Let’s talk about eating your cannabis – Part I – Ingestion vs. Inhalation
Sounds a little ridiculous doesn’t it? But ingesting your medicine is a whole new ball game, as well as an arena with much potential for patient care. There has been a lot of discussion surrounding edibles, usually stories about over-medicating, ranging from the hilarious to the terrifying. It was with this in mind that I went a-researching.
Eating your medicine, The Basics.
My first stop, a non-cannabis source for a basic understanding of the process, of course was Wikipedia. (Keep it simple.)
“11-Hydroxy-Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (11-OH-THC) is the main active metabolite of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is formed in the body after cannabis is consumed. The conversion from THC to 11-OH-THC is relatively high when cannabis is consumed in the form of cannabis edibles and, compared to oral consumption, lower when it is smoked or vaped. 11-OH-THC is more potent than THC and crosses the blood–brain barrier more easily. 11-Hydroxy-THC has been shown to be active in its own right. This might partially explain the biphasic effects of cannabis, whereby some effects such as increased appetite tend to be delayed rather than occurring immediately when the drug is consumed.
Fresh cannabis contains Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), which is converted into THC after heating and then metabolized by the body into 11-Hydroxy-THC. Peak THC concentrations are lower after eating/drinking cannabis than after administration by smoking or vaping, but conversely, 11-OH-THC/THC ratios are higher after eating/drinking than after smoking cannabis. After administration through eating or drinking, approximately equal quantities of THC and 11-OH-THC are formed, whereas 11-OH-THC is a minor constituent after administration by intravenous or smoking routes. Because edible doses are processed by the liver before entering the bloodstream, THC consumed as edibles produces high levels of 11-OH-THC, while smoked cannabis, which goes directly from the lungs to the brain via the bloodstream and does not enter the liver, produces lower levels.
11-Hydroxy-THC is subsequently metabolised further to 11-nor-9-carboxy-THC, which is not psychoactive but might still play a role in the analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis.”
Well all right then, you catch all that?
What we have come to know is that ingested cannabis that is metabolized by one’s liver provides a different experience with various effects. For example, a longer onset but with longer duration. Also the effects are stronger and therapeutic benefits outlast the “high” once metabolised further. Patients treating chronic pain and inflammatory conditions may do well to consider edibles as a treatment option.
HelloMD has a great article on edibles, I will post it below. It covers the essentials of edibles: Understand potency, How long to wait and Read the label! All of these will help you to determine your dose and schedule in addition to preparing you for the results.
Something notable in selecting your edible I would like to mention is processing and strains. There is such a flood of edibles on the market, from homemade to recognized brands to luxury cannabis cuisine, I do not want anyone overlooking the obvious. Is the cannabis lab-tested? Where is it sourced? How is it processed? Is the edible lab-tested? What strain(s) is/are being used?
Regulation, its coming.
This is a tipping point for edibles in California, with the passage of Prop 64 these companies must fall into compliance or be forced out of business. Admittedly a necessary action for consumer safety but also financially punitive for those who wish to participate as a business in the state cannabis industry. Notably any direction from the state on these matters is still forthcoming leaving current business to tread water and hopefully seek counsel on next steps.
My advice, only consume lab-tested edibles, preferably tested as the edible not just lab-tested cannabis or cannabis concentrate used on the edible. These are not currently regulated and we must be proactive in protecting ourselves. Just recently a Los Angeles media source ran a piece on random cannabis products being sold in dispensaries as safe, lab-tested cannabis. A disturbing 84% of samples collected from all over the city of Los Angeles tested positive for pesticides in an independent test from Steep Hill Labs. It was disappointing to see some really respected brands on this list, if anything reaffirming the need to educate yourself.
On to cannabis strains! It is worth mentioning that what we know about certain strains of cannabis flower or concentrate may not cross over into edible treatments. Depending on processing, application and formulations the effects can widely vary in comparison to your smoking or vaping experience. For example the breakdown of certain cannabinoids and terpenes will impact the overall profile, thus my recommendation to have the edibles lab-tested. Check out The Cannabist’s article on edibles from 2016 here:
It is still early and many more companies are lab-testing as well as planning for state compliance in many ways. One of my favorites as of late is the addition of a QR code right on the product label in which you get immediate access to that product batch lab-test results. It is really fun when the vendor goes for the FULL testing profile complete with terpene, heavy metals and pesticide analysis!
Eating your cannabis may be the way to go if you do not want to smoke, have a condition that prevents one from smoking or feel more comfortable consuming in food. Understanding the differences in medicating only increase your ability to provide yourself with optimal care. This also opens the door to making your own medicine by cooking with cannabis and normalizing your treatment. Maybe you would rather make a batch of infused preserves to spread on toast each morning versus taking a pill, just one of many examples. This also solves the issue of sourcing and processing, especially if you have your own personal cannabis grow.
Check back soon for more on, Eating your Cannabis.