The business of cannabis-infused edibles is rapidly growing all over Europe and the world. Ranging from coffee and tea to sweets, cannabis and cannabis-derived products can be added to virtually any type of edible substance.
This is nothing new since cannabis has been used in edible formulations since ancient times, but some questions keep rising regarding the safety of eating cannabis-derived products. One of the most known experiences in the matter is that of Maureen Dowd, Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author. In 2014, Maureen reported to the New York Times that she had laid “curled up in a hallucinatory state” for 8 hours, after eating a cannabis-infused caramel-chocolate flavoured candy bar. Later, Maureen realized that she ate a larger dosage than it was recommended for beginners, and that’s probably why she suffered such heavy effects.
Nonetheless, the fact that it seems dangerous is still a concern regarding the acceptance cannabis ingestion. Therefore, the question remains: is cannabis safe to eat?
The answer comes in various parts.
What happens when we eat cannabis?
There is, of course, a difference between smoking or vaping cannabis (the most common forms of use, either for recreational or medicinal purposes) and eating it, but that doesn’t mean either form is dangerous if handled correctly. There is also a difference between eating raw and cooked cannabis.
First, we must have in mind that ingesting raw or processed cannabis are two very different things, and they have different effects which need to be addressed if we want to understand the topic entirely.
Cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) aren’t usually found in raw cannabis in considerable amounts. For these compounds to exist in large quantities, the plant needs to go through a chemical process called “decarboxylation of acidic cannabinoids”.
What exists in large quantities in raw cannabis are two different types of acidic cannabinoids called tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA). When the decarboxylation process occurs, THCA is transformed into THC and CBDA is transformed into CBD.
So, it’s very unlikely that eating raw cannabis will start any undesired psychoactive effects in your brain, due to the low amounts of THC (but that depends on your own metabolism and whether you are very sensitive to these compounds or not).
Are there side effects?
Cannabis consumption may be associated with cognitive or motor impairment, extreme sedation, agitation, anxiety, cardiac stress, and vomiting, but only on very specific conditions.
The decarboxylation process occurs when the cannabis plant is exposed to a certain amount of heat. Especially in the case of THCA, it is converted almost entirely to THC when exposed to more than 100°C in less than 30 minutes. So, you are more likely to experience psychoactive effects when eating cannabis cooked at high temperatures, smoking or vaping it.
But even then, the psychoactive effects largely depend on the amount of THC you ingest (which is directly related to how much cannabis you ingest, and what was the original source and chemical content of the raw plant in the first place), and also the amount of CBD (this substance can counter some of the psychoactive effects of THC). This can be easily avoided if you acquire legal, high-quality medicinal cannabis.
Moreover, there is also a very important aspect that needs to be fully understood and that Maureen Dowd also learned: the effects of eating cannabis don’t occur as fast as if you vape or smoke it. If you ingest great amounts of cannabis products because you’re not feeling the effects right away, chances are you will most likely suffer side effects that wouldn’t happen if the products were eaten in right amounts and within the appropriate period of time.
What are the benefits?
Cannabis and cannabis-derived edible forms include not only foods and drinks but also oral sprays and pills. They may present a good medicinal approach that yields the health benefits associated with cannabis, without the need of smoking or vaping it.
Even if we were only talking about baked goods, although cooking cannabis increases THC contents, it also increases CBD and other cannabinoids’ levels through the decarboxylation process, and those may counter THC’s effects and increase the edible’s therapeutic action.
Moreover, and although there aren’t many scientific studies performed with edible forms of cannabis yet, specialists believe that ingesting cannabis may have positive effects in managing conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety, cancer-related symptoms, poor appetite, muscle spasms, depression, vomiting, and poor sleep quality.
In fact, some studies suggest that, due to fact that orally taken cannabis or cannabis-derived products take longer to exert their effects (the effects may be felt 30 to 60 minutes after ingesting, and may last for 2 to 4 hours), these are also prolonged and don’t present as much THC-induced intoxicating effects.
Also, other studies present more practical benefits of cannabis edibles:
- Unlike smoking, ingesting cannabis doesn’t expose the body to harmful substances and carcinogens or causes damage to the lungs;
- Cannabis edibles don’t leave any lingering odour as smoking does;
- Eating cannabis-derived products may not be associated with such stigma as smoking is;
- The effects of eating cannabis-infused products are not as fast-acting but are milder and more prolonged than those induced by smoking;
- Edibles are easier to transport and don’t present an issue if consumed in public locations or at work.
In summary, ingesting cannabis-derived products doesn’t seem to have any concerning side effects and, when it does, it is usually because the product wasn’t ingested properly and with care. As with every medicine, if taken in large amounts, it may cause some damage. If consumed as instructed by certified manufacturers and health professionals, cannabis edibles may be a very interesting form of medical treatment for many ailments.