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3 things to know before you eat marijuana edibles

“User-friendly” is not a word that’s often used when describing marijuana edibles.

Whether you’re biting into a pot brownie cooked up in a college dorm or nibbling on a fruit chew purchased from your local dispensary, you never really know how much marijuana you’re ingesting. It can take hours to get high, and the effects can be intense and long-lasting.

That said, edibles offer a discreet way to get high in public or among disapproving company, and a single dose can power users through the worst bouts of illness-induced nausea or a marathon Netflix binge. It’s often the consumption method of choice for people using marijuana for medicinal purposes (and those who just don’t want to smoke).

Remember, it doesn’t matter who you are or what size you are. Edibles will affect everyone differently. Enjoy with caution.

Here are three things to know before you try your first marijuana edible.

1. Marijuana-infused foods are more potent than regular pot.

The body works in mysterious ways, as does marijuana.

Edibles offer a completely different experience than, say, a joint or a bong hit. When eaten, t etrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in weed, undergoes a transformation in the liver that turns it into a different substance that’s twice as strong and lasts twice as long as when inhaled.

It also takes our bodies much longer to process cannabis when we ingest rather than inhale.

“With smoking, the peak blood levels happen within 3-10 minutes, and with eating, it’s 1-3 hours,” Kari Franson, a clinical pharmacologist and an associate dean of the Department of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy, told Forbes.

Because it takes so long to process, people often overdo it. If you don’t feel high after ingesting an edible, wait at least two hours before consuming a second dose.

2. You should always, always, always read the label.

Not everyone has the great fortune of being able to pick out an individually packaged edible from a bona fide retailer, especially in states where the prohibition on pot persists (though that’s starting to change). But if you do, paying attention to the label on the packaging can be the difference between a Grade A night-in and a paranoia-wracked nightmare of an evening.

Any reputable edible maker will lab test their products for potency and will include on the label two important ingredients: THC, the psychoactive chemical compound in marijuana, and CBD, or cannabidiol, the chemical compound that has pain relief benefits. The total THC or “maximum THC” is the most clear-cut indicator of how high the product will make you.

Research shows these labels can be inaccurate, but it beats total ignorance .

Five milligrams of THC is a good place to start for novice users, according to the Oregon Responsible Edibles Council. It’s a conservative dose for adults who don’t know their tolerance or are consuming for recreational, rather than medical, purposes.

3. It will be okay if you get too high.

If your heart starts to race, your hands tremble, and anxiety strikes, it’s helpful to remember there are no recorded cases of people fatally overdosing on marijuana. Zero.

“The good thing about [consuming too much] weed is it can’t kill you,” Kim Geraghty, cofounder of Madame Munchie , whose gourmet cannabis macarons recently took the award for best dessert at Hempcon, told Business Insider . “But it can make you very uncomfortable.”

There are things you can do to mitigate an “Oh, no, what I have done?” high. First, relax.

“Remind yourself that you’re in no danger and the state you’re in is temporary,” writes David Schmader in his excellent book, “Weed: The User’s Guide.” “Surround yourself with stuff that makes you feel safe. (If this means pajamas in bed, so be it.)”

Drink some water to stay hydrated and eat a snack — preferably one that is ready-to-eat and does not require operating a stove— to boost your blood sugar. Call up a trusted friend, Schmader recommends, or Google search “Maureen Dowd Colorado” to feel less alone.

A beginner's guide to consuming marijuana-infused food.

How Long Do Edibles Take to Kick In?

Edibles are cannabis-based food products. They come in many different forms, from gummies to brownies, and contain either one or both of marijuana’s active ingredients: THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).

With the legalization of marijuana, edibles are increasing in popularity. CBD-only edibles have even been found to help treat ailments such as anxiety and chronic pain. As an added benefit, edibles don’t pose risks to the respiratory system — unlike smoking marijuana.

The edible experience tends to differ from that of other cannabis products. The “high” from edibles can feel more intense, and it may last longer than the high you get from smoking.

