My moods naturally tend to sway towards melancholia, and cannabis edibles are a great aid in combating my down days as they can shift my perspective more drastically than smoking weed or dabbing. My favorite edibles include ice water hash, aka water hash or bubble hash. Hash-infused edibles feel more potent and have a certain brightness that I don’t find in other infusions. I think it’s fun to bend time a bit by taking an edible before a yoga class and get progressively higher as the practice goes on or taking an edible before a nap and waking up blitzed. But when it comes to the potency and effects of edibles, aren’t the results solely based on the milligrams of THC? Why do I prefer hash edibles over edibles made with cannabis flower or THC distillate? Isn’t 10 mg of THC just 10 mg of THC, regardless of the delivery method? With cannabis edibles, there are a lot of personal factors to consider. While we know little about why certain edibles seem to hit harder than others, we can hone in on a few solid leads: the way THC is absorbed and the other chemical components in cannabis resin beyond THC.
The Hasheesh Eater
When it comes to the history of cannabis consumption, edibles take the lead over smoking. While Greek historian Herodotus records an ancient nomadic people, the Scythians, breathing in cannabis smoke as part of a tented funeral ritual, historians believe that our understanding of the psychoactive element of this plant likely occurred when we came into contact with the sticky, resinous substance that its flowers left behind on our hands. With origins in India, charas was the first cannabis concentrate, and our ancestors ate it before they smoked it.
“Oral ingestion was the most common method of consuming cannabis drugs prior to the spread of smoking from the New World after the fifteenth century, along with tobacco,” Robert Connell Clark and Mark Merlin write in the book Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany.
In Pots and Pans: A History of Eating Cannabis, author Robyn Griggs Lawrence details that the “Atharva Veda, a Hindu scripture written between 2000 and 1400 BCE, referred to cannabis as an ingredient in an intoxicating drink called soma.” Griggs outlines that a cannabis drink originating in India called bhang includes cannabis leaves and flowers made into a paste combined with other ingredients including milk.
Cannabis edibles made their way to Europe through a few different colonial channels. In the book Cannabis by Jonathon Green, Green explains that an attempt to expand the French kingdom took Napoleon to Egypt, where his troops discovered cannabis in its concentrated form, hashish.
Hash history gets murky because the word “hash” was used interchangeably with “cannabis.” Many early gonzo-style drug writers experimented with edibles, often created with cannabis flowers rather than cannabis resin, but called the substance they were ingesting hash. In 1840 French physician Dr. Jacques Joseph Moreau swallowed an edible mixture containing cannabis, writing later in his 1845 book Hashish and Mental Illness that its influence caused a “thousand fantastic ideas” to flow through his brain. Moreau believed ingesting cannabis might reveal how to treat mental illness.
“One of the effects of hashish that struck me most forcefully and which generally gets the most attention is that manic excitement always accompanied by a feeling of gaiety and joy inconceivable to those who have never experienced it,” Moreau wrote. “I saw in it a mean of effectively combating the fixed ideas of depressives, disrupting the chain of their ideas, of unfocusing their attention on such and such a subject.”
Needing more test subjects beyond himself, Moreau aligned with leading literary writers in Paris, France, and formed the Club des Hachichins. This group would regularly meet to ingest coffee infused with hashish, more specifically dawamesk, a green paste made with cannabis flower mixed with a fat, butter, or oil, as well other ingredients such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, pistachio, sugar, orange juice, and cantharides, a substance produced by beetles used as a sexual stimulant called Spanish fly.
While writers like Charles Baudelaire proliferated stories of cannabis exploration in Europe, Fitz High Ludlow popularized cannabis use in America with his 1857 book, The Hasheesh Eater.
“It was the first American drug book,” cannabis historian Michael Aldrich explains to me over a phone call. “That was the first American cannabis book. It was the first American confessional.”
The book is modeled after author Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater and describes Ludlow’s vivid, surreal experiences ingesting cannabis in high doses.
“[Ludlow] was sort of patterning it after De Quincey, but his story is much different. When he gets the stuff he flies over Schenectady, or wherever he was in upstate New York, and flies over the pyramid heading for the Great Wall of China,” Aldrich says. “That’s quite an adventure.”
While Ludlow writes of ingesting “hasheesh” within the book, he describes taking a specific tincture called Tilden’s Extract. Back then, the medical use of cannabis tinctures in America was beginning. As the mixtures evolved, they often included additional medicinal ingredients beyond cannabis.
“[Ludlow] drank Tilden’s Extract, which was a very powerful extract, and it was in liquid form,” Aldrich says. “I have one type of cannabis tincture that has chloroform in it. This was for children. When they were coughing or screaming, give them a little dose of this and shut them right up.”
