1. Edibles vs. Smoke. Start low and go slow.
Because you have to wait until your edible has been digested, you may feel completely normal for up to two hours; effects are always delayed.
Many people eat an edible, get impatient, eat more edibles, and have spaced-out regrets a few hours later. Don’t do this.
If you’re new, start with a low dose (try 5 mg of THC or less), wait an hour, and then decide whether you want more. A normal edible dose for an occasional user is 10 mg. I suspect you’ll want to eat more than one piece of my edibles, so I’ve made them low-dose to account for this in advance. You’re welcome!
Edible cannabis stays in your system much longer than smoked cannabis, sometimes for over 12 hours. Indulge only when you have an open schedule to chill.
2. Label edibles to avoid accidental ingestion.
You know you’ve always wanted a label maker. Here’s your excuse.
3. Don’t drive, operate machinery, or go to work after indulging.
Talking to you here, movers. Lawyers. Gynaecologists. Okay, just everybody. Be smart.
4. Don’t mix.
Try edibles in a safe space and do your best to stick to one substance at a time. Unless you’re Keith Richards—in which case, rock and roll.
5. Be a good parent to children and pets.
I’ve worked very hard to make these recipes delicious. For adults. Unfortunately, dessert edibles will also be very attractive to kids. Please take great precautions if there are children or pets in your home. I’ve always kept edibles in a lockable canvas money bag in my freezer (available at any office supply store or on Amazon at a very responsible price). If you have teens around, you’re probably going to have to get even more creative than this. I trust you. Don’t be stupid and careless and make me regret sharing my recipes with you.
6. If you have health conditions, consult a doctor.
Yes, marijuana has many health benefits, but it’s only “medicinal” under the care of a doctor. I’m not a doctor. If you have health conditions, ask for help from a medical professional who knows what they’re doing. If you’re predisposed to schizophrenia and/or psychoses and/or substance use disorder, this is especially important. If you are or could be pregnant, shelve this book for when your kid has been born and you have a sitter and lots of free time (so in, like, 5 years or so).
The idea of giving Grandpa or your uptight husband a pot brownie might be funny. The reality is not. There was a story on the podcast Serial, where a guy broke his parole by offering a brownie to a fellow student. He kind of did it with a wink and a nudge, without being clear, and he was sent back to jail, even though he was on the path to rehabilitation at the time. Consenting adults only.
8. Legalities, including travel.
Be aware of federal and provincial/state laws regarding pot and edibles. Seriously, take a second now and look it up for where you live. Don’t cross any international borders with cannabis, even if it’s legal in the country you’re travelling to. My husband and I went to Bali for our honeymoon and there was a big poster facing us as soon as we landed saying, “DEATH to those who carry drugs.” In Cuba, the penalty for a single joint is five years in jail. Getting caught “trafficking” a wee cookie in another country would be pretty terrible. Just don’t.
Don’t use pot below the legal age where you live. It affects a developing brain differently than it does a mature one, and trust me, teens need all the brain cells they can get (especially the boys).
There’s one thing that less-informed people love to say about pot that drives me mental. “We just don’t know enough about marijuana. It’s been illegal, so we’re not allowed to study it.” Yes, it’s a pain in the arse for scientists to get their hands on it, but guess what? Studies have been done! For the past one hundred years! (Many studies were trying to find reasons to justify prohibition, but still). Here’s my go at answering some of the common chatter.
1. Can I overdose?
In an Uma Therman Pulp Fiction, adrenalin needle to the heart, blood drip from the nose kind of way? Definitely not. Despite long-term use globally, marijuana has never been linked to an overdose death.
Not so fast, though. While a person can’t overdose, he or she can definitely, “green out.” Overdoing it, usually via edibles due to the delay in effects and/or overeating, can cause vomiting, anxiety, increased heart rate, problems with motor skills, short-term memory loss, and even, rarely, psychotic episodes. I’d be willing to bet that most who have tried pot have had a paranoid and/or body numbing and/or sick-feeling experience on it — start low and go slow, people. Pot is psychoactive, obviously, which also may make you do the occasional stupid thing that could hurt yourself or others, but it does tend to make a person lazier and less aggressive than something like alcohol might. Oils also might contain other substances that could have more serious effects, depending on the source, so take care with that.
