By Lauren Williamson
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Cannabis has largely shaken the stoner stigma with which it’s long been tarnished, thanks to a widespread shift in knowledge and appreciation for mother nature’s noble weed. In just a few years its edible form has evolved from unregulated kitchen concoctions to a lucrative chunk of the cannabis economy (in the regions where it’s legalised), and the science is racing to catch up with the marketing hype.
Whether you’re planning to be a pot tourist somewhere they’re legal or you’re just doing some thorough research while manifesting their inevitable legalisation in Australia – here’s everything you need to know about cannabis edibles.
“The fundamental reason for using cannabis is to feel better. Whether that’s to experience an intoxicating “high” or alleviate physical or mental symptoms through a therapeutic effect.”
What are edibles?
Our conceptualisation of edibles has expanded significantly in recent years to encompass a range of health modalities and psychedelic experiences – from healing adaptogens to trip-inducing psilocybin-infused eats.
Here, we’re examining the traditional understanding of edibles, which come in the form of cannabis-infused food products. Homemade or commercially manufactured and sold through dispensaries, cannabis edibles come in a variety of feels-inducing forms including cakes, brownies, biscuits, gummies, chocolates, teas, lollipops and more. They’re also part of a burgeoning culinary scene that sees cannabis consumed in pico de ganja nachos and inebriating icecreams.
RELATED: How long do edibles take to kick in?
Different types of edibles
In addition to their diverse forms, there are also different kinds of marijuana’s active ingredients to be found in them – psychoactive THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), which produces an intoxicating effect and CBD (cannabidiol), which doesn’t.
If you’re going to be a real connoisseur of herbal imbibements, there can also be differences in the strain of cannabis used. These are Sativa or Indica (but you can also get a mix of both). Everyone has different reactions to cannabis but generally, Sativa strains will give users functional and uplifting energy while Indicas (also referred to as “in the couch”) are all about the relaxing vibes and full-body high.
CBD-only edibles don’t have the psychoactive or high-inducing effect found in THC-based treats and research shows it’s not the best way to embody its benefits. You need pretty high doses of CBD to put a lid on inflammation and say adios to anxiety, which aren’t found in most consumer products. The delivery method is also less effective than sublingual products (like oils, lozenges and sprays) which are absorbed through the sublingual gland under the tongue, skipping the digestion process and hitting the bloodstream quick AF.
What it feels like when you’re on edibles
If you’ve opted for CBD edibles, you’ll function as per usj. Planning a sesh on THC-based edibles is a different story.
Firstly, it depends on the dose of the edible, which studies have found can vary widely in even commercially manufactured products. When it comes to those special brownies your loose Aunt is cooking up, there’s no telling what the strength will be (or when you’ll get the smell of cannabutter out of the curtains). The effect can also be unique to the individual, their headspace and their environment – what leaves one person scoffing ‘is that it’ can have another communing with a higher power.
To generalise, edibles evoke a different sort of high to that of smoking. It’s described as more intense and lasting much longer. It slowly creeps up on you until you realise you’ve been staring at the wall for what feels like 30 seconds but has actually been 30 minutes. Sensory experiences are heightened, time is just a concept and your state of mind is well and truly altered. It peaks in a full-body feeling (usually at the three-hour point) that’s ideal for laying back in some soft grass and taking in the vastness of the universe. And yeah, you’ll likely experience cliches like incessant giggling, bloodshot eyes, cottonmouth and munchies. Depending on your dose, effects will dissipate within 24 hours.
What are the mind and body benefits of edibles?
The fundamental reason for using cannabis is to feel better. Whether that’s to experience an intoxicating “high” or alleviate physical or mental symptoms through a therapeutic effect. Millions of cannabis users can anecdotally attest to the first point and there’s a growing slate of research proving the latter benefits.
It’s worth exploring what we know about how cannabis affects the cells and systems of our bodies and minds. The use of marijuana medicinally has a history dating back to ancient times but scientists only began to discover how it works its magic a couple of decades ago. That’s when the “endogenous cannabinoid system” or “endocannabinoid system” (ECS) was first articulated – a complex network that some describe as a bridge between body and mind. Experts are still trying to fully understand the ECS but it’s known to be critical in the homeostasis of our body, playing a role in processes like sleep, digestion, mood, memory, immunity, motor control, chronic pain and reproduction, to name a few. To greatly simplify the science, cannabinoids found in cannabis interact with this system to produce a range of effects, some more desirable than others.
The desirable? Well, there’s still a need for high quality, well-controlled clinical studies, which some argue are absent due to pace of legalisation. However, cannabis has been linked to reducing muscle spasm and chronic pain, managing nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients, reducing the severity and frequency of seizures in people with epilepsy, and there’s potential for a role in treating several psychiatric disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. Anecdotally, edibles have been purported to help manage chronic pain from conditions like endometriosis and fibromyalgia.
When it comes to edibles as a specific method of cannabis delivery, the research isn’t there yet. However, an obvious benefit is a reduced risk to the respiratory system in comparison to choofing a joint.
Are they safe? What are the negative side effects of edibles?
You’ve likely sat through enough ‘say no to drugs’ lectures at high school to remember that cannabis definitely has some downsides. The immediate effect of cannabis can alter your judgement and coordination, increasing your risk of injury. Although no deaths have ever been directly attributed to an overdose of cannabis, people report symptoms such as anxiety, paranoia, and in some cases an extreme psychotic reaction that can involve delusions and hallucinations, lasting anywhere between a few hours to several days. The research on whether marijuana is linked to an increased risk of psychosis and schizophrenia, particularly among those with a preexisting genetic vulnerability, is hotly debated. There’s strong evidence of correlation but not causation. Heavy use in younger years is also linked to impaired brain development, affecting memory and concentration.
Another issue specific to edibles? Whether their packaging is delightfully attractive (bright colours and cute images) or disarmingly innocuous (like the ones these teachers accidentally ate after a plate was left in the staff room) – edibles can unintentionally be eaten by kids if they’re not well hidden.
What to expect as a first-timer taking edibles
As a first-timer taking edibles for intoxicating purposes, rule numero uno is practice patience. Edibles typically take around 30 to 60 minutes to kick in but that timing depends on factors like your metabolism, your diet, your sex assigned at birth, your weight and your tolerance. Avoid the temptation to eat one, then after a few minutes eat another because ‘this one isn’t doing anything’ or ‘they’re just so dang tasty’. You’re almost guaranteed to green out – the intense and distressing feeling of nausea, dizziness and discomfort that can occur after consuming too much cannabis. If you do accidentally overdo it, the important thing is to stay in a safe space and try to remain calm. Recruiting a mate to watch over you will help too.
What’s the legal deal with edibles in Oz?
Despite recently legalising medicinal marijuana (with strict accessibility) and making CBD oil available over the counter, Australia seriously lags behind in okaying recreational use.
So no, you can’t legally get your hands on edibles in Australia, but cannabis is the most common illicit drug used in Australia (if you catch our drift). Stats from the National Drug Research Institute has found support for the legalisation of weed grow from 26% in 2013 to 41% in the most recent survey conducted in 2019. Surely it’s only a matter of time before it’s as normal as picking up parsley from your local farmer’s markets.