Edibles also take longer than smoking or vaping cannabis to kick in, although many factors affect the timing.

Keep reading to learn more about edibles, including how long they take to kick in and how long the effects last, along with dosage, side effects, and precautions.

Edibles typically take around 30 to 60 minutes to kick in. However, onset time depends on a lot of factors.

First, it depends on the product’s active ingredients. If the product contains a high dose or concentration of THC, it could take effect faster.

Keep in mind that CBD-only edibles are not psychoactive. They don’t cause the “high” typically associated with THC-infused edibles. As a result, it may be harder to identify when CBD products have taken effect.

For both types of products, onset time also depends on where in the body the edibles are being broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream.

Lozenges, gum, and lollipops kick in faster because they’re absorbed sublingually

Some edible products, such as lozenges, gum, and lollipops, are ingested but not actually swallowed. In these cases, absorption occurs through the mucus membranes of the mouth. This is called sublingual absorption, and the effects are more likely to appear faster.

Chewable edibles take longer to kick in because they’re absorbed through the digestive system

Chewable edibles, such as gummies, cookies, and brownies, may have longer onset times. This is because absorption first occurs in the digestive tract. From there, active ingredients enter the bloodstream and travel to the liver.

In the liver, active ingredients are metabolized before they are released back into the bloodstream and enter the brain, at which point the effects appear.

Other factors affecting onset time

Other factors that can affect how quickly you start to feel the effects of ingested edibles are related to your habits and physical makeup. They include your:

  • diet
  • metabolism
  • sex
  • weight
  • tolerance to cannabis

Since edibles don’t kick in right away, it can be tempting to take more soon after your first dose. This can lead to taking too much.

You should always wait at least 24 hours before taking another dose.

Edibles don’t kick in right away

Since edibles don’t kick in right away, it can be tempting to take more soon after your first dose. Wait at least 24 hours before taking another dose.

An edible high generally lasts much longer than smoking or vaping, from six to eight hours.

Among edibles that contain THC, peak blood levels occur around three hours after administration. That’s when the effects are likely to be the most intense.

As with onset time, the length of an edible high depends on a variety of factors, including the dose and potency. The high from products that are chewed and swallowed may last longer than the high from products that are absorbed orally.

Individual factors, such as metabolism, weight, and tolerance, also affect duration.

Yet, it may not be possible to predict how long the effects of edibles will last. In a 2016 study , researchers analyzed over one hundred thousand tweets about edibles. An “unpredictable” high duration was one of the most common adverse effects listed.

Edibles come in many different forms, and new products come onto the market almost daily. Common types of edibles include:

  • Baked goods: brownies, cookies, biscuits, and waffles.
  • Candy and sweets: gummies, chewing gum, lozenges, lollipops and hard candy, chocolate, truffles, fruit bars, and marshmallows.
  • Beverages: coffee, tea and iced tea, soda, energy drinks and shots, beer, wine, and alcohol.
  • Other products: jerky, butter, sugar, and syrups.

Most edible cannabis products identify how much THC or CBD is in a single serving. For instance, a single gummy typically contains 10 milligrams (mg) of THC.

In some cases, though, the manufacturer lists the THC or CBD content of the entire package or food item. To use the gummy example, a package might contain 100 mg of THC. If the package contains 10 gummies, that’s 10 mg per gummy.

This can be quite confusing with food items such as brownies and cookies. In some cases, it might mean that a single dose corresponds to a fraction of the item.

Be sure to read the label

It’s important to read the label carefully before you consume the product. Look for the THC or CBD content per serving, and identify whether the serving size refers to the entire product or only a portion.

That said, even when you know exactly what you’re consuming, edible dosing isn’t always predictable. There are a lot of variables involved.

Start slow

It’s best to start with a low dose, and work your way up to a dose that produces the desired effect.

It’s best to start with a low dose, and work your way up to a dose that produces the desired effect.