The good news is that moving to a quiet place, drinking water, and waiting it out is usually the only treatment needed for overdoing it with cannabis. There are also a few natural “antidotes,” that may help with issues, although no guarantees:
- Pistachios or pine nuts contain pinene, which helps with mental clarity
- Lemons are said to be able to counter some of THC’s effects; they contain limonene, a calming terpene
- CBD, the natural yin/yang partner to THC, might be able to counter some effects
- Piperine in black pepper is synergistic with THC on the cannabinoid receptors, having a calming effect. Even the smell of pepper is supposed to help
As with any health issues, if you’re at all worried, seek medical attention (but be prepared for a bit of a dressing down by a busy ER doctor about not being able to handle your pot).
2. Can I become dependent? Is there such a thing as cannabis withdrawal? Can I build up a tolerance?
Several large studies have found that 9–10% of people exposed to marijuana meet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for cannabis dependence, and that risk increases with increasing use. However, if we use withdrawal symptoms and tolerance as signs of dependence, pot is not a great candidate. Withdrawal symptoms, mostly only present for heavy, long-time users, are minimal (anxiety, insomnia, tremors, chills, irritability, restlessness, nausea, appetite change); one study found that symptoms can begin a few days after quitting, and end two weeks to a month after that. Other studies have found that symptoms are variable among users, so that cannabis withdrawal can be considered inconclusive. Many describe symptoms as similar to those experienced by people going through caffeine withdrawal, and most people are able to quit without any additional help.
Can people build a tolerance to pot? The short answer is possibly, to a point, although rather than a high plateau that needs ever-increasing doses of drug for normal functioning (like with opioids), with pot, some researchers believe that tolerance is actually more about users becoming accustomed to the effects of pot and being able to function despite them (imagine rural labourers in Third World countries who might be heavy users, for example. Or my friend Jackie). “Almost no one reports an urgent need to increase the dose to recapture the original sensation,” writes Grinspoon et. al (2004).
One thing is for sure. East Hastings in Vancouver isn’t full of potheads struggling to figure out where their next hit is coming from. I’m definitely more addicted to my phone than I am to my ganja, but maybe that’s just me.
3. Is pot a “gateway drug?” (i.e., will be the tipping point that will turn Anne of Green Gables into Whitney Houston)
Almost everyone who’s tried harder drugs tried alcohol and pot first, but that doesn’t mean that pot leads to harder drug use. Most drinkers don’t try pot. Most pot users don’t try hard drugs. The “Gateway Hypothesis” has been rejected as a theory by the Institute of Medicine and the Canadian Senate. My very scientific take on this is that there are many factors interacting that cause someone to try a drug (or not) — mental health, environment, mood, poverty, pain, risk tolerance, education, family, genes, access, social pressures… it’s simplistic and misleading to say that pot use will lead to the use of harder drugs. Many researchers agree with me. Check out “Ready for Retirement: The Gateway Drug Hypothesis,” by John Kleinig, for a science-y paper saying the same thing I just told you (2015).
4. Does pot affect a younger brain differently than an older one? Are there lasting effects? Can pot make me schizophrenic?
The short answer to whether young brains are affected differently from old ones by pot, is yes. In adolescence, there’s a “pruning” process that goes on with brain cells, that’s almost like weeding a garden so that the strongest plants can thrive. Or trimming pot leaves to help the buds, if you like. It’s thought that if brain cells get smoked out by pot at this point, there could be lasting effects. And the brain continues developing into the early or mid-twenties, with the frontal cortex being the final area to develop. The frontal cortex is responsible for planning, judgement, decision-making, and personality. Messing with it while it’s trying to become a grown-up isn’t a great idea. Our blessed endocannabinoid system is also underdeveloped in young people, so that management of homeostasis may be affected if pot hits it too early on.
