You know stoners are really hitting their
bongs stride when marijuana dispensaries outnumber Starbucks locations in various parts of Los Angeles. That statistic alone is worthy of a toke.
Over the past seven years, major policy shifts, ballot initiatives, and successful legalization efforts have brought marijuana to a national stage. As of now, four states have fully legalized cannabis for both medical and recreational use, with a handful of other states poised to follow suit.
With the rise of “casual consumers” (think Flanders-types and grandparents), and the shift in transactions from sketchy back-alleys to well-appointed dispensaries, it’s no surprise then that the edible marijuana industry has exploded onto the marketplace, attracting the public with elaborate baked goods and infused oils that make pot brownies seem old-fashioned. Companies are increasing sales and profits at an astonishing rate. Meanwhile, agricultural consultants with degrees in plant science, master chocolatiers, and former bakers have entered the scene to create more competition in a billion-dollar industry backed by venture capitalists.
Few people are as plugged into the cannabis-cooking scene as Elise McDonough, who is a High Times staffer, author of The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook, and official judge at the Cannabis Cup, where she rates recipes like Reef Jerky and Cali High Iced Tea. “The products keep improving every year,” says McDonough.
With the emergence of big brands and a growing acceptance about consuming pot, there is more reason than ever to understand the ins and outs of cannabis foods.
Here, we have McDonough set the record straight about the most pervasive rumors surrounding edibles—read up before you cop that next bag of pot gummy bears.
1. Throwing weed into your brownie mix is the first step towards gettin’ toasted.
McDonough says: “In order to activate the THC, you need to infuse your cannabinoids into a fat, and then add that infusion to your recipe. Do this by simmering plant matter into your chosen fat—whether it’s butter or oil. The heat allows the THC to bind with the fat. This chemical process—of converting THCa into THC—is known as decarboxylating and is essential for making edibles. Cannabis in its raw form isn’t psychoactive. If you just grind up the bud and throw it in your batter, you’re going to waste a lot of weed, and your brownies won’t be potent. You’ll definitely get the fiber that’s missing in your diet, but you won’t get the high.”
2. The most potent cannabutters are made by simmering for three days.
McDonough says: “It’s long-held hippy wisdom that the best butters always require a time-consuming, tedious recipe of stirring and babying your cannabutter. But this makes a simple procedure seem more difficult than it needs to be. You can simmer your butter for as little as three to four hours, as long as you’re reaching appropriate temperatures to extract the cannabinoids efficiently. It doesn’t have to be painstaking. In fact, it’s something you can easily do in a crock pot. Toasting your cannabis at 240ºF for 30 to 60 minutes before simmering in fat for one to two hours will activate most of your cannabinoids. You can make a butter by simmering at a low temp for a longer time, but you can also make it just as potent by simmering it at a higher temp for a shorter time. (Too much heat for too long will cause THC to convert into CBN, which is known for its sedative qualities.)”
Photo courtesy Elise McDonough
3. Lab-tested edibles reliably contain the amount of THC listed on packaging.
McDonough says: “Most edibles, even lab-tested ones, have some variation in potency from the label claims. The science behind testing cannabis-infused foods is still in its infancy, and methods can vary based on the type of food, the state you’re in, and who’s doing the testing. In theory, you could take the same product to two labs and receive two different results, because there’s not overarching regulation of the cannabis-lab industry. Read reviews to make sure the brand of edibles you’re choosing has a good track record for accurate labeling and consistent experiences. A candy bar that has 100 milligrams of THC might have less—usually not more though. According to testing done by Cannalytics, Michigan’s premiere cannabis analytical laboratory, about a quarter of all edibles on the market were under 50% activated.”
4. You should eat an entire edible to see how you react to its potency.
McDonough says: “If you are new to cannabis foods, be cautious and consume very small amounts until you are sure how they will affect you. A beginner’s dose should range from 5 to 15 milligrams of THC. Always look for cannabis foods which state the THC content in milligrams, and choose products with doses in marked increments of 10mg for beginners.”
Photo: Robert Sietsema
5. Eating mangoes will cause your weed to feel more potent.
McDonough says: “This rumor started because mangoes and cannabis both contain myrcene, a terpenoid that contributes to flavor and smell. According to High Times contributor Dr. Mitch Earlywine, no formal studies into this effect have been done, and this ‘mango mojo’ is most likely a placebo effect.”
6. Edibles are always best in dessert form.
McDonough says: “This is a tradition that has no basis in any sort of fact. Pot brownies were popular initially because of Gertrude Stein’s girlfriend, Alice B. Toklas, who published a cookbook in the ‘50s that introduced the consumption of pot to mainstream America. The phrase ‘Alice brownies’ became widespread, and our popular imagination held on to this image. But the truth is you can use cannabis butter or oil in any sort of food you want to eat—hummus, vegan stir frys, etc. The reason the dessert scene became so entrenched is because chocolate and peanut butter are effective at covering up grassy taste. That’s why dessert mode has become a favorite for many people.”
Photo: Cannabis Dependency
7. The type of weed you use doesn’t matter.
McDonough says: “Theoretically, THC is THC, whether you’re getting it from hash, high-quality buds, or low-quality trim leaves. The molecule should, in essence, be the same—you’d just have to use more trim. But this issue mainly comes into play with flavor. When you get that green, grassy tasting edible, that’s from the chlorophyll in the trim. I prefer hash because it has an earthier, nuttier flavor that pairs a lot better with different kinds of food. The science of pairing cannabis with food means terpenes come into consideration. These chemicals are found in many plants, not just cannabis, and determine smell and flavor. If your ganja smells like citrus, it is because of a terpene called limonene, also found naturally in lemon peels. Rich, ripe, fruity aromas emanating from your bag of herb come from terpenes called myrcene, also found in lemongrass and mangoes. Hints of pine needles come courtesy of terpenes alpha and beta pinene, also naturally present in rosemary. Peppery-tasting marijuana contains sabinene, a terpene also found in tea-tree oil. Mint-flavored cannabis has alpha-phellandrene, and so on and so forth. Naturally, you’d have to finish up with a chocolate dessert infused with a minty cannabis strain high in alpha-phellandrene. Savory dishes like rosemary roasted potatoes would benefit with the addition of cannabis butter from a strain containing pinene.”
8. You can OD on edibles.
McDonough says: “There’s a lot of controversy over the word overdose, which has a connotation that it’s a fatal condition. With edibles there’s no such thing as a fatal overdose. It’s impossible—you’d literally have to eat nine pounds of hash. If you have an alcohol overdose, you throw up and you have the spins. You’ve poisoned yourself essentially, but just because you didn’t die doesn’t mean it’s not an overdose.”
Photo courtesy Elise McDonough
9. Edibles labeled “double strength” are the most potent products
McDonough says: “If an edible comes in a package that says ‘double strength,’ it doesn’t mean anything unless you know what’s being doubled. You never know what they’re assigning as a dose. First you need to ascertain the THC amount. Most reputable companies have the THC content listed in milligrams.”
10. Edibles made of BHO (butane hash oil) concentrates are better than those made with cannabutter.
McDonough says: “In Colorado, a lot of the bigger edible companies are creating their own extractions. So they use the extract as an ingredient to formulate their product. Edibles made with BHO might be more consistent because it’s easier in the manufacturing process to use an extract to achieve batches, but BHO flavor is really gross. It gives a harsh, acrid aftertaste in the back of your throat.”