To Pot Brownie or Not to Pot Brownie?

We’re sure that’s the question Hamlet would be asking if he were the Prince of California today. In all seriousness, though, it is a valid question to ask, whether you’ve just started to use cannabis or if you’re a long-time user of cannabis and have had a medical marijuana card for a long time. Those who are first-time users, who are usually averse to smoking cannabis, tend to think of trying to find the healthiest (and/or tastiest) way of ingesting cannabis.

Sarah Bernhardt's Depiction of Hamlet.
Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet.

We’ve had vaporizers come onto the scene over the last several years, but many still think of edibles as the go-to smoke-free method of cannabis ingestion. And yet, it’s also the one that beginners generally ought to avoid, at least when using cannabis for the first time. This is especially the case if you are eating tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Why? Quite simply, because eating decarboxylated medical marijuana is a lot stronger than smoking or vaporizing it, as delta-9 THC is metabolized into 11-hydroxy-THC by the liver. This form of THC passes the blood-brain barrier more easily.

Another issue with edibles – one that’ll hopefully be solved when better regulations come through – is that the amount of cannabinoids (e.g. 100 mg THC) stated on the label is often not what is actually in the food. Quite often, the food will generally contain 10% more or less cannabinoid than what is stated on the label. Moreover, the amount of cannabinoids present in the food will vary considerably part-by-part. For example, it is not unusual to have 10 mg THC in one part of a chocolate bar and then 15 mg THC in another part of the same chocolate bar.

Though this isn’t necessarily always going to be a problem for “recreational” users, for medical patients this could mean either a) they’re not going to get the effects needed and/or b) problems when managing the intake of other medications. Having irregular dosing can prove to be a big problem for medical marijuana patients.

Yet, interestingly, if you are vaping or smoking marijuana with THC in it, the THC gets into the body much more easily and at higher concentrations. Around 50%-60% of the THC gets into blood plasma via smoking or vaping, with peak concentrations coming within 5 to 10 minutes. Eating decarboxylated cannabis, on the other hand, only 10%-20% of the cannabinoids reach blood plasma, and effects usually take 1 – 2 hours.

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS).

So, why does eaten cannabis have more powerful effects, considering the above? Well, other than the change in the type of THC that’s going through the blood-brain barrier, it’s because THC attaches to fat more readily when eaten. This means that the THC can then be released slowly throughout the body over a longer course of time. THC from smoked marijuana dissipates rapidly and goes through the lungs on the first pass rather than the liver, whereas the effects from eating cannabis can last 6 to 14 hours, depending upon how much was ingested.

Although this means that eating cannabis is much stronger, it doesn’t mean that there is absolutely no use for it. Those suffering from extreme and chronic pain, or those trying to wean themselves off opioids, may well need high doses of THC that last a long time in order to beat pain. Eating cannabis is also generally far more economical than smoking or vaping raw cannabis flowers, which can be quite expensive for those needing large amounts of cannabis for their condition.

So, is there a way of using edibles smartly? Well, whether you’re an experienced hand or a beginner in the art of cannabis edibles, it is recommendable to microdose. If you have a pot brownie that’s 1,000 mg THC, split it into smaller chunks and do not eat the entire thing at once. Even better would be to get small cookies, sweets or whatever your treat of choice that have small, fixed amounts of THC in them.

It is recommendable that you use edibles with no more than 5 mg THC in them, and have been thoroughly tested for cannabinoid content as well as safety (heavy metals, pesticides etc.). You can then take 5 mg doses every hour or so, and see what your preferred dosage is. Although many cannabinoids other than THC (e.g. CBD) may not be as psychoactive, it is still best to be careful and microdose.

A method of ingestion favored by most people who are interested in marijuana as medicine is the tincture. Tinctures have many of the same advantages as edibles (i.e. have long-lasting effects and don’t involve smoking burning plant matter), with the added advantage of being able to titrate more effectively. Tinctures can also take effect slightly quicker as well, usually taking anything from 15 minutes to 1 hour.

To add to all of these advantages, tinctures are usually made with whole plant extracts, with all cannabinoids and terpenoids retained for the full spectrum entourage effect. Many tinctures also have specific cannabinoids for those seeking specific therapeutic effects from particular cannabinoids. Tinctures essentially allow for control. With edibles, you are strapped in and taken for a ride if you’ve eaten a whole bar all at once!

You may have also realized that we’ve been writing about eating decarboxylated cannabis. This is because cannabis that has not been decarboxylated and ingested in its raw form will have little-to-no psychoactive effect. You will, however, still be ingesting cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa), cannabidiolic acid (CBDa) and cannabigerol (CBG) – all of which have positive health properties of their own.

Eating or juicing raw cannabis is not a bad method of ingestion in and of itself, and could in fact be as healthy as any other raw fruit or vegetable. The problem with eating raw marijuana is that the cannabis plant is a “super sucker”. This means that wherever the plant’s been grown and whatever’s been used to make it will end up in the final product. This shouldn’t pose a problem if the cannabis was grown organically and without the use of any nasty pesticides, heavy metals or other chemicals, but will pose a problem if it has been grown in such a way.

Hemp-Cannabis Sativa Plant
Hemp plants.

Therefore, it is perhaps best to avoid raw cannabis juices and the like, unless you know precisely what’s gone into growing the cannabis plant. As for whether or not there’s any medical benefit to eating raw cannabis, this is up for debate. There could be some, and there are studies that show that there may be some therapeutic effects with non-decarboxylated cannabis and THCA, but there is nothing definite on the medical benefits of this ingestion method. Also, it could be argued that, in order to cross the blood-brain barrier and for the body to process cannabinoids effectively, cannabis must be “activated” via decarboxylation. Another issue is that, in order to get any potential medical benefit that might exist from raw cannabis, a lot must be used. This can prove to be quite the expensive endeavour. However, raw cannabis is definitely an area that we ought to look at an research more closely.

So, to pot brownie or not to pot brownie? Generally, it is best to say to a first-timer, “Try another method first and, if you are going to go into eating cannabis straight away, take it slowly and microdose.” If you find other ingestion methods are having little effect on your pain or discomfort, then it is worth saying, “Try it, but still microdose at first. This is usually how all seasoned veterans do it, and you should follow their example.” In general, though, due to the lack of proper regulation surrounding edibles, it is perhaps best to go for tinctures.

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