By Brad Bogus
It starts with one gummy, maybe a brownie. You eat it, pop on Netflix, and chill for 45 minutes. “I don’t feel anything, weird. Maybe I didn’t take enough?” You eat another. 20 minutes later the floor is floating like a turbulent sea and you’re panicking in your chest. You think you might die [you won’t, and for the most part, can’t]. Hours go by, and all of a sudden you’re better. “Holy shit, weed is intense! This isn’t what it’s like when I smoke it.”
Hopefully you’ve avoided the experience of “greening out”, but it’s such a common story when people eat edibles for the first few times. You rarely hear this story told about smoking or vaping too much. Why is that? What makes edibles different from all other methods of consuming cannabis. Let’s talk Edibles Science!
We likely already know that the cannabis plant produces an intoxicating compound known as THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. Well, that’s not exactly correct. Cannabis produces a compound called THCa, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. This compound doesn’t get you high until it is converted to ∆9-THC (pronounced delta-nine THC).
The most common way to convert the compound is through heat, like burning down a joint, or using electricity from your vape battery. The process of heating the THCa is called decarboxylation, or decarbing. When you bake cannabis in an oven at low heat for several hours, you will have activated cannabis you can eat straight out of the oven, although I wouldn’t recommend it.
We get high off of ∆9-THC in almost all forms of consumption, but there is another compound that also gets us high called 11-OH-THC, or 11-hydroxy-tetrahydrocannabinol. They aren’t very different from one another, but those scant differences pack a huge punch.
When you eat ∆9, the liver processes it and converts it (or metabolizes it if you’re into the scientific terms) mostly down into 11-hydroxy, with a smattering of other metabolites (like the ones that appear on urine tests). 11-hydroxy, as a compound, is slightly larger than ∆9, and has an added hydroxyl group, making it a more polar molecule. Having more polarity is likely one of the reasons you likely get higher on edibles than smoking.
It turns out that 11-hydroxy binds to our CB1 receptors more effectively than ∆9. Binding to the CB1 receptor more effectively means much more intense psychotropic effects are felt, and for much longer periods of time. Also, 11-hydroxy crosses the blood brain barrier more efficiently than ∆9, so more of the compound is being absorbed into the central nervous system.
In case I lost you through those last two paragraphs, let me sum it up like this: when you eat an edible, the THC is turned into a more powerful form of itself in your liver, and it enters your brain more effectively, potentially causing you to trip pretty hard. Yes, this experience can be psychedelic if you overindulge (most of you won’t have to worry about this unless you eat 100+mg of THC).
There are edibles on the market that will affect you within 5-10 minutes, rather than 45-90 minutes. While they look the same, and may even taste the same, the method of infusion is different.
Using a process called emulsification, the THC can become water soluble, where more of the molecules can pass directly into the bloodstream, with less of it getting metabolized through the digestive system. Most regular edibles use cannabis extracts like oil or butter to deliver THC through your system, which your liver will then convert mostly into 11-hydroxy.
Emulsifying THC also leads to more of the compound getting directly into the body’s tissues, largely contributing to the fast-acting effects. Because much of the compound is going directly to the blood and tissues, they don’t take 45-90 minutes to finally enter your bloodstream; they act fast. It’s not likely that consumption of emulsified edibles will leave you wondering if you’re feeling anything, and should help prevent eating more in case “you didn’t take enough.”
There’s a great adage I like to keep in mind when helping people know how to approach edibles: “start low, go slow." What this means is that you shouldn’t start right out of the gate with 10+ mg edibles. You might not even want to start with 5 mg.
Most people will have a positive first experience starting with 2.5 mg as a single dose, and waiting two hours before trying to take any more. I realize that two hours feels like a long time to wait if you don’t feel anything. I advise you not to forget the story at the beginning of this article. It’s a common experience for a reason. Wait two hours. Then try some more if you aren’t feeling anything.
The truth is, no one can tell you the perfect dose for you. While we know a lot of the science of cannabis, there is still much more research to be done before we know with precision the proper dosage for each type of person.
Until that point, start low, go slow, and remember that there’s always tomorrow to try again. This isn’t a competition, be comfortable, and enjoy yourself some delicious options along the way.