It’s easy to be immediately overwhelmed by the types of edibles at dispensaries in recreational cannabis states. As Bob Eschino, cofounder and president of Medically Correct, puts it, “It’s like being a real grocery store now.”
When he and his business partners were getting started more than a decade ago, they were one of the first in the country to have a license to manufacture regulated cannabis. From starting as a small baked goods company to working with THC emulsifying technology, Eschino has just about seen it all.
One of the biggest changes is how THC consistency has reached new levels from what was comparatively the Wild West in dosage in the early days of recreational cannabis. Back then, strength was often listed as one times, two times, or three times strength. That obviously means nothing if you don’t know how much THC is in that first level.
Today, there are many cannabis products perfect for a quick layover or a long weekend trip at the best dispensaries in America (just know these recreational dispensary tips if it’s your first time shopping). And you’d be hard pressed to find an edible in a recreational state that doesn’t have the potency clearly labeled in milligrams and size of dose on each edible. Still, there are subtle differences to note depending on what you purchase. Here’s what you need to know about each main type of edible.
What are edibles made of?
A fat like butter was long the only vessel you’d see used to put THC into food. It’s easy to cook with (every baked good needs a fat, after all) and it’s relatively easy to use fat to extract THC from the plant. In recent years, new extraction methods have come about that can extract just the THC and leave the other dozens of cannabinoids in the plant. Other innovations, like nano-emulsification, allow companies to break down THC into water-soluble particles.
“Many companies have invested in advanced distillation systems, which extract higher-quality material, with more pure THC, to be infused into products,” says Dr. Elizabeth Ardillo, director of medical education at Green Thumb Industries. “Post-extraction processes have also improved, as manufacturers can now more effectively remove undesired components such as fats, waxes and chlorophyll, making for a tastier end product.”
Nano-emulsification is relatively new. Microscopic particles of cannabis oil are mixed with an emulsifier to allow the THC to dissolve in water. The small molecules are absorbed by the body faster in your mouth and stomach lining (and goes through your body faster).
“An emulsifier allows more control, and users can control the effects a little better because the edible allows for faster and more full absorption,” Eschino says when talking about Medically Correct’s brand Quiq. Timing ranges from about 15 minutes initial onset to full effect in 45 minutes to an hour. The high also dissipates faster.
As for the other ingredients in an edible, it all depends on what you’re eating. There are classy, infused chocolate bonbons that are filled with ganache and hand painted from the likes of Cloud11; vegan gummies like those from Wana; and hoppy sparkling water with THC in it like Lagunitas Hi-Fi.
How are edibles different from smoking?
The THC that people typically think of as the type that gets them high is called delta-9-THC. This is what’s responsible for the way you feel after smoking a joint. When delta-9-THC is metabolized in the liver, it turns to 11-hydroxy-THC. How your body handles 11-hydroxy-THC depends on age, sex, tolerance, and other factors, but it hits the body much harder.
Studies are scarce, but one lab analysis found that, when it comes to effects, 1 milligram of THC in an edible is equivalent to about 5.71 milligrams of THC smoked.
What you eat beforehand matters as well. A large meal before an edible could slow down how long before your body started to digest the THC, thereby delaying the effects. People with fast metabolisms may feel the THC faster as well because it is processed by their body faster.
Timing is another thing to keep in mind. Studies have found that the peak effect from smoking cannabis comes on about 20 to 30 minutes after smoking and fades after two to three hours. Edibles can start to kick in 30 to 90 minutes after ingesting and peak at two to four hours.
Bad edible experiences like the notorious misguided experience that columnist Maureen Dowd wrote about for the New York Times can be attributed to how long it takes to metabolize the THC. Someone may eat an edible, not feel anything for an hour and a half, and then eat more. Then the high hits all at once. That’s easily avoidable these days, and choosing the right type of edible is one easy way to control your experience.
“A common mistake people make when consuming edibles is taking too much,” Ardillo says. “They’ll take more after not yet feeling the effects they’re expecting, and then it’s too late to backtrack.” Fast-acting technology has taken out some of the guesswork. “With fast-acting edibles, consumers can more precisely assess and control their experience.”
Types of edibles
Chocolate and baked goods:
The high fat content means much of the THC will reach the liver and be processed into 11-hydroxy-THC. It may hit slower (give it around 90 minutes to two hours) but hit harder and the high may last longer.
Mints and hard candy:
These dissolve in your mouth, so are absorbed in the blood relatively quickly. Effects start fast for an edible and also last a shorter amount of time relative to other types of edibles.
“Consumers taking edible products that dissolve in the mouth or sublingually, like mints or tarts, can expect to feel effects quicker than taking products that are chewed, like cookies or chocolate bars,” says Dr. Elizabeth Ardillo, director of medical education at Green Thumb Industries. “With sublinguals, absorption occurs through the mucus membranes, whereas chewable edibles are first absorbed in the GI tract before the active ingredients enter the bloodstream.”
Cannabis mints and hard candy to try: Petra
It took some time for researchers to figure out how to make THC, which binds to hydrophobic fat, water soluble, but now there’s a range of products using nano-emulsification. Nano-emulsification is relatively new. Microscopic particles of cannabis oil are mixed with an emulsifier to allow the THC to dissolve in water. The small molecules are absorbed by the body faster in your mouth and stomach lining (and goes through your body faster).
Companies like SōRSE claims results between 10 to 20 minutes, while Vertosa’s water-dispersible solutions (the company behind the THC in Drinks like Keef and Lagunitas Hi-Fi) claim an average onset of 8 minutes. Just be sure to check the dose of your drink — beverages can span between 2 milligrams and 10 milligrams per container.
Cannabis drinks to try: Keef, Lagunitas Hi-Fi Hops
Dissolvable cannabis powders
Water-soluble powders allow people to turn any drink into a cannabis drink (though it’s always advised to not mix with alcohol). These use emulsified THC, so onset is fast. Dissolve Ripple into your drink of choice, for example, and the company’s studies show measurable THC absorption in 15 minutes and a peak at around an hour. Or you can skip the dissolving and dump the powder straight on your tongue with Ripple’s Quick Sticks.
Purejuana was designed to take the place of alcoholic drinks with easy to microdose 2.5 milligram and 5 milligram dissolvable powders, as well as a 10 milligram option, that hit fast and come off fast. Plus, the strain-specific choices taste good enough to throw in a sparkling water and enjoy.
Cannabis powders to try: Ripple, Purejuana
“Compared to baked goods, it’s easier to absorb gummies and ensure you’re getting consistent dosages,” says Dr. Elizabeth Ardillo, director of medical education at Green Thumb Industries. “Plus, gummies are more shelf-stable, so consumers have greater flexibility in terms of when they decide to take them.”
Nano emulsification has been brought to gummy technology as well. Eschino adds that, “an edible typically high in sugar like a gummy is going to get in your system a little bit faster.”
Just because they’re easy to eat doesn’t mean you should lose track of the fact that they are in fact going to get you high.
“As with any cannabis product, it’s really important to know the dose of each individual unit you’re consuming and not make assumptions based on physical appearance,” says Dr. Elizabeth Ardillo, director of medical education at Green Thumb Industries. “If a gummy has 5 mg of THC per unit, then it’s easy to calculate consuming four gummy edibles will equal 20 mg of THC.” And yes, Ardillo knows full well that it can be hard to stick with just one when eating candy.