What’s the deal with cannabis edibles?

Cannabis has been legal in Canada since October 17 and it’s been a tizzy of information and questions about where it can be used, how long after it’s used you can resume activities like working or driving, and raising awareness about the potential health effects, especially for those under the age of 25.

The second weekend after legalization, Guelph-Wellington paramedics responded to 14 calls for help from those being under the influence of alcohol or cannabis – and specifically from cannabis edibles.

It won’t be legal to buy edible cannabis products (such as brownies and beverages) until sometime in 2019, but folks have clearly taken to DIY-ing in their own kitchens. Adding cannabis to food or drