Most people like to consume cannabis flower by smoking it, i.e. putting a flame to the flower in a pipe or joint or bong or they like to vaporize the whole flower like in a Volcano or other portable device. But there are many who don’t like the idea of smoking and would rather ingest their cannabis in the form of edibles. Is there a problem with that? Unfortunately, the methods used to make edibles remove many of the benefits people seek from cannabis.
An informed consumer should know the differences in effect between smoking flower and ingesting edibles made from your favorite plant.
The Myth of Edibles
Several years ago, I took a long (very) flight from the US. It was about a 12 hour flight. I had a little container of Wana gummies from which I took about 1/3 of one gummy or approximately 3mg of relaxation…I hoped. I’m not going to say whether they were labeled sativa or indica. This story isn’t about that and I’ve found out that doesn’t really matter anyway. On the outbound flight, I slept delightfully for 8 hours. That was in a cramped coach seat and it was nice.
I ate the same amount on the return flight (different gummy from the same container) and the difference was amazing. I didn’t sleep at all. The only rest I got was what I call “fugue sleep” where I’m neither asleep nor awake. It’s not a pleasant state. Why did this happen? Why should two gummies from the exact same package behave differently? It probably was because of the way edibles have to be made.
Cannabis as an Edible
Cannabis flower has been smoked or inhaled from an altar for thousands of years. There’s a reason why it’s been burned for these millennia and not just eaten. Cannabis cannot be put into food unless the recipe calls for baking or heating significantly in some way. The highly complex chemistry of the flower that gives the characteristic effect is only soluble in oil and many foods that are infused, gummies included, don’t have fat in them. Without fat the distribution of the active ingredients is, by nature, uneven. Cannabis compounds, including THC, simply don’t easily easily incorporate into the food preparation process. Chocolate has lots of fat, but even then, it’s hard to incorporate evenly throughout the recipe. Even in recipes with oil or butter, cannabis is difficult to incorporate evenly. But there’s a bigger problem.
Decarboxylation in Cannabis Edibles
There are many compounds in cannabis; cannabinoids like THC, CBD, etc. and terpenoids which give cannabis it’s smell and taste. There are more compounds, but we’ll concentrate on these. The way that THC is made available for our bodies to metabolize and create the characteristic effect is called decar0boxylation. Simply put, decarboxylation is heating the cannabis until a carbon molecule flies off. Then the smoke can be inhaled or the edibles ingested to create their effect.
Decarboxylation happens automatically when you fire up a bud, but cooking doesn’t necessarily create the carboxylic reaction if the temperature isn’t high enough. The sweet spot is 230-250 degrees Fahrenheit. And therein lies the problem for edibles: flavor loss.
Terpenes are flavor and aroma compounds found in cannabis. This is trouble for edibles because terpenes start to boil off at around 100 degrees. By the time you’ve raised the temperature of your flower to 230 or so degrees, those terpenes are degrading and boiling off. All you’re left with really are the THC compounds. Alone, they will give you an effect, but it won’t have all of the effects of the original flower. Not good.
And for Edibles, the strong, sometimes overwhelming “weedy” taste comes from THC alone, which has a very strong flavor.
In addition to flavor, we think terpenes make up a big part of the differences between the effects caused by cannabis strains…maybe. The facts are not fully known yet. I’ve read a lot of writing about the “entourage” effect with terpenes, but none of it was in scientific journals. It’s blather because we simply do not know what the role of terpenes is and what they do for the effect.
Terpenes are found in many things. If your weed have a strong scent, the chemicals creating the smell are probably terpenes. Compared to THC or all the other chemistry in cannabis flower, terpenes are simple. But … they boil off at very low temperatures. THC (or CBD) does not. When you heat up cannabis to decarboxylate it, the terpenes disappear. Terpenes, for the most part ‘boil’ away or break down. Some terpenes boil off at temperatures as low as 100 degrees F. Decarboxylation occurs at a temperature of 230-250 degrees F. The math is easy: Bye bye terpenes, which makes the effects of edibles different than the effects of the flower.
Full Spectrum Edibles?
Edible cannabis has to be decarboxylated to make the THC available to your endocannabinoid system, where does that leave edibles? Well, if you believe the hype “Full Spectrum” cannabis edibles are the wave of the future. Some full spectrum edibles use Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) and tout that RSO has all the compounds as the while plant, thus “Full Spectrum” is present in the edibles. Is it hokum? Yes. Absolutely.
RSO is made by putting cannabis flower in a vessel and dissolving all the compounds found in a cannabis flower into 99% rubbing alcohol. Alcohol is a solvent and solvents do remove the chemicals in the flower, and leave them all possibly in tact, including terpenes. But…It has to be heated well above 200 degrees and guess what happens to the terpenes? They evaporate. Gone. No more ‘full spectrum’ for you! So what does that leave? THC, that’s what. It’s all hype. Every bit of it.
Indica or Sativa: Edibles are Undifferentiated
Since THC is THC is THC, there is no real difference between edibles labeled sativa or indica. Mostly it’s going to be a body relaxing effect. If you crave an alert and brain buzz, don’t eat cannabis…at least not yet. It doesn’t matter whether or not you buy a ‘sativa’ edible, unless someone finds a way to really and truly get the whole plant into an edible while still carboxylating the flower, you’re getting pretty much pure THC even if the edible states ‘full spectrum’. It doesn’t work like that.