Discover everything you need to know about cannabis-infused edibles and beverages in Canada. We’ll explore how edibles differ from smoking or vaping, including how to read those labels. You’ll learn all about THC dosing and the importance of starting low and going slow. We’ll finish by providing our top tips for first-timers.
Cannabis-Infused Edibles and Beverages
Cannabis-infused edibles and beverages (or just edibles, for short) provide Canadians a smoke-free way to enjoy weed. You also know that the product inside the package is accurately reflected by the label on the outside – no more mystery dose edibles. For the first-time consumer of edibles, you want to have all the information before you get started. By the end of this article, you’ll understand why this is so important and how to make sure you are prepared.
Food and beverages can be infused with a single cannabinoid or multiple cannabinoids. It all depends on what cannabis plants are selected and what form of extraction is used. As a beginner, you don’t need to worry too much about the details behind extraction. You can think of each cannabinoid as a separate ingredient.
One of the best parts of the regulated and legal Canadian edible market is that consumers can trust the product they buy. And when it comes to edibles, this is incredibly important to avoid the potential risks of edible consumption. All legal edibles sold in Canada contain no more than 10mg of THC per package – and so any consumer who sticks to one package can’t go too overboard. That said, we’ll give you the information to fine-tune your dosage so that you have the best first experience possible.
1. How Edibles Differ From Smoking or Vaping Cannabis
What novice edible consumers need to understand is that smoking and vaping are entirely different from edibles. Yes, they both result in getting you high, but everything about that ‘high’ can be different. These differences are a result of the delivery method and how the THC compounds move through our bodies.
Let’s compare the two journey’s taken by THC compounds delivered in these ways:
- Smoked/vaped – from mouth > lungs > bloodstream > brain
- Edibles – from mouth > stomach > intestines > liver > bloodstream > brain
Now, if you’re thinking so what, they both end in the brain? The critical factor at play here is the liver because it metabolizes THC compounds. When the liver processes THC, it gets rid of some but also turns some into 11-Hydroxyl-THC. This alternative form of THC is thought to be the reason why edibles have the potential to produce an intense body high with a nearly psychedelic cognitive effect (Peng & Shahidi, 2021).
When you smoke or vape, your liver performs the same task but to a lesser degree. Since the THC compounds quickly diffuse from your lungs into the bloodstream, many compounds reach targets like your brain without ever reaching the liver. Some of them follow the bloodstream and reach the liver, but you ultimately get a lower proportion of 11-Hydroxyl-THC in these cases.
According to Health Canada, edibles can take up to:
- 2 hours to start producing effects
- 4 hours to have max effects
- 12 hours for primary effects to subside
For comparison, smoking or vaping can produce effects nearly instantly that generally last under 6 hours and peak around an hour or two. This is because you get an immediate influx of THC with smoking/vaping, producing a rather rapid rise that declines quickly. With edibles, the onset is slower because the first THC compounds take time to reach your brain. But, it takes far longer to absorb all of the THC compounds inside our intestines, delivering a more sustained release.
We should note that the dosage will have a significant impact on these durations. This fact should make sense if you think of the intestines as the bottleneck point. Only so many THC compounds can be absorbed at once – so a larger dose means more of the compounds have to wait. Avoid large doses to prevent having to deal with any multi-day high.
2. Reading Labels on Edibles
Legal edibles in Canada must display standardized information to help keep customers informed. The most important numbers you’ll find on your cannabis package describe the THC and CBD content (Barrus et al., 2016). But that doesn’t mean they make it super clear or straightforward.
The key number you want to know is how many milligrams of THC are in the package. Most products contain around 10mg of THC because that is the current legal limit in Canada. You want to look for the “Total THC” to tell you how many mg’s are inside. If the package says “Total THC per unit” just multiply it by the number of units inside the container.
Here’s what else you’ll find on your Edible package label:
- THC warning symbol
- Producer and product names
- A yellow health warning box
- Cannabis excise stamp (what you break to open the box)
- Instructions on how to open the child-proof container (this can be surprisingly tricky)
- Nutrition fact table (similar to the nutrition tables on other food products in Canada)
- The equivalent amount of dried cannabis (this matters for the 30mg buying limit)
- Batch details, contact number, and other technical details
3. What Dosage?
The correct dosage is a highly personal question that requires some individual experimentation. The problem is that over-consuming leads to some very crappy hours. Consuming too little means you may not feel anything, but this is the better option, especially for your first few times enjoying edibles. With that in mind, let us take a look at dosage.
