As legalization sweeps the country more people are trying cannabis for the first time. And many of the noobs who aren’t interested in smoking it gravitate towards edibles. At least that’s what cannabis culinary expert Elise McDonough says. And she should know. McDonough writes a weekly column; “Psychedelicatessen” for High Times Magazine and has authored two books—The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook in 2012 and last year’s Marijuana for Everybody.
“Successful anti-smoking campaigns have prevented thousands from using tobacco, and so many people today are unwilling to try to smoke anything, regardless of marijuana’s remarkable record for safety,” she tells us. “Edibles are attractive to new users because they come in familiar formats, they are discreet and easy to use, there’s no telltale smell of cannabis smoke on your hands or clothes, and because you can effectively replace many pharmaceutical medications with cannabis-infused foods, especially for insomnia or pain relief.”
After recreational use became legal in Colorado retail pot shops reported that edibles sales represented half of their income. In fact a February 2015 report from the Colorado Department of Revenue reveals that recreational edibles have far outsold medical edibles—2.85 million units of rec edibles sold compared to 1.96 million units of medical edibles. Damn that’s a lot of weed brownies. So clearly, the market for cannabis-infused foods is enormous and will continue to grow, McDonough says.
“While serving as a judge at the High Times Cannabis Cup over the past five years, I’ve personally watched this industry blossom and mature, McDonough says. “And the level of sophistication continues to increase daily. The top products entered into the competition these days display incredible branding, informative labeling, along with great tasting, very original food items.”
Infusing cannabis with safety
Since just about anything can be medicated, McDonough has sampled everything from pot-infused pizza sauce to potato chips to ice creams, gummies, fortune cookies for another project she’s involved in with SC Labs called Baked Science. To ensure what she’s sampling will actually get her stoned she has it tested. Testing has been instrumental in allowing the cannabis-infused foods industry to develop, McDonough says.
“Very few people are willing to gamble on edibles with unknown potency, and so consistency from one batch to the next along with accurate labeling became paramount in attracting new customers,” she says. “Occasionally you will still see cannabis-infused products without lab-tested potency results, or with a self-determined system of dosing, such as a label that says “2X Dose” or 4X Dose,” but unless you know the amount of THC that’s being doubled or quadrupled, that doesn’t really mean much for the end user.”
There’s been a lot of controversy recently about label claims not matching actual potency. And many products may vary significantly from the THC potency listed on the package. So it’s important that consumers seek out well-known brands with a reputation for correct label claims, McDonough says. “It’s easier to homogenize items like chocolate bars or hard candy compared to baked goods, so seek out those products for more accurate potency estimates,” the expert points outs. That why she recommends that new users of cannabis edibles only seek out low-dose products with THC contact clearly stated in milligrams, and begin with only 5 or 10 milligrams to see how it will affect you.
Lab-testing methods for edibles may vary. “And there’s currently no state regulation or oversight of cannabis laboratories in California where I reside, says McDonough. “It’s important that the labs establish standardized testing procedures, and I hope that California will adopt a standardized dosage of 10 milligrams of THC as “one dose” much like Colorado, she says. “Setting a baseline for potency along with science-based public education campaigns will do a lot to inform new users and prevent negative experiences from over-consumption.”
However Colorado has adopted a lot of heavy-handed regulations aimed at preventing accidental ingestion among adults as well as children. And unfortunately while well-intentioned many of the regulations are unnecessarily burdensome to businesses. Currently edibles makers in Colorado are being required to find a way to mark or stamp their product as containing cannabis even when outside of the packaging, McDonough says. What that universal symbol or marking will look like is still being determined, but the regulation itself poses a lot of practical problems.
“How can cannabis-infused beverages be marked after they’ve been poured out of the bottle,” she says. “There’s no type of mark or coloring that would dissuade a toddler from eating an edible, since young kids will put anything in their mouths, including batteries or Tide detergent pods, which are much more dangerous.”
What’s worse? Many newly adopted restrictions aren’t successfully preventing children from ingesting cannabis-infused products plus they contribute to an overblown hysteria about their supposed dangers, McDonough says. “Ultimately, it’s the parents that bear responsibility for preventing young kids from accessing cannabis-infused foods, so lock up your edibles or choose a different way to use cannabis if you have youngsters in your house.”
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