The Friendly Guide to Cannabis Edibles
When it comes to infusing food, the largest challenge for both amateur and professional chefs is making sure that you’ll feel the right sensations, yet also remember the meal afterward. We cannot deny that delicious food is a big part of why we want to eat and make cannabis edibles. But this page is about consuming and making cannabis infused food. If you’re looking for recipes, click here. This page is meant to help you discover the right amount of THC for your edibles and ensure you are comfortable with what you put into your body.
This guided tour through the theory of eating cannabis, edibles and THC infused foods is extensive but it is not complete. There are a few rabbit holes that we did not want to lead you down as we didn’t think they would be helpful to anyone who just wants to make better edibles. Things we skipped include: the endocannabinoid system; a deeper look at the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes and; all the reactions that go on during decarboxylation. There’s still a lot of information in these pages, if you read anything, we hope it will be our 4 Rules of Edibles we list at the very beginning. If you’re new to edibles, start small and see how you feel before taking more. You can always have more; it’ll be very difficult to have less. Happy eating.
The Rules of Cannabis
Not everyone needs to know everything. Not everyone has the time to read a couple thousand words. We’ve distilled our knowledge of edibles down to four clear rules
Section 1: Eating Cannabis Infused Foods and Edibles
Section 2: Making Cannabis Infused Foods and Edibles
Eating Cannabis Infused Foods and Edibles
About Eating Cannabis
Cannabis edibles, or infused food, are treats, snacks and meals that have been infused with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or some other cannabinoid chemical like cannabidiol (CBD). There are many different types of cannabinoids that can be extracted from cannabis; however, it is THC that is of main interest since it has psychotropic effects that often give you a feeling of calm and euphoria. It is important to keep in mind that “psychotropic” does not mean “psychedelic”. Cannabis and THC can cause an intensification of ordinary sensory experiences which are often confused as hallucinations. THC does not cause psychedelic effects in a person, meaning they do not cause visual or auditory hallucinations. Although you may feel an altered state of consciousness and experience new perspectives on life, this is not considered to be a psychedelic effect, at least medically.
Edibles can be purchased from licensed businesses in ready-to-eat forms and more types are becoming available every day. If you’re not the type of person who eats take-out for every meal and you can navigate your way around a stove, then edibles are very easy to make at home too. While ready-to-eat edibles are convenient, the advantages of making your own infused food means you can ensure quality ingredients, variety of flavours and personalized dosing. Buying a pre-made edible means you’re stuck eating convenience store quality food with a level of THC that could be too strong or too weak. In this guide, we’ll discuss what you need to know about edibles, what’s great about them, some important considerations and how to enjoy edibles at home.
Is It Different Than Smoking?
The most well-known way to get THC into your body has been smoking it or vaping it. When you inhale smoke or vapor, the active chemical enters the lungs, where it is absorbed by the alveoli and pass into the bloodstream. Your lungs have a lot of surface area for adsorption of THC and a rich blood supply enabling rapid onset and high bioavailability (more on these terms later). This translates into a quick delivery to your brain where THC works with endocannabinoid receptors to produce that ‘high’ feeling. Through your lungs, absorption into the bloodstream occurs quickly, and the effects are felt anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. The experience typically would last between 1-3 hours but could be longer or shorter depending on the amount of cannabis that you consume.
The story of eating cannabis is thematically similar, but it takes you on an entirely different journey. Smoking will hit you faster when compared to eating cannabis. Lungs to blood is very fast. You peak quicker and consequently it is out of your system quicker too. Even for a first time smoker of cannabis, there’s a pretty good chance that by hour 4 they will be feeling normal again.
Bioavailability and Tolerance
Although we showed a nice graph for onset of effects, in reality it represents an average of many experiences. The variability can be fairly drastic between onset and peak feeling for different people. The cause for this variability isn’t intuitive either and has little to do with body weight or a person’s age. What causes the variability is something called bioavailability. This is a term that describes how two people can take the same amount of THC and hit their peak-blood concentrations at different times, as well as have a different intensity of experience. Bioavailability is closely linked to a person’s unique metabolism. Some people have a fast metabolism while others have a slow one. Metabolism isn’t consistent either. Just because you can crush a half-dozen cheeseburgers and not gain any weight doesn’t mean you’ll metabolize THC quickly too. How your body processes the things you ingest or inhale can change from substance to substance just as easily as it changes from person to person. Think about how your body reacts to drinking caffeine, eating sugary foods, drinking a glass of wine, getting sedated at the dentist or eating asparagus. You may feel the effects from all of these things instantly, or not at all. While many of us will react similarly, we know that they won’t all impact everyone the same.
