Are Edibles Eating You Up?

We all enjoy eating, but we generally hate when we are rewarded with new problems because what we are eating works against us. The same is true with cannabis edibles. They often look good, even taste good, but sometimes they can be problematic. If you ever had a negative experience with edibles you will want to read this article.

What Are Edibles?

Many medical marijuana users are slowly recognizing the advantages of cannabis infused foods known as “edibles” to treat their medical conditions. With edibles, unlike smoking cannabis, we are introducing medical cannabis to our body through our gastrointestinal digestive tract, we are eating it. This method is likely as old as the use of cannabis itself. When cannabis is eaten it must then be processed by the individual’s liver before entering into their blood steam. In the liver the cannabinoid THC is converted into a more potent cannabinoid, 11-hydroxy-D9-THC, which tends to have a more potent sedative and analgesic effects. This makes cannabis edibles especially suitable for individuals who suffer from sleep disorders caused by pain or general insomnia. While the onset of positive effects from cannabis when smoking or vaping are almost instantaneous, when cannabis is ingested, it generally takes somewhere between 45 to 90 minutes, or more, for positive effects to manifest. While with smoking positive cannabis effects can last for minutes to 2 hours, with edibles these same positive effects can last between 6 and 10 hours, allowing for a full night sleep and pain relief for an entire night.

Why Edibles?

Edibles have a specific place in treatment of medical problems in that edibles allow a long period of action wherein offering sleep and pain relief at night and meaningful pain relief also during day time hours. Edibles also allows individuals to not have to smoke or vape if they are worried about lung problems, especially, if they are asthmatic as cannabis has triggered asthmatic attack for some people in the past. Edibles are also a more private way of using cannabis wherein you do not have to smoke it or leave a telltale cannabis odor. With edibles no one knows that you are using cannabis unless you tell them. The prolonged clinical affects associated with edibles allows positive dosing for conditions that need frequent dosing, for example, for treating certain medical problems such as cancer, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia and others.  

When Edibles Work Well They Are Great and Exactly What We Need and Want.

While the use of edibles can be perfect for many people, it can also be problematic. The period of clinical effect can be too long, the edible can be too strong, for example there are no real conventions that regulate dosage of THC in edibles and the current trend is typical to use between 10 and 20 mg of THC as a reasonably standard dose. This means that if you are eating a brownie with 100 mg total THC, the entire brownie itself is not the dose you need, for you only need 1/10th of the brownie to obtain the dose you need to use. The other challenge is percent of THC. There is a difference when consuming an edible that is produced with an isolate of 80% THC versus a whole plant extract that has a terpene expression and is only 40% THC. The effect, even with an identical dosage, will be quite different. Many edible users are unaware of this and hence may be overdosing themselves using many more times the amount of cannabis they need or is safe for them, to manage their medical problems. This might not be easily recognized by many unsophisticated users and because of this you might find yourself exposing your self to a significant overdose and triggering real or pseudo hallucinations or simply feeling as if you are out of control, hence creating a so called, “bad trip.” While smoking is about lighting up and inhaling, edibles are also about reading labels and understanding exactly what you are doing.

Another problem is the issue of driving after the use of medical cannabis. While you may need your medications for managing pain and/or other problematic symptoms, when you either smoke or vape, you may once again be able to drive after about 2 to 3 hours, but with edibles this will not be the case, you will not be fully capable of driving safely for up to 6 or even 8 to 10 hours. Informed users generally make sure they are using the exact right dose for their specific needs and for obtaining the best possible results.  

When Edibles Are a Problem

While edibles are a great way to use cannabis for extended periods of time, they do have their limitations, risks and problems.

One of the main risks occurs involve children. If you are an edible user and you have children, ages 1-16 years, should they gain access to any infused edible such as a brownie, and if they do not know that it is off limits or they have been told that edibles are off limits, but then decide that they will still eat it, then you could have some serious problems on your hand for they may get sick, high or have a bad trip, you will likely then have to take the child to an emergency room to get help. This will not only cost money BUT you could end up with legal problems including your child being taken away for you. If you eat edibles make sure they are always securely locked up, and totally unavailable to children. If you do not have children, but you do have family members who have children and they visit you, be for warned to make sure that any and all infused edible products are under lock and key and cannot be broken into. Keep your edibles out of the reach of children and pets in order to keep them safe.

Another problem is that edibles, commercial as well as homemade, both tend to have a certain unpredictability’s attached to them. Each edible can affect everyone differently. First time users may not know what to expect and they may get a lot more than they think they are going to get. Old timers to can at times be surprised as the amount of cannabis in any single edible can vary greatly from edible to edible and product to product. Always be careful to: 1) know exactly what you are eating, and what the exact dosage of cannabis and they type of cannabinoids and other medicinal components are in each product. If you make your own edibles know that each cookie or slice of brownie will likely have different amounts of cannabis and that you may or may not get your desired effect.

