Sativa And Indica?

This is a question that always comes up, including in the context of cannabis edibles. However, it is a bit misleading.

In actuality, indica and sativa merely describe two subspecies of the cannabis plant. There are three subspecies of the cannabis plant: sativa, indica, and ruderalis. Although they have distinct features, the Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa subspecies share many qualities, too.

Most users typically find indica strains the “stoned” feeling that is physically sedating, and sativa strains the “high” and uplifting feeling that is more invigorating. That is why people seek out those indica body effects for evenings relaxing at home and sativa head effects for social settings and creative projects.

Here is a good place to mention that THC-free CBD edibles are more and more popular, too. These edibles contain the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD but no THC to produce a high. You can often find CBD edibles even in states where marijuana is otherwise illegal.

How To Dose Edibles

Assuming you get your edibles from a dispensary, this is actually not too hard. Dispensary edibles are subject to mandatory lab testing and some form of labeling requirements, so all you need beyond that are education and self-discipline. That’s because the difference between a good and a bad experience can be based on understanding how standard doses work and then on being able to adjust those to match your biology and acute needs.

Carefully read the package.

This may seem like a silly thing to say, but you’d be surprised at how many people skip this step. Typically, legal edibles label their THC/CBD contents in milligrams. 10 mg is a “standard dose,” but a low-tolerance user or new consumer should start with 5 mg. Once you start to feel the full effects from the first dose in an hour or two, you can always add another 5 mg.

On the dispensary market, cannabis edibles are often found in 5 mg, 10 mg, 20 mg, 40 mg, 50 mg, 80 mg, and 100 mg dose intervals. Medical marijuana patients and veteran consumers may require a dose much higher than the 10 mg standard, but start low and go slow as you go up until you know how your body reacts to different doses and you’ve become familiar with edibles.

Many medical marijuana patients and experienced cannabis consumers microdose with edibles, consuming just 3 to 7 mg at a time. Microdosing stimulates the cannabinoid receptors in the body for improved focus, mood, and creativity with little noticeable euphoria.

Tolerance matters.

Particularly if you’re a beginner, it’s a great idea to start with a low dose, because tolerance matters. A low tolerance for THC can make you especially vulnerable to negative side effects such as anxiety, paranoia, panic, and dizziness—and believe us, less is definitely more in that department. Don’t try to pace more experienced users; just go at your own speed.

Be patient.

Yeah, waiting for effects to kick in is definitely the least amusing part of the experience. But it’s definitely worth it, and it can be enjoyable in itself to slowly feel that creeper high spread over your body. And while that whole package of infused snacks might look tempting, mindlessly snacking on cannabis-infused edibles can make for a bad night.

Eat well and avoid alcohol.

Consider what you’ve had to drink and how much you’ve eaten before you dose. An empty stomach can cause your edible to kick in more rapidly.

It’s best to avoid alcohol altogether, but keep in mind that you should dose with THC edibles modestly if you do drink. Alcohol can boost the THC concentration in your blood significantly.

Get comfortable and relax.

Because you can discreetly take most edibles anywhere, it may seem tempting to bring them out for a wild night. But it’s really better to consume edibles, especially in higher doses, at home in comfort among trusted people. This is most important for new users, because if anxiety or something similar does set in, feeling safe and sound is critical.

If you do become uncomfortably high despite following these guidelines, don’t panic! We talk about dealing with that below.

Start Low, Go Slow

For new cannabis fans and people trying edibles, this is the way. The accepted recommendation from most experts for the first time is a dose of 2.5 to 5 mg, with no more than 10 mg.

It’s a nearly universal fact: just about every single bad edibles experience has the same basic set of facts. Even when people start slow, they wait and don’t feel anything—but they don’t wait long enough.

It can take more than two hours for an edible to really hit you, but if you’re waiting 30 minutes expecting a serious stone, you can see where the trouble starts.

Homemade Edibles: Why They’re Tricky

Let’s say you start out with 100 grams of Blue Dream and you’re making one dozen brownies. This Blue Dream is 20% THC, 20,000mg maximum available for use in the brownies.

Using basic butter, you can expect a 60% efficiency of extraction under ideal conditions. That means you’re likely to get a maximum of 12,000mg of THC into the cannabutter under the best circumstances—but again, these are estimates.

If I’m making just the dozen monster brownies, that’s about 1,000mg each! I might want to make them smaller or change the dose. But again, that’s also the maximum possible dose. The reality might be much smaller.

Various other factors can affect how much THC is in a particular edible, too, such as whether the cannabutter is portioned vertically. Gravity causes cannabinoids to settle differently based on molecular weights, so you shouldn’t just scrape cannabutter from the top.

Measuring errors or imprecise work can be another source of inaccurate dosing. Edibles that weren’t mixed well can be surprisingly uneven just within the same batch.

And even if you mixed the batter perfectly, if you cut without measuring, your hard work is for nothing. If you’re making something like cookies that don’t get cut, use a scoop or a scale to make sure portions are even.

Help! I Got Too High!

It happens to the best of us; there are times when you may have had too much cannabis, including too many edibles.

This is about to be some seriously unsatisfying advice, but it’s true: go lie down in a safe place where you can sleep, drink a tall glass of water, and rest.

Your instinct might be to get a belly full of food like you might do if you got too drunk—but don’t. All of that fat you’re taking in will just make it worse. Just drink water and relax and wait.

Remember: you are not in danger. Your body is fine. You just feel really awful. There is no need to see a doctor, though, or call for help.

One last thing to try if you really feel awful is plain old CBD. You may have noticed that high-CBD products kill your high? Use that. CBD mitigates some of THC’s side effects and is not itself psychoactive.

Final Thoughts On Getting Started With Edibles

We hope this has been a useful guide to getting started with edibles. Everyone has to start somewhere! One of the coolest things about eating your cannabis is the range of choices you have out there.

We love microdosing all day with mints, getting an energizing yet relaxing charge with cannabis coffee, and even enjoying those classic baked goods we all know and love from time to time. In a health-conscious time when fewer people are smoking, it’s nice to know there are lots of real cannabis edibles options!

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