At the same time, in terms of direct evidence, most studies have been done on young people who were heavy users of pot. So yes, heavy youthful users of pot had lower IQs (differences from non-users being order of magnitude similar to kids who have sucked on lead paint), poor school performance, higher dropout rates, increased dependence on welfare, greater unemployment, and lower life satisfaction. But if you’re young and smoking pot all day, is that the cause of your problems, or are we talking correlation? Might be a peanut butter jelly situation, where social factors and pot kind of work together at the same time to make the sandwich. Anyway, the research isn’t clear about whether there’s a “safe” level of pot for the developing brain, but it’s ain’t good for young brains to see a lot of it; if they do, there will also likely be issues with social development, intellectual performance, future use (as adults they’ll smoke a bigger amount and more often), and grammar (they might use the word “ain’t” more often. Shiver.). Also, while 9% of adults can become addicted to pot, it’s more like 17% for people who started with pot as teens.
It’s unclear whether young brains can recover from these effects. More long-term studies are needed. Scientists are working on it, get off their backs.
Now let’s talk schizophrenia, which will bring us back to the youth discussion in a sec.
There are linkages between pot use and schizophrenia. Schizophrenics tend to like it, along with cigarettes, alcohol, and other substances. The question is, does pot cause schizophrenia, or do the two seem to partner for other reasons, like that schizophrenics seek it out for self-medication?
About 15% of cannabis users report psychotic symptoms after use, and risk increases with earlier onset of use (holla, young people) and amount of marijuana use. Cannabis use exacerbates the symptoms of schizophrenia, gives worse outcomes than for schizophrenics who don’t use, and reduces effectiveness of anti-schizophrenic drugs. Pot use may bring forward the expression of schizophrenia earlier in those who are susceptible.
At the same time, recent increased pot use in many countries would have us expect that there would be more cases of schizophrenia in those places if it were a direct cause, and researchers haven’t seen this happen. And research suggests that cannabis doesn’t cause schizophrenia by itself — you need that genetic predisposition.
Bottom line — If you’re young and may be susceptible to schizophrenia or psychoses, it’s best to avoid pot use. Let’s just cast that net a bit wider, though, since no one really knows how susceptible they are unless they’re a personal family-tree genetics expert, which I’m going to take a risk and say that no one is. Finding out you’ve got schizophrenia is not the best kind of surprise news to be delivered after smoking a J, so let’s just avoid doing so at a young age.
For more info, some good articles include “Marijuana and the Developing Brain,” by Weir, 2015, and “Does Pot Use Cause Schizophrenia,” by Carey, 2019.
5. Is glaucoma just a convenient excuse to toke?
Glaucoma is a condition where increased eye pressure damages the optic nerve — the neurons that carry visual information to the brain. Cannabis does lower eye pressure, which is where the glaucoma/pot jokes come from; however, it only does this for as long as the pot is active in your system. Being high on pot 24x7 to lower eye pressure may have the odd drawback. Like trying to convince your boss that you’re just as productive stoned. If you try that, please send me a recording of you getting the giggles and wolfing down snacks during your exit interview.
Also, since pot also lowers blood pressure, using pot with glaucoma might be harming the very optic nerve at risk, right at the time that she needs a good solid blood supply.
If you have glaucoma, you need to be under the care of your doctor, because cannabis use hasn’t been endorsed by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Glaucoma Society, or the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, and, as may be evident, right now there are far better treatments for this eye disease out there than pot. Here’s hoping cannabis’s helpful pressure-relieving properties offer more reliable relief for glaucoma patients in the future, though.