The six coloured lines represent different test subjects for this study and we can clearly see that despite the same method and amount of THC consumed, there are at least 4 distinct profiles of onset. But every person has a unique time of peak blood THC and/or overall level of THC in their blood. The only thing that is common to each person in this study is that by 4 hours, the THC had been scrubbed from their system by their liver.
A person’s tolerance typically starts out low, but some may find that they have a natural resistance to THC’s psychotropic effects. While this is not the common experience, a natural tolerance to cannabis is still very normal. If it appears that cannabis doesn’t work for you, it may not be that you were doing it wrong or that the cannabis was bad. The explanation could be as simple as a high natural tolerance. If you’re interested in consuming cannabis and experiencing the relaxing new perspective that it brings, you may want to consider progressively increasing the amount of THC that you consume until you find an effective level. We strongly discourage you from drastically increasing the dose just to get it to work. Being overloading by the effects of cannabis is not pleasant. Whenever you’re trying something new, start small and see how you feel before taking more.
Personalize your THC infused food
Absorbed in Your Guts
We’ve been learning about how eating cannabis is so different than inhaling cannabis, now it’s time to get down to the why. The adsorption of food through your digestive tract depends on the nature of the food. Water and sugars are adsorbed rapidly in the stomach while carbs, proteins and fats need to breakdown further before they can be absorbed too. THC is no different. Cannabinoids dissolve in fats, and are adsorbed in the same places of your gut as fats and oils. Eating cannabis means it has to pass through your stomach and into your digestive tract, before being metabolized by your liver, pass into your blood stream, hit your brain and finally get you high.
Did we mention chemistry? Maybe you haven’t already been told, but raw cannabis doesn’t actually have much THC in it. Anyone who told you that they got high when they accidentally ate a bag of dried flower was lying to you, either about being high or about how much bud they ate. Raw cannabis flower has an infinitesimally small amount of THC in it, but it is full of tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA). When THCA is subjected to high heat, it decarboxylates (“decarb” for short) into Δ9-THC. When people talk about THC, what they mostly mean is the Δ9 version. Δ9-THC is psychoactive, but THCA is just flavouring for a bunch of plant fibre. The two oxygen atoms and hydrogen atom that come off of THCA in a decarb are the only difference between getting high and a pile of dung. This is a similar situation for most of the cannabinoids in cannabis, including CBD.
When THC is eaten, it is metabolized in your liver from its Δ9 form to another chemical in the THC family known as 11-OH THC, which is a much more potent version of the drug. Where you only get Δ9 from smoking, eating cannabis delivers a cocktail of 11-OH and Δ9 to your brain. Not only does 11-OH THC pass through the blood-brain barrier faster but it also possesses 3-7 times the psychoactivity of regular THC. That means it gets to your endocannabinoid receptors first and just puts the pedal to the floor. This more potent form of THC is why many people will describe their experience with edibles as more intense than when they smoke, especially if they are taking the same amount of THC. This isn’t a rule, there will be exceptions. Just because you have had a great time smoking cannabis doesn’t mean you’ll have a great time eating it and vice versa. Just because you have had a high tolerance when you smoke cannabis also doesn’t mean you’ll have a high tolerance for edibles. We must stress again that everyone should find their own sweet spot when it comes to effective levels of THC, whether you’re smoking or eating. Start with a little, work your way up to a lot. Working your way down from a lot will guarantee that you’re going to have a few terrible experiences.
With infused foods, it is extremely tempting to eat more while you wait for the effects to hit you. This is an easy trap to fall into, remember, the 11-OH THC is several times stronger than the smoking version of THC; meaning you don’t need to take as much to get the same effect. If you are tempted to eat more, you’ll likely end up being much, much higher and for longer than you wanted.
Making Cannabis Infused Foods and Edibles
Cannabis has a very potent taste and aroma. Putting it directly into your food will flavour it strongly like dried weed, but it doesn’t guarantee any THC infusion. The sublime effects of edibles can’t be achieved by eating cannabis raw. It is missing a very important step. Like we said before, that’s because raw flower doesn’t contain much THC, it has THCA. In order to get THCA to turn into THC, cannabis must be decarboxylated.
Next time you buy some dried cannabis, just look on the packaging. It’s unlikely that there’s much more than 1% THC displayed on the label. But there’s a secondary number on the label, Total THC. This is the total THC + THCA amount determined by advanced chemical analysis. This number is required by government regulation and gives you the best idea of how potent the weed is. We have a fictional example from Health Canada cannabis package labelling requirements showing THC% and Total THC% . The same values for CBD may also be displayed.
