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Are edibles safer than smoking cannabis?

January 29, 2019 • read

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Are edibles safer than smoking cannabis?

Edibles are often advertised as a safer way to consume cannabis than smoking or vaping it, but is that really true?

When the Canadian government legalized cannabis in October, it didn’t include edibles. This has left many of us in a consumer “grey zone,” unclear about which products are legal and which are safe. Edibles are easily available online and marketing materials proclaim them as “smoke-free” and “natural” ways of consuming cannabis. The truth, however, is more complex. Read on to learn about the differences between eating and smoking marijuana and the problems of ingesting unregulated products.

What is an edible?

An edible is what it sounds like: a food product that contains cannabis. Usually producers lace the food with an oil containing the active ingredients of cannabis — THC and sometimes CBD. Edibles usually come as candies or baked goods, but you can also get them in a drink format. 

What are the differences between edibles and smoking marijuana?

Both ingesting and smoking cannabis will get you high. Both can cause the uncomfortable side effects associated with marijuana use. The major differences between the two methods of consumption are the duration of the high and the speed of its onset. Smoking or vaping cannabis causes effects within minutes, with most sensations wearing off after two to three hours. With an edible, the THC enters the bloodstream through the stomach and liver. This means that it can take up to an hour and a half for the psychoactive effects to be felt, with one study showing that subjects felt the peak of their “high” three hours after ingestion.

Labelling

Because edibles are still illegal, there is no labelling oversight. This means there’s no way of knowing if a product’s THC or CBD content is accurate. Product labels also don’t have to indicate a maximum amount to take. This leaves consumers unclear as to how much will get you “high.” With cannabis-infused gummies for example, an unaware user might eat the entire package, when in fact one might contain enough of the drug to get you high. Baked goods are even more complex, as you’re likely to have difficulty gauging the appropriate serving size when instructed to eat merely one-sixth of a cookie.

Is it risky to buy edibles?

As with any food product, it’s important to consider the conditions it’s made in. The health department isn’t likely to inspect a company that’s making illegal products. Because of this, there’s no real way of knowing if the company abides by basic food handling guidelines. Not to be gross, but how do you know the producers don’t use butter that’s been sitting around unrefrigerated for two weeks? Or that they wash their hands before they start? Inspections can’t completely guarantee this either, but they can help ensure food handlers keep guidelines in mind and set penalties if they see they’re being ignored.

When it comes to illegal producers of edibles, the provenance of the drug itself also becomes an important question. When a company produces illegal cannabis products, there’s no way to be assured of the quality of the drug used. Legal cannabis retailers must conform to certain guidelines and have their product inspected, but illegal edible operations exist without oversight. Marijuana that is contaminated with mold, mildew or illegal insecticides can cause severe health issues for consumers, ranging from breathing problems to muscle pain. Buying edibles online means there’s no guarantee that the drug in the product are fit for human consumption.

How much is too much?

Reading that last paragraph might have you thinking that making your own edibles is your best option. But before you go ahead with that, you’ll want to consider some additional factors. We wrote earlier about speed of onset and length of high, and both are crucial to remember when using edibles. A common problem affecting users with edibles is thinking you haven’t consumed enough because of the lag in effect. You may eat more, thinking you haven’t taken enough to get the desired reaction. By the time you start to feel the effects, you’ve already taken too much. And because the “high” lasts longer and peaks later with edibles, if you do accidentally over consume, you could be stuck feeling the effects for hours.

Dosing

Inconsistent dosing is a concern both when making your own and when purchasing (illegal) edibles. It can be quite difficult to evenly distribute the drug throughout the product. And when purchasing cookies, gummy bears or whatever, we don’t know what the producer’s level of knowledge is or how they’re dosing the product. It’s possible that one gummy has one dose, and another has twice that amount of THC.

While edibles can seem like a safer alternative to smoking or vaping cannabis, it’s important to remember that they are still illegal. Purchasing cannabis edibles means using products that may not conform to health and safety standards. Some may even contain harmful additives. Waiting until they are legal and regulated is the best way to protect yourself from unnecessary risks.

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