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If you followed the most recent election cycle, you may have noticed one clear winner emerge—cannabis. This election cycle, voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota said Y-E-S to T-H-C, showing that support for legal cannabis crosses demographic and geographic lines.

Though attitudes toward cannabis continue to move toward mainstream acceptance, consumer education continues to lag. A June 2020 survey conducted by Oasis Intelligence showed that despite their support in cannabis legalization, many legal consumers still need help understanding basic cannabis concepts. This sentiment is not shocking, as cannabis is a unique category that brings a relatively new shopping experience to the masses. What’s more, outdated stoner stereotypes have historically overshadowed the therapeutic and medicinal benefits that millions are able to enjoy because of legal cannabis, leaving behind a population of adults who may be interested in trying cannabis but have no idea where to begin.

If you are one of the millions of adults living with such canna-curiosity, edible cannabis might be a good place to start, as it allows for discrete consumption and does not require inhalation, a common barrier to entry for those with an aversion to smoking formats such as pre-rolled joints or loose flower. If you want to get smarter about edible cannabis, here is what you will want to know before walking into a dispensary.

The Basics

When it comes to cannabis, method of consumption plays a key role in defining the experience. Before we dive into some of these differences, it is worth getting acquainted with some of the basic chemistry behind the cannabis plant.

Cannabis contains organic compounds called cannabinoids and terpenes. When consumed, cannabinoids like THC bind to receptors throughout the body to trigger the plant’s therapeutic effects. This network of receptors exists within the body’s endocannabinoid system, the system that helps regulate and balance body processes such as communication between cells, immune responses, metabolism, and more. While there are more than 80 cannabinoids in existence, THC and CBD are two of the most prominent cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. THC is generally known for its psychoactive properties or feelings of euphoria associated with “getting high.” In contrast, CBD is not psychoactive and has been used to manage a variety of ailments ranging from anxiety to chronic pain and inflammation.

Terpenes, on the other hand, are compounds primarily responsible for the aroma and taste of the cannabis plant. But terpenes are not exclusively found in cannabis. They can also be found in other plants and foods like mangos, which contain high levels of Myrcene, a terpene known for its earthy aroma.

Inhalation v. Ingestion

When consumed through inhalation, cannabinoids and terpenes enter the bloodstream through the lungs. When inhaled, these compounds are said to work synergistically to unlock the nuanced effects of different cannabis strains, a theory known as “the entourage effect.” In contrast, edibles must make their way through the digestive system, resulting in a more delayed onset than smoking. As THC gets metabolized by the liver, it is converted into a more potent compound known as 11-hydroxy-THC. As a result, edibles have been known to deliver a more intense and longer lasting experience relative to smoking.

Indica or Sativa? It Doesn’t Really Matter.

Ever hear the unwritten rule of thumb asserting that sativa strains are more energizing, while indica strains tend to be more relaxing? If so, here’s some news that will rock your world. When it comes to edibles, indica and sativa classifications are generally a misnomer. That is not to say that you will not come across edibles brands that tout these classifications on the shelf. It simply means that consumers often shop based on the effects they are seeking, and brands that use these classifications remain in consideration because consumers are unfamiliar with the science behind edibles.

Most edibles are made with pure THC oil commonly known as “distillate.” It is extracted from the plant through a process known as distillation that ultimately strips the oil of terpenes to yield more concentrated THC oil. Distillate lacks taste and aroma, making it easier to manufacture edibles that are both tasty and efficacious. While it is possible to add terpenes back to distillate once extracted, there is no definitive research that shows that terpenes can be absorbed through the body’s digestive tract.

This does not mean that all edibles products are the same. In fact, some brands are exploring alternative methods of production to develop edibles that better deliver on specific effects. For example, incredibles, a national edibles brand headquartered in Chicago, recently launched “Snoozzzeberry,” a blueberry flavored gummy that combines THC with CBN, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid known for its sedative properties and potential sleep-inducing effects.

Tips for Safe Consumption

We have all heard the horror stories about that friend of a friend who tried edibles for the first time, only to end up in the fetal position next to a half-eaten bag of chips. If you are considering edibles for the first time, here are a few pointers to help you avoid such a nightmare.

1.  Start low: Everyone’s metabolism and body composition are unique. As a result, it may take a few attempts to find the dose that is right for you. Remember to start with a low dose between 1mg and 5mg and gradually work your way up until you find your ideal dose.

2.  Go Slow: Edibles can take anywhere between 1-4 hours to take effect. Do not be tempted to eat more just because you cannot feel the effects right away as you could to overdo it.

3.  You overdid it, now what? Find a safe and quiet place to relax, preferably with a trusted person by your side. Drink plenty of water and try focusing on breathing and remaining calm. Time is one of the best solutions for getting through a bad edibles experience.

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