Here’s our recommended method of decarbing your cannabis
If you easily understood all our talk about time and temperature, you can also try a considerably higher temperature and shorter amount of time. This could potentially allow you to preserve certain terpenes and secondary cannabinoids which would just evaporate away with longer times. This takes a lot of trial and error and we can’t provide any guidance on how much THC you’ll end up with.
You’ve successfully decarbed your cannabis, but unless you’re interested in crunching on cooked flower, you need to do an extraction to take the THC out. Ideally, you want to extract the THC into something more usable like butter, olive oil, coconut oil or duck fat. These things all have one important thing in common, they’re fats and oils. This is hugely important because all cannabinoids are hydrophobic. Hydrophobic means that cannabinoids (like THC) cannot dissolve into water, they will only dissolve in oils and fats. This is the same for terpenes too. THC will also dissolve into some organic liquids also like ethanol (a.k.a. drinking alcohol). The higher the proof the better. Spirits with 40% alcohol means that the other 60% is still water. Water that doesn’t want anything to do with cannabinoids. Getting THC to dissolve into alcohol is more complicated and takes some practice. We suggest focusing on butter or olive oil if you want to easily make great edibles and infused food. To make the next few sections simpler, we’ll only use the term butter, however you could substitute any other cooking oil or fat and still get great results. Cannabutter is a common term that you may already be familiar with, but it gets confusing if you’re not using butter. Canna-oil, canna-fat, it doesn’t always matter what it is, as long as it is THC infused. We prefer to use the universal term “Cooking Canna” to simplify communication, however since we said we’ll focus on butter, we’ll say “cannabutter” for familiarity.
Dosing THC into Food
By now you should have a THC infused butter (a.k.a. cannabutter). Now its time to figure out how much THC you want to eat in your food. A common mistake is to add all of the cannabutter into the recipe. Going back to our example of 1.0 g of 15% cannabis that we decarbed and then extracted, we would have 135 mg of THC concentrated into our half cup of butter. For some heavier cannabis users, or those with a higher natural tolerance, 135 mg of THC might be the perfect amount to add to a single meal or snack. But for many first timers and people who like to enjoy casually, 135 mg might incapacitate you for many hours. It’s not very enjoyable to have to settle for a nibble of a cannabis infused edible that is too strong. With some simple math, 135 mg THC in 120 mL means our butter has a THC concentration of 1.1 mg/mL. If you want to divvy this out using a kitchen scale or an eye dropper, that number might be meaningful, otherwise our preference is to convert it into a teaspoon basis (5mL), or 5.6 mg/tsp. Measuring spoons are much more common in the regular kitchen and a regular teaspoon is close enough in a pinch. Knowing this number, you can infuse 11 mg THC into your meal by adding 2 tsp of your cannabutter to your recipe. When you make a concentrated infusion, you will only need to add a small amount of it to cooking recipes for effective levels of THC. Based on the typical purchasing amounts of cannabis at 1.0 gram and 3.5 grams; we’ve put together a helpful chart to quickly approximate the concentration of your cannabutter by the teaspoon (when you’ve used 0.5 cup of butter for the extraction). If you prefer to be more precise with your dosing, try out our online THC and edibles calculator.
A quick reference dosing chart for infused fats and oils is shown below. The black numbers provide the approximate concentration of the infusion per teaspoon (5 mL). Find your teaspoon concentration by matching up the amount of cannabis (1.0g or 3.5g) that you used during extraction and the Total THC value of your cannabis. The chart requires that you have used 0.5 cup of fat or oil for your extraction.
The final consideration when properly dosing edibles and infused foods is portioning. Sure, you have proficiently decarbed your cannabis and extracted the THC into a half cup of butter. You’ve also successfully figured out how strong the cannabutter is by the teaspoon and you want to have about 10 mg of THC in each “serving”. If you’re just feeding yourself and you’ve only made one serving, you need 2 tsp of the cannabutter. But what happens when you’re feeding 4 people and your recipe caused you to make 6 servings? The answer will depend on what you’ve made. Some things are inherently portioned, like cookies or candies. You divide out the recipe as a requirement to make each piece. In this case you would add all of the required cannabutter to the master batch already knowing how many portions (or servings) the recipe will create. This scenario has been detailed out in Example 1 in the next section.
The most difficult food to do THC dosing well are items that you need to measure out separately and pre-portion. This is essentially anything where you could not add the cannabutter from the start. This might happen if you wanted to use a high temperature method like grilling on the BBQ (burgers) or if there’s no cooking at all (salad). This scenario has been detailed out in Example 3 in the next section.
Choose your own THC strength
Example 1 – Inherently portioned food (ex. cookies)
When you make cookies, recipes should always advertise how many cookies you can expect to make. Our recommended cookie recipe makes 24.