10mg of THC is barely noticeable for some people, while others find it overwhelming (Schlienz et al., 2020). Most people will be somewhere in the middle. The hard part for beginners here is that you don’t know until you start. Plus, although novice edible consumers will quickly develop an initial tolerance after several sessions, they may start with none.
This is why ‘start low and go slow’ is such an accurate statement. As cheesy as it may sometimes sound, with edible cannabis, the slogan is fantastic advice. Examples of this look like a first-timer taking one puff of a joint, one nibble of an edible, one gup of an infused beverage. Consider doing an equivalently slow start to your edible journey to avoid potentially distressing symptoms.
In terms of dosage, a first-timer may want to start with 2.5mg or so. For most edibles in Canada, this works out to one-quarter of the treat. Yes, this may work out to a tiny bite or nibble. There are THC-infused beverages that contain between 2.5 and 10 mg of THC as well.
The key is not to try edibles for the first time on a big night. Go for a quiet night at home instead. Get familiar with the effects of edibles in a comfortable place with people you trust before taking them out on the town. First-timers can benefit significantly from making sure the first few times go well. Also, this way, if you feel nothing, it is no big loss.
And by first-timers, we do include people who have smoked and vaped plenty of cannabis in their lives. Often, it is people in this situation who get into distressing and unpleasant situations. There are endless stories of people who discovered that tolerance for smoked cannabis and tolerance around edibles are not the same. For example, a bad trip can arise when a daily cannabis smoker thinks they must have a tolerance already, so they start with well over 10 mg of THC.
Of the two major mistakes, you can make, taking large doses without working your way up is the first one. The second critical point in time where so many first-timers go wrong comes with taking a double dose. For example, you take 2.5mg of THC, but you want to feel high tonight. After 30 minutes, you don’t feel anything, so you double your dose. Shortly after, the first dose starts to take effect, and you might feel good. But an hour later, you may be curled up on a couch, unwilling to move.
4. Top Tips for Cannabis Edible First-Timers
Taking the excellent slogan from earlier, we can add a little to make it more complete: start low, go slow, and don’t double dose. Some people suggest waiting at least an hour or two before taking a second dose, but the issue is that cannabis can impact our time perception. Making a mistake with edibles can be as easy as one bite too many.
Here are a few general tips to complete our conversation:
- Avoid edibles on an empty stomach, eat something else before or during
- Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water
- Avoid using alcohol alongside edibles
- Make sure your edibles are not the only ‘treat’ available – If you crave more chocolate after that first bite, make sure you can get it from a non-infused option without overdoing the THC.
We hope you now feel confident in your ability to start low and go slow. Practicing extra caution with edibles over smoking or vaping is always the right idea. This is never more important than during those first few experiences. Get them right, and you may find a lasting and healthy relationship with edibles. Get it wrong, and you may never want to give them a try again.
And that would be unfortunate because, as we learned, edibles are great! They provide long-lasting and consistent effects that both consumers and medical patients love. With options that include weed gummies, cookies, pot brownies, and more, what’s not to like?
Going with edibles means you are not smoking or vaping, which saves your lungs from agitation. There is no more discrete and convenient way to accurately dose THC than with edibles. Remember to practice all the tips we provided here today to ensure your first time is a good experience.
Barrus, D., Capogrossi, K., Cates, S. et al., (2017). Tasty THC: Promises and challenges of cannabis edibles. Methods Rep RTI Press. doi:10.3768/rtipress.2016.op.0035.1611.
Peng, H. & Shahidi, F. (2021). Cannabis and cannabis edibles: A review. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 69(6),1751-1774. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.0c07472.
Schlienz, N., Spindle, T., Cone, E., et al., (2020). Pharmacodynamic dose effects of oral cannabis ingestion in healthy adults who infrequently use cannabis. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 211:107969. DOI:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.107969.