But that doesn't mean you're free from danger while dosing with this little green plant, dear reader. It won't kill you, but it can definitely make you feel like you're dying. Just ask former Detroit police officer Edward Sanchez, who made headlines nearly a decade ago when he jacked a bag of weed from someone he'd arrested, and decided to make brownies out of it with his wife. The resulting 911 call will tell you everything you need to know about the dangers of ingesting edible cannabis. The officer didn't die, of course, and the worst that happened in the end was he lost his job and became a public laughing stock (even the 911 operator seems to barely stifle laughter at moments), but as he said during the harrowing call to emergency services: “I think we're dying. We made brownies and I think we're dead. I really do.”
He had learned the terrible lesson that comes to all of us at one point or other: eating marijuana is a completely different beast than smoking it. The two delivery methods carry different forms of THC (the chemical that makes you high).
Marijuana is actually non-psychoactive in its raw state. This is because of THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid ), an acid group occurring naturally in the plant, which requires the removal of a carboxyl group (COOH) through the process of decarboxylation to convert it to THC. (That's fancy science talk for: “Weed won't get you high unless you heat it up”). So, unlike buds, which are still waiting to be activated by your lighter, edibles already have the activated THC because they've been cooked.
When you ingest marijuana-infused food, the THC gets absorbed differently, too. Smoking it quickly dumps higher concentration of the chemical into the bloodstream, allowing it to cross the blood-brain barrier within minutes. With smoking, effects are quick to wear off. Edibles,on the other hand, are slower to come on—sometimes taking up to two hours to kick in—and can affect the patient for hours. They also take an extra step along their trip through the body, stopping by the liver to be metabolized, where delta-9 THC is turned into 11-hydroxy-THC, a much stronger and more psychoactive version of the chemical. This molecular pit stop should not be glossed over, as it explains the number of users who consider edible cannabis a psychedelic.
But I wasn't aware of these facts as I eyeballed the first-time freebie I'd received at Medzen—a 100mg dose of cheesy Medi-Crackers ($12.50)—and a 100mg Hybrid Johnny Bar ($12.50) I'd purchased. I'd had issues during previous experiments with edibles—sometimes having seemingly no effect from products that came highly recommended. In fact, I ate 50mg of a terrible tasting candy from Southwest Organic Producers last week (five times what the Colorado market considers the standard dose) and only noticed a teensy bit of sleepiness.
I was anxious to ask the staff why I was having problems and was encouraged by the no frills setup of Medzen. Although the people there ended up being some of the friendliest I've come across, the initial impression was heavy and serious. A uniformed guard stood at the door—the first I've seen—and asked for my ID and medical cannabis patient card. The walls were white, and sparsely decorated with simple paintings. The only products on display were the accessories—not a bud in sight. Instead, the patient orders from a menu on an LCD screen and waits for someone to pass the pre-packaged medicine through a hole in the wall. This is a far cry from the sleek, high-end retail style of many dispensaries, and made the whole experience feel a bit weird and unnatural. But it also made me feel like I was dealing with some serious, no-fucking-around types who could probably answer some of my heartier questions. I was also encouraged by an encounter I'd had last month with an employee of Medzen who's a friend of a friend. She'd explained at length how, due to a number of factors, the percentage of THC listed on a product by a dispensary might not be the best indicator of how “good” a particular strain is. She was whipping out those facts like nobody's business, and I was hoping to run into her again.
He had learned the terrible lesson that comes to all of us at one point or other: eating marijuana is a completely different beast than smoking it.
Along with the bar, I ordered a gram of Ghost Train Haze (THC: 22.9%, CBD: 0.20%—$12/g), a sativa strain, and the seeded Vanilla Kush (THC:19.67%, CBD:0.18%—$9/g), an indica strain. On the way out, I spotted my new buddy and asked if I could pick her brain, but she told me she wasn't allowed to talk to press. Bummer.
The flowers were some of the best I've had in town. Sticky, tasty and fragrant. The Vanilla Kush smelled sharp and earthy, and had a buttery taste with an almost bready top. The high was very bodycentric, unwinding tense muscles while leaving the mind open and aware. Prepare to be racked by fits of viscous coughing though, a trait which makes this strain great for those in need of an expectorant.
It's not exaggeration when I say that Ghost Train Haze has changed my life. This skunky wrecking ball tasted like mangoes and blasted me off my couch with the kinetic force of a thousand strands of thought, unraveling from some universal ball of yarn. From the very first hit, I felt its fingers climb up the back of my scalp and enter my skull, resting somewhere behind the eyes, steering a newly found, hyper awareness that would lead to some of the biggest creative bursts I've had in recent years. Hey: This article is being written under its influence.
As for the edibles: Whoever's baking them deserves a kiss on the mouth. The Johnny Bar was delicious in its own right. The cookie and brownie (sativa and indica, respectively, if I remember correctly) are slightly swirled, turning it into a yin-yang of sugary goodness. The crackers had only the slightest hint of that weed taste, and it actually seemed to make it amazing. Cheez-It needs to add a new pot flavor (“not for smoking”). The crackers are also each a 2mg dose, making it easier to measure out the right amount (for those who don't need to go through shenanigans and want to take a normal dose of less than 50 mg).
And in fact, I had my first reaction to edibles! After scarfing the Johnny Bar (because chocolate) and waiting the recommended 90 minutes to see if anything was happening, I also gobbled half of the crackers. I was soon experiencing slight visual distortions and an incredible weariness. My eyes had trouble tracking objects, and sitting still instantly turned me into an immovable lump. I quickly fell asleep and only got up once in nine hours to pee.
Which is pretty much a downer. I was hoping to see God, or at least face the ego-bolstering demons of my psyche like that poor, not-dead officer did. But that's not Medzen's fault. They obviously have top-notch medicine and a smart, knowledgeable staff (that I'm not allowed to talk to). I blame my parents, really. Bad genes.
Editor's note: Please take your meds responsibly. Mr. Lee's reaction to edible cannabis—like most things with him—is by no means typical. Stick to less than 50mg and always wait at least 90 minutes to measure reaction before taking more.