Cannabis Manual: You Are What You Eat

Edibles Vs. Smokables

Joshua Lee
4 min read
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The best thing about having a medical marijuana card (other than not being thrown in a cage) is knowing how much safer it is than its pharmaceutical alternatives. (In 2014 more than 14,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids. Compare that to the number of cannabis-related overdoses spanning the entirety of human history: zero.) 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 stole a bag of weed from someone he’d arrested and decided to make brownies from 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 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. In fact the two consumption methods actually deliver 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 that 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 flower that’s still waiting to be activated by your lighter, edibles already have activated THC, because they were baked.

When you ingest cannabis-infused food, the THC gets absorbed differently too. Smoking it quickly dumps higher concentrations of the chemical into the bloodstream, allowing it to cross the blood-brain barrier within minutes. With smoking effects are quick to come on and 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. Here the 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 why a number of users consider edible cannabis a psychedelic.

I recently experimented with edibles again. I’ve had issues during previous tries—edibles seemed to have no effect on me whatsoever. In fact, I ate 50mg of a terrible tasting hard candy last week (five times what the Colorado market considers the standard dose) and only noticed a teensy bit of sleepiness.

No one really knows why some patients have trouble getting effects from edibles. Like most aspects of medicinal cannabis, the science just isn’t there. The internet is full of anecdotal evidence of people who seem to have a higher tolerance to edibles than most, and theories abound. (My current favorite revolves around the apparently large amount of skinny people who have issues and a proposed link to irritable bowel syndrome.) But apparently it’s incredibly rare (lucky me).

This time, though, with persistence and a steely mettle, I managed to summon my first reaction to edibles. After scarfing a chocolate bar and waiting the recommended 90 minutes to see if anything was happening to no avail, I also gobbled half a box of THC-infused 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. 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.
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