6. Does pot have actual benefits, or is that just hippie talk?
It does. Here’s a smattering of some science that is in no way comprehensive. THC…
Is a bronchodilator in asthmatics (Williams et al., 1976)
Has 20 times the anti-inflammatory power of aspirin and twice that of hydrocortisone (Evans, 1991)
Is a neuroprotective antioxidant in rat cortical neuron structures (Hampson et al., 1998)
Is an anti-pruritic (anti-itch) agent in patients with cholestaic jaundice (Neff et al., 2002)
Addresses pain. AT US Society for Neuroscience in October 1997, US researchers unveiled research about how pain releases endocannabinoids activating receptors to reduce discomfort. Cannabinoids mimic this, affecting pain directly. Society for Neuroscience stated, “substances similar to or drawn from marijuana…could benefit more than 97 million Americans who experience some form of pain each year.” (Researchers from Brown, Michigan, and UC San Francisco, via Lee, Smoke Signals)
Is a psychoactive agent (obv), analgesic, muscle relaxant, and antispasmodic (Pacher et al., 2006)
Can assist with treating Opioid Use Disorder (Wiese and Wilson-Poe, 2018 [review])
Robin to THC’s Batman, CBD has the potential to…
Serve as a neuroprotective antioxidant (Hampson et al., 1998)
Act as an anticonvulsant (Carlini and Cunha, 1981; Friedman and Devinsky, 2015; Jones et al., 2010; Zaheer et al., 2018 [review]) and antinauseant (Parker et al, 2002)
Modulate THC’s anxiety, tachycardia (fast heart rate), hunger, and sedative properties (Murillo-Rodriguez et al., 2006; Nicholson et al., 2007; Russo and Guy, 2006)
Act as an analgesic (pain killer) (Costa et al., 2007)
Prevent prions (infectious agents responsible for a bunch of neurodegenerative diseases including mad cow) and neuronal toxicity (Dirikoc et al., 2007)
Be toxic to breast cancer (Ligresti et al., 2006) and also preservative for normal cells (Parolaro and Massi, 2008)
Help with cell migration disorders like endometriosis (McHugh et al., 2010)
Promote antidepressant properties (Zanelati et al., 2010)
Inhibit activity of lipoxygenase; this clogs arteries in atherosclerosis, which can lead to coronary artery disease, stroke, and kidney problems (Takeda et al., 2011)
Prevent and fight many cancers. Check out this summary paragraph I found in a review article describing the research that was out there as of 2013 by Massi et al.: “Collectively, the non-psychoactive plant-derived cannabinoid CBD exhibits pro-apoptotic [cell death] and anti-proliferative [anti-growth] actions in different types of tumours and may also exert anti-migratory, anti-invasive, anti-metastatic [preventative of new colonies] and perhaps anti-angiogenic [opposes nourishing blood supply to tumours] properties. On the basis of these results, evidence is emerging to suggest that CBD is a potent inhibitor of both cancer growth and spread.” Read this paragraph to all of your loved ones like I have.
Provide potential for Alzheimer’s disease prevention and treatment (Watt and Karl, 2017 [review])
Improve sleep quality (Carlini and Cunha, 1981; Chagas et al., 2014)
Assist with anxiety (Bergamaschi et al. 2011; Blessing et al. 2015; Viveros et al. 2005)
Improve cognition (Bergamaschi et al. 2011)
I found much of this info in a summary paper by Ethan Russo in the British Journal of Pharmacology (2011). Many of these results are just in animals or petri dishes (that I’m not going to take the time to sort that all out) and there’s more in there that’s a bit Greek to me, but if you’re better at science-speak than I am or want to see more detail, check it out.
7. Are there THC/CBD-based pharmaceuticals out there yet?
Sure there are! You know that pharmaceutical companies want their piece of what’s been available to us for thousands of years, non?
Marinol® (or Syndros®) (oral capsules or solution) — Marinol®, approved by the FDA in 1985, is made up of dronabinol, which is synthetic THC, and sesame oil. This drug was the government throwing a therapeutic bone to AIDS and cancer patients with nausea/vomiting/anorexia/weight loss with a fake version of THC, while still preventing them from using cannabis by keeping the natural plant’s components illegal. Smart, eh? (Eye roll emoji). The trouble is that the isolated fake THC doesn’t work nearly as well as the real thing in combination with those lovely other cannabinoids and terpenes — for some the drug doesn’t work at all, for others the stoner effects are debilitating and hard to control, and for still others the nauseousness gets even worse. But Marinol® is probably covered by most insurance companies because it’s a Schedule III drug, so I guess there’s that. (WTF emoji. Okay, that doesn’t exist, but it should).
