How Can I Try Edible Marijuana Safely?

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July 17, 2014 - By Dr. Malik Burnett and Amanda Reiman, PhD MSW

*Editor’s note: In a new feature of the Drug Policy Alliance blog, DPA's Dr. Malik Burnett and Dr. Amanda Reiman will lend their expertise to answer your questions about marijuana every other Thursday. Dr. Malik Burnett, policy manager in Washington, D.C., is a former surgeon and physician advocate. He also served as executive director of a medical marijuana nonprofit organization. Amanda Reiman, PhD, policy manager in California, holds a doctorate in Social Welfare and teaches classes on drug policy at the University of California-Berkeley.

Dear Docs:

Recently, I was at a party and someone brought some homemade marijuana brownies. I asked him how strong they were, and he just said, “Really strong.” I was afraid to try one because I had no idea how strong “really strong” is. Do you have any advice for how I can safely try a product like this with so little information?
Thanks!

A marijuana newbie

Dear Newbie,

That’s a great question! Even in places like Colorado, where marijuana edible products are labeled, determining the right dose can be tough.

But, there are a few things you can do to ease yourself into the cannabis pool, without diving in head first. Now, there are a couple of things to consider when consuming marijuana edibles and they can be divided into two areas: safety and potency.

Safety, refers to the actual composition of the plant and how it was grown. Think about other produce such as apples and spinach. As consumers, we want to know that those products are free from pesticides, molds, bacteria and other contaminants that might make us sick. We often hear of spinach being recalled because of safety issues.

In licensed marijuana stores, safety is controlled through testing requirements, similar to the food we buy at the grocery. However, if a neighbor shows up at your front door with apples from her garden, you have to trust that what she is giving you is safe, much as you have to trust that your friend who made the brownies used quality marijuana.*

The second question you have to answer, is that of the potency, and this can be very tricky. You said that you were told the brownies were “very strong.” Similarly to an alcohol-infused punch, it can be very difficult to know just how strong it is, especially when the taste is pleasing. In licensed marijuana stores, edible products should contain the amount of THC and CBD (the active ingredients in marijuana) in milligrams, and the dose per package (10 mgs=one dose).

Novice consumers, such as yourself should start with no more than ½ of a dose (5 mgs) or less. You might try cutting one dose into four pieces to start with. It is also important to wait at least one hour before consuming anymore, because it can take that long (and sometimes longer) to feel the effect.

Since you were in a situation with an unlabeled product of unknown strength, greater care should be taken, and I would recommend starting with a very small bite (maybe cut the brownie into five pieces), and then wait at least an hour before eating more. Also, water is your friend, alcohol is not! If you plan on consuming alcohol, it's best to put off the marijuana experiment for another day. But keep lots of water close by.

Finally, one question I get asked a lot is, “can I overdose on marijuana?” If we define an “overdose” as ingesting more of a substance than intended, then you, can overdose on marijuana just like cookies. The bigger question is what happens when someone takes more marijuana than intended? While marijuana overdoses have been known to occur, they happen more often with edible products than with smoking. It is important to remember that marijuana overdoses are not fatal and usually the effects, which can include anxiety, go away in an hour or two. However, for some people, especially those prone to anxiety and depending on the amount consumed, effects such as fatigue and clouded thinking can last for a couple of days. The most important thing to remember is, go slow.

You can always eat more of the brownie, but you can’t go in reverse.

*Note: the heating process used in turning raw marijuana into edible products decreases the likelihood of contamination.

Dr. Malik Burnett is a former surgeon and physician advocate. He also served as executive director of a medical marijuana nonprofit organization. Amanda Reiman, PhD, holds a doctorate in Social Welfare and teaches classes on drug policy at the University of California-Berkeley.

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