Edibles 101: How to Maximize Your Experience Without a Meltdown

Have you ever overestimated your weed tolerance? Have you ever underestimated the potency of your space cake? How long do edibles take to kick in, anyway?

Planning to visit Colorado? Ever heard about this groovy new thing called legal pot? If you haven’t, do a little research before chowing down on weed food, or you might just end up freaking out in the ER. How long do edibles take to kick in, anyway?

Visitors to Colorado curious about cannabis, but ignorant of its effects, end up in the emergency room more often than residents of the Centennial State, according to a widely reported study released last week by the New England Journal of Medicine. Public education campaigns aimed at residents have improved awareness, so now most people living in Colorado know to “start low and go slow,” but many tourists still haven’t gotten the memo.

Public service campaigns like First Time Five inform people that 5 milligrams of THC is a good dose for new users.

Data gathered by Dr. Howard S. Kim and others reveal a need for more “point-of-sale education for visitors regarding the safe and appropriate use of marijuana products,” with the study’s authors describing the problem as an awareness gap. Kim completed his residency in Colorado, where he treated patients suffering from “classic signs of marijuana intoxication,” including anxiety, agitation, delusions, hallucinations as well as elevated heart rates or vomiting. Speaking with NPR, Kim shared the story of “some business travelers who were in Denver… and after the meeting ended, they decided to try some marijuana edibles. Then they ended up cutting to the ER.”

Data from the Colorado Hospital Association shows an increase in ER visits for cannabis overconsumption among out-of-state travelers from 78 per 10,000 visits in 2012 to 163 per 10,000 visits in 2014. During the same timeframe, Colorado residents who got so faded that they hated it visited the ER only 70 times per 10,000 visits in 2012, rising to 101 visits per 10,000 by 2014.

Authors of the study concluded that the flattening rate of ER visitation amongst Colorado citizens was due to a learning curve during the period when only residents could access marijuana through the state’s medical program. By the time legal cannabis was available for all adults, most locals already knew how much pot they could handle, and could answer the question of “how long do edibles take to kick in?”. While the state officially defines a cannabis dose as 10 milligrams, it’s unclear from the study how much THC tourists are consuming before ending up at the hospital.

Edibles manufacturers like Mountain Medicine have radically redesigned their packaging to ensure safe ingestion of THC in 10 milligram doses.

While marijuana is an incredibly safe, non-toxic substance with no known lethal dose, it’s definitely possible to overdo it and end up “taking a scary shower.” Eating pot can feel much more psychedelic compared to smoking it! Edible cannabis-infused items have caused the most controversy in Colorado, with increasing levels of regulation aimed at protecting adults from unknowingly eating pot foods, as well as preventing children from opening packaging. New rules also mandate that cannabis-infused foods be marked or stamped with a THC warning so as to be recognizable even outside of their packaging.

This chocolate bar from Blue Kudu is clearly divided into eight increments of 10 milligrams of THC each.

Today, all edible cannabis products sold in Colorado’s retail outlets must be cut or marked in 10 milligram increments, so consumers know how much THC to eat. The total amount of THC per package has been restricted to 100 mg, although medical patients can still access products with higher dosage limits. Several different educational campaigns like Good to Know, First Time 5 and Consume Responsibly work to educate the public on marijuana’s effects and delivery systems, while budtender training and certification programs are being developed.

It’s always important to educate yourself before trying any type of psychedelic, herbal medicine or drug, whether FDA-approved or not. With this in mind, we’ve prepared the “Cannabis Edibles FAQ” to help pot virgins avoid embarrassing themselves in emergency rooms and have a fun, relaxing inaugural voyage that they’ll want to repeat again and again.

Share this knowledge with your coworkers, friends and family if they happen to be traveling to Colorado or any legal pot state, just in case that ski trip gets trippy.

Cannabis Edibles FAQ

How do edibles work?

Eating THC is very different from smoking it. After ingesting cannabis, the THC must work its way through your digestive system, which can take one to two hours. Effects will vary in intensity based on whether your stomach is full or empty, so make sure to have a nutritious meal before eating edibles. Your liver converts THC into another chemical known as 11-hydroxy-THC, a much stronger substance that explains the intensity and duration of an edibles high.