In a 1971 article for The International Journal of Addictions, Oriana Josseau Kalant writes that the Tilden’s Extract that Ludlow ingested was “roughly twice as potent as the crude resin and ten times as potent as marijuana.”
Fueled by Fat?
Dropping back down into experiments of contemporary hash consumption, cannabis expert Elise McDonough tells me she has long preferred hash edibles because she believes the flavor of ice water hash is superior to the vegetal taste of chlorophyll that can come when making edibles with cannabis flower as opposed to cannabis resin. It’s also easier for cooking, she says, because it’s a homogenous ingredient that evenly spreads the THC dose and can be used much like a spice.
Cannabis edibles are more powerful and long-lasting than smoking weed because of how our bodies process them. When we ingest edibles, the THC transforms into 11-hydroxy-THC, which is two to three times more potent. But to get to the point of ingestion, the THC in cannabis must first be activated. Raw cannabis flowers contain the acidic form of THC, THCA, which needs to be converted to THC through heat to get us high. In edibles, this process is called decarboxylation, a step that needs to take place for both cannabis flower and hash. Cannabinoids are fat soluble, so they are often combined with a fat, like butter or oil, to make them more bioavailable. New edible innovations encapsulate cannabinoids in coatings that make them water soluble.
The ability of cannabis to be absorbed into our body plays into McDonough’s theory as to why certain cannabis edibles might hit harder than others containing the same milligrams of THC.
“What I have long suspected and is my hypothesis is that you’re going to feel a much more intense and long-lasting effect if you’re eating edibles where the active ingredient is combined with some kind of fat,” McDonough says. “What I have noticed personally and anecdotally is that when I eat edibles that are made with cannabutter or that are made with some kind of full-fat infusion, they are much more intense than when I eat gummies or drink a drink, and I think that’s because of the lack of fat in emulsions for drinks and for gummies.”
Cannabis gummies and drinks often contain THC distillate, a form of cannabis concentrate that has already been decarboxylated and only contains THC rather than including the other chemical elements within the plant’s resinous trichomes, such as terpenes. In the edibles space, nanotechnology, manipulating matter on a small scale, has also recently introduced water-soluble cannabis concentrates.
McDonough’s theory about full-fat activations rings true in one of my favorite ice water hash based edibles, Space Gem gummies. Unlike other gummies that rely upon distillate as the active ingredient, Space Gems contain ice water hash combined with a fat, coconut oil.
“Ice water hash is just like a concentrated flower high,” Space Gems founder and CEO Wendy Baker says. “I like the fact that the cannabinoid is kept whole, the trichome is kept whole. You have all these different cannabinoids, and you’re not stripping the cannabinoids of certain things. You’re keeping them whole.”
The fact that the cannabinoids in ice water hash also include other elements present in cannabis resin, like terpenes, could also play into the speculation of why edibles crafted with hash seem stronger.
Whole Plant Compounds
The pharmacokinetic (PK) profile of edibles, or the speed at which our bodies absorb cannabinoid molecules, depends on the product formulation. Cannabis formulation expert James Prendergast has worked with companies such as Cannacraft and LEVEL using different infusion methods and input ingredients. He tells me the fat component in certain edibles affects the onset time of edibles as the amount of lipids helps with the uptake of THC.
“The PK profile will help determine how a high feels because that impacts how quickly it comes on and how strong it is. Like the total uptake bioavailability,” Prendergast says.
Also in play, he says, are the “whole plant compounds that come along when you don’t purify THC fully.”
“The effect you get from, say smoking flower or using a vape is largely colored by the terpene profile,” Prendergast says. “That’s really what determines whether it’s a sativa or indica kind of feeling. I think in the past, I didn’t really have a belief—and I say belief because there’s not enough research on this—that terpenes were going to be taken up in your stomach. It seemed like that was kind of far-fetched… A lot of research shows from a medical perspective that whole plant extracts like RSO and things like that are more effective.”
Within his work to craft edibles for LEVEL, Prendergast says he noticed differences in the effect of cannabis edibles depending on the product’s terpene profile. Other compounds within cannabis resin, such as flavonoids (phytochemicals found in cannabis and other plants thought to provide health benefits), also might have a hand in the effects of edibles, he says.
Flavonoids and other non-terpenoid, non-cannabinoid compounds could explain why hash edibles—like the ice water hash capsules by Community Cannabis that have kept me balanced lately—might particularly appeal to my endocannabinoid system.
“Hash contains those, so it really is a sort of rounded whole plant input material,” Prendergast says.
As shown in scientific research, cannabis is not a single compound product. The entourage effect, or the “suggested positive contribution derived from the addition of terpenes to cannabinoids,” likely explains why hash edibles are my favorite. While we wait to unlock the science behind edible formulations, I’m joining in the long history of self-experimentation of drug writers in the past and will keep eating cannabis to stimulate my creativity and keep the blues at bay.