Here are some general dosing suggestions for THC and CBD edibles.

THC dosing

THC tolerance isn’t the same for smoking and edibles. Edible THC typically produces more intense effects.

According to a 2015 report commissioned by the Colorado Department of Revenue, the behavioral effects of eating 1 mg of THC are comparable to those associated with smoking 5.71 mg of THC.

Even if you’re a regular marijuana smoker, you should start with a low dose. Over time, you can increase the dose until you reach the desired effect.

Doses that exceed 20 to 30 mg per day are associated with an increased risk of negative side effects, including dependency.

Effect Limited to no THC tolerance Some THC tolerance (smoking) THC tolerance (smoking) THC tolerance (edibles)
mild > 2.5 mg 2.5–5 mg 5–10 mg 10–15 mg
moderate 2.5–5 mg 5–10 mg 10–15 mg 15–30 mg
strong 5–10 mg 10–20 mg 15–30 mg > 30 mg

CBD dosing

Since CBD does not produce psychoactive effects, there’s less risk if you take too much. Still, high doses may cause undesirable side effects, such as fatigue.

As with THC edibles, it’s best to start small. Opt for a low dose between 2.5 and 10 mg, and work your way up to a CBD dose that produces the desired effects.

Since CBD can make you sleepy, it’s best to take it in the early evening until you understand how it affects you.

Cannabis-infused edibles present distinct advantages over smoking. These include:

  • No respiratory risk. Cannabis smoke contains carcinogens. In addition, regular cannabis smoking is associated with respiratory issues such as lung inflammation and bronchitis. Edibles do not involve burning marijuana and inhaling the smoke, and therefore do not pose the same risks.
  • Longer duration. Edibles last longer than smoking or vaping, which makes them ideal for medicinal users who want long-acting relief from symptoms.
  • Accessible. Taking edibles does not require going outside. People who cannot smoke may also find edible products easier to consume.
  • Discreet. Much like medication, it’s possible to take edibles without others noticing. Unlike smoking, edibles aren’t associated with odor. This may be helpful for those who use cannabis for medicinal purposes, and need to take it while at work.

Edible side effects depend on the active ingredient.

THC edibles

High doses of THC edibles can produce unpleasant symptoms that persist for several hours up to several days. This is sometimes referred to as “greening out” or a cannabis overdose.

Some symptoms associated with edible cannabis overdose include:

  • cognitive impairment
  • motor impairment
  • extreme sedation
  • agitation and anxiety
  • increased heart stress
  • nausea and vomiting
  • hallucinations
  • delusions
  • psychosis

CBD edibles

According to a 2017 review , known side effects of CBD include:

  • tiredness
  • diarrhea
  • changes in appetite
  • changes in weight

More research into short- and long-term side effects of CBD use needs to be done.

When purchasing edibles, it’s important to evaluate the manufacturer carefully.

In general, reputable edible manufacturers are transparent about the contents of their products and the required dosages. A trustworthy source should take the time to answer your questions without pressuring you to purchase the product.

Still, it’s not always possible to know exactly what you’re getting. A 2015 study evaluated the dose and label accuracy of 75 different products.

After testing the products for THC content, researchers found that only 17 percent were accurately labeled. Among products that were inaccurately labeled, 23 percent contained more THC than stated, and 60 percent contained less THC than stated.

Edibles can interfere with medication and other supplements. If you’re thinking about using them, speak with a doctor. In states where edibles are legal, a doctor may be able to recommend a dose or brand.

Edibles can take up to several hours to kick in. If you’ve already taken a dose, you should wait at least 24 hours before taking more. Taking another dose could cause unpleasant side effects.

When taking edibles for the first time, start with a small dose and work your way up to a dose that produces the desired effect.

Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.

Edibles take longer than smoking or vaping cannabis to kick in — typically around 30 to 60 minutes. However, onset time depends on a lot of factors. Learn what these factors are as well as how long the effects last, dosage suggestions, side effects, and precautions. ]]>