While it is extremely difficult to create a lethal dosage of cannabis, the variations from product to product, edible to edible, especially homemade edibles can lead to over dosages. Overdosing with edibles can lead to severe problems from the sudden onset of anxiety, to panic, and even to full blown paranoia. They can also lead to episodes of psychosis, characterized by hallucinations, delusions, confusion, and disorientation. While all of this can be very scary to deal with, it can also be prevented by knowing what you are doing and not doing anything when you do not know what you are doing. You can minimize the chances of any negative effects, by making sure that you do not go beyond recommended dosages and that you do not undermine your treatment process by not paying attention and/or knowing exactly what dosage you must take and being sure that this dosage only is within your edible. The exact and most appropriate dosage in each edible is often unknown and difficult to determine unless it has been appropriately tested and certified on the product label.

A third problem for some people, those who are diabetics, those who are obese and must lose weight or have sugar issues for example individuals who are being treated for cancer. Commercial edibles generally contain large quantities of empty calories from sugar, fat, and other highly processed ingredients. Most medical cannabis edibles are therefore usually in the form of high-calorie treats, such as chocolates, candies, and cookies, brownies or sugary drinks. These are often seen as desserts can be quite tempting both to young children and other adults, including yourself, who might then eat them without even giving a second thought. For diabetics it is essential that you find edibles that are sugar free and will not negatively affect your blood sugar.

Long lasting effect (6-10 hours) may not be suitable for every person and for every situation hence a conscious decision after review of all variable is generally suggested.

Edibles, do require a longer period of onset and patients may then have to wait for up to one to two hours or more before any measurable relief from pain and/or other negative symptoms can occur. This very slow onset can lead some individuals to eat more than they may need and hence result in negative effects and possibly significant discomfort. Once you eat your edible put all other edibles away and hence reduce the possibility of your reaching for more and overdosing.

Lastly, some users, more often first time or relatively new users, may suffer from feeling nausea, feeling groggy, spacey and on very rare occasions cause vomiting. These are generally only temporary negative effects, they are more of a nuisance than a life risk. The fact is, there are no known long term negative side affects from ingesting cannabis edibles unless you over dose as we discussed above.

Benefits of Edibles

Because cannabis edibles are eaten instead of smoked, all of the harmful negative effects generally associated with smoking are completely eliminated.

As we said above, and now bears being repeated, there are no known significant negative health problems associated with eating cannabis except for overdosing effects which are a problem but not lethal. Using edibles, cannabis can be consumed just anywhere, without being too conspicuous. Edibles are generally also easy to travel with. Law enforcement rarely thinks to look for edibles, however, crossing state lines with any cannabis, edible or for smoking, is still illegal and can lead to Federal arrest.

The longer positive effect of edibles allows longer pain relief and a full night sleep, when used for these reasons. It also allows continuous dosing when dealing with managing cancer, arthritis, chronic recurrent headaches and other long lasting medical problems.

What Do We Do About the Problems Associated with Edibles?

While there is no single or simple answer to this question, we do have an answer. You must become reasonably knowledgeable about what you are doing, who you buy your edibles from, which brands are most reliable, whether the brand you buy has appropriate labeling and whether you can use this specific product to obtain the exact positive effect and results you most need, want and desire. If you are treating a medical problem, especially a serious medical problem, you should be working with a physician who knows how to prescribe or recommend the exact product or products you need, the exact combination of cannabinoids, terpenes and other medicinal components that will offer you the very best combination to help you heal, mange or control your medical problems. While simply getting a Recommendation and going to a local dispensary may seem to be sufficient, it is much like buying a gem stone at a street faire, you might be getting exactly what the seller tells you are getting or you may be getting something much less, unless you know what you are doing, what you end up with will likely be out of your hands and you may find that you ultimately did not get what you either wanted, needed or desired.

The Future of Edibles

There will likely always be a market for edible cannabis products. In the near future we believe edibles will become a more valuable method of dosing and managing illness however, smoking, vaping, will not likely go out of style and entirely new modalities of uptake such as new forms of injection or modalities that have not yet even been thought about created or invented, will likely occur. What is important now is that if you are either interested in or already rely on using edibles, that you know what your doing, what dosages you need and the products that are well crafted to provide you exactly what you need to be healthy, happy and fully functional again.


Dr. Allen Lawrence, MD, PhD Bio

Len May, MCS, MMC Bio