How much should I eat?

If you’ve never eaten cannabis before but you like to smoke, start with only 10 milligrams of THC. (If you’ve never even smoked pot before, try that first, and then decide if you want to eat 5 milligrams of THC.) The effects of edible cannabis vary widely among individuals depending on weight, metabolism and fitness levels. Some people can tolerate much larger doses than others; so don’t base your dose on what a friend might be able to eat. The average pot consumer usually feels significant effects from ingesting 15 to 25 milligrams of THC.

If you are eating homemade edibles with no known dosage, start with only a tiny piece and wait two hours for effects to manifest. You can always eat more later or the next day.

What Does It Feel Like?

An appropriate cannabis dose will cause silliness, euphoria, pleasant tingling and muscle relaxation beginning one to two hours after ingestion and lasting for 6 to 8 hours. You may feel very cozy and content, or experience a heightened libido and increased sensuality. Eating cannabis induces deep sleep, so be prepared to devote at least 8 to 10 hours to getting the rest you deserve!

What Should I Do?

Anything but drive a car or operate machinery (even a blender!) Seriously, do not drive while high on edibles. Avoid drinking alcohol before or after eating THC, since booze can magnify the effects and make you feel too high.

Usually people who’ve eaten pot food like to chill out and relax. It’s best to experience edible cannabis for the first time at home, in a hotel or at a friend’s house. I wouldn’t recommend eating edibles in a social setting while out in the world, especially for your maiden voyage. When high on pot food, you may not feel like talking, walking or dancing at a concert or party. Instead, plan on watching a movie or listening to music, exchanging massages or enjoying some awesome snacks before drifting off to a pleasant and rejuvenating sleep.

These Mellows, handcrafted cannabis-infused marshmallows, contain only 5 milligrams of THC each, making them perfect for a first-time user.

What type of pot food should I eat?

Cannabis can be infused into almost any type of food you can imagine, including sodas, chewing gum, barbeque sauce or good ol’ brownies. Be aware that sublingual products such as tinctures or sprays can take effect faster than traditional edibles, so you’ll feel high within 15 to 20 minutes versus two hours. Sodas and THC-infused drinks can also take effect faster than baked goods or other foods.

Whatever type of product you pick, make sure that the label clearly states the amount of THC in milligrams and offers concise advice on how much to eat. Seek a satisfying portion size for your dosage level, such as a whole cookie or soda containing only 10 milligrams of THC. Most people want to be able to eat the entire item, rather than slicing a chocolate truffle into four or five pieces. Read reviews of the best edibles to find the right product for your needs.

What If I Eat Too Much THC?

If the room starts spinning, or you feel nauseous, dizzy, paranoid or anxious after eating cannabis foods, remember to relax and retreat to a safe place to lay down. Practice deep breathing if you need to calm yourself, and know that everything is going to be OK.  Drink plenty of water and some orange juice, which can help you feel less high by raising your blood sugar. Sometimes taking a cold shower can help, but avoid baths or hot tubs where you could pass out. Distract yourself by watching a funny movie or listening to your favorite music. Most likely you will drift off to sleep and wake up feeling a little groggy.

Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is another medicinal chemical found in the cannabis plant. It is non-psychoactive, and it also confounds the action of THC, meaning that it can act somewhat like an antidote. If you are too high on THC, try a CBD-rich tincture to take the edge off or vaporize some CBD-rich cannabis for faster-acting relief to curb anxiety. CBD capsules can help as well, but remember that it will take another hour before they kick in.

If you feel your heart pounding or if you are having trouble breathing, go to the emergency room. You might feel silly, but it’s better to seek help than risk your health. You’ll possibly be treated with saline injections, activated charcoal or anti-anxiety drugs and will be observed until your high subsides and your heart rate and breathing have returned to normal.

This educational card distributed by the Cannabis Business Alliance aims to teach consumers about THC-infused foods.

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