To get 5 mg THC in each cookie for our recipe that makes 24 cookies, we need 120 mg THC (24 cookies × 5 mg). To get 120 mg THC from our cannabutter, we need 7 teaspoons (120 mg THC ÷ 17 mg THC / tsp).
Don’t just add all of this extra butter to your recipe. Substitute normal butter for how much cannabutter you need to add. E.g. recipe calls for ½ cup normal, unsalted butter. Take out 7 tsp and replace it with 7 tsp of cannabutter.
Example 2 – Easy to portion food (soup)
A good recipe should tell you how many servings will be made, either in some measurable unit like cups, or by a relative unit like “servings”. Gourmet or ‘rich’ versions of a cream soup recipe will call for heavy cream as an ingredient. Heavy cream is a prime candidate to extract THC into. Imagine you are making a cream of broccoli soup that requires ½ cup of heavy cream and makes 6 servings.
To get 10 mg in each serving of soup, we need to add 60 mg THC (6 × 10 mg) to the entire 6-serving recipe. To get 60 mg THC from the infused cream, we need 7.5 teaspoons (60 mg THC ÷ 8 mg THC / tsp).
We can either substitute the infused cream from the amount of regular cream that recipe asks for, or we can just add the infused cream on top of the ½ cup of regular heavy cream. The extra cream in this case won’t make any significant change to the texture or flavour of the soup. In cream soups, the cream is typically blended into the recipe near the end of cooking because heavy cream is already sensitive to heat.
Example 3 – Pre-portioning food (hamburger)
Figuring out the servings for hamburgers is pretty simple; one patty + one bun = one serving. A great trick for something like a sandwich or hamburger is to add the THC infusion as a topping or a spread. Don’t bother trying to put it into the meat. In this example, we’ll make 5 infused hamburgers.
To get 9 mg THC in a hamburger, we need to add 45 mg THC (5 burgers × 9 mg THC) using our 23.5 mg/tsp infused oil and we’ll need to pre-portion it out. Add 2 tsp of the infused olive oil to 2 tbsp of mayonnaise and whip it together. The mayonnaise is now infused with 47 mg THC. Divide up the mayonnaise into 5 equal portions (47mg THC ÷ 5 = 9.4 mg THC). Spread one portion of mayonnaise onto the toasted buns of each hamburger. After you add the burger patty and the other toppings, you now have 5 hamburgers that are infused with ~9.4 mg THC. Since you’ve already toasted the buns and cooked the patty, the infused mayonnaise won’t see any extra heat and the THC will be left intact.
Turning a low dose into a high dose
Start low, go slow is the mantra often repeated by government and the cannabis industry but rarely do they provide useful context. If you find out that you have a natural tolerance, or if you’re a heavy cannabis user already, starting low doesn’t do anything for you so there’s no choice but to go slow, or not at all. Taking a recipe that calls for a low dose of THC and turning it into a recipe with a high dose of THC is straight forward. There are three methods to easily increase the amount of THC in your edibles recipe.
Increase the amount of cannabutter that you add to the recipe. In example 1, if we substitute more of the regular butter with the cannabutter, we’ll end up with stronger cookies.
Choose a more potent strain of cannabis. In example 1, if we choose a strain of cannabis with 25% Total THC instead of the one with 13%, we would have cannabutter that is 33 mg THC per teaspoon. That’s almost double!
Decarb and extract more cannabis into your infusion. In example 2, we only extracted THC from 1.0 g of cannabis. If we increased that to 3.5 g of cannabis, the heavy cream we extracted into would have ~27.5 mg THC per teaspoon. That would increase the dose in each serving to 35 mg THC from 10.
Home Grown Cannabis
Knowing the potency of cannabis that you buy at the store is easy. It says right on the label. But what if you’re growing your own, you would have to get it tested to know what the Total THC value of your home-grow bud is. Not only that but potency is known to vary from plant to plant, even if it’s the same strain. To be precise, you would need to get each batch tested, which can be expensive and a hassle. Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet to be able to do precise THC dosing in edibles with home-grow flower. The best we can suggest is a qualitative assessment based on how potent you think the cannabis is when you consume it. We know that not a great method, but if that’s all you have, that’s all you have. In our experience, a “weak” home-grow could contain anywhere from 3 – 10% THC, a “medium” potency home-grow could have between 10 – 20% THC and a “strong” home-grow bud would probably have more than 20% THC. A glance at the quick dose chart tells us that an error margin of ± 5% THC is a huge swing in the potency of cannabutter. We strongly advise against using home-grown cannabis with an unknown potency to make edibles for first timers and anyone who is not intimately aware of their tolerance for THC.