Nabilone (also called Cesamet®) — Nabilone is another synthetic cannabinoid. Similar to with Marinol®, it’s about faking it so that you make it for the FDA and other regulators who are gun-shy about pot’s reputation. It’s used for pain, nausea/vomiting, fibromyalgia, MS, inflammatory bowel disease, PTSD, sleep apnea, and lots of other conditions that whole flower has always been known to address. Not that I’m biased.
Sativex® (oral spray) — This drug by GW Pharmaceuticals in Britain (approved there in 2010) is a cannabis-based, botanically extracted oral spray used to treat neuropathic pain, spasms associated with multiple sclerosis, and pain due to cancer. It’s derived from cannabis sativa, and is balanced between THC and CBD (because that’s most effective!), also including other specific cannabinoids. Sativex® has been approved for use in over 25 countries outside the US, including Canada. It’s currently under development to treat other conditions including schizophrenia, and the company is planning to seek FDA approval in the US when they calm the f&ck down about pot being illegal (that last bit was my commentary, in case you couldn’t tell).
Epidiolex® (oral liquid) — This 100% CBD drug was also developed by GW Pharmaceuticals to treat patients two years old and up with seizures due to Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut (LGS) syndromes. It was approved for use in the US by the FDA in June of 2018. Clinical trials included patients whose seizures had outsmarted 4–6 seizure medications, and who were typically taking 3 seizure medications that still left seizures uncontrolled. Epidiolex® is classified as a Schedule V substance in the US, even though marijuana and CBD remain Schedule I. In trials, it reduced convulsive seizures by 25% to 28% compared with placebo; not miraculous, but I’m sure these patients think it’s better than nothing. But get this — one article I read quoted the list price at $32,500 per year. Damn! If a family member needed CBD at that price I just might go off-grid, shotgun wielding, squirrel-eating, pot farming homesteader. “Get off my land!” I like that sounds of that — might do it anyway.
8. What is Spice? K2?
Hey, weren’t we just talking about scientists creating synthetic cannabinoids? You bet your blunt we were. Because researchers have spent a long time looking for “pure” magic pills that don’t have the bad rep of full-on leafy weed, there are a lot more synthetics out there than just dronabinol and nabilone. Unfortunately, a great number of these have gone rogue.
One scientist in particular, John W. Huffman, in trying to create new pain treatments, published his formula for JWH-018. This drug unexpectedly showed up 20 odd years later in 2008, when the recreational street-drug “spice” was tested for its key components; enterprising breaking-bad-type chemists had used Huffman’s research paper and others as recipes, mixing the chemicals with herbs to be smoked. The trouble is that synthetic cannabinoids can be made much stronger, now even 30 or 500 times stronger than THC, potentially acting on different sites within the brain that aren’t as well understood. They’re kind of the opposite of organic whole flower.
Spice is cheap. It’s used by a lot of struggling people, like the homeless, who are looking to enter oblivion at bargain-basement prices. A lot of these people have pre-existing mental health conditions that don’t mesh well with THC-impostor frankendrugs. The user is never sure what they’re getting (K2 was initially a “brand” of the umbrella term Spice, but nothing is tested, so who knows if there are differences, really). The drugs are mostly created in China or Russia, cement mixers have been used to mix the chemical with the herbs, they’re addictive, they usually turn people into walking zombies, and they can be fatal. Kids have started vaping it. Spice versions are spreading across the globe like bad weeds; one count I saw said that over 240 compounds have been identified in 65 countries. It’s a problem. Please let the only pot variation you try be a whole-flower baked good. Synthetics are not the same thing as natural marijuana.
And what’s Professor John W. Huffman’s take on Spice? Even though he spent his career specializing in creating synthetic cannabinoids? “People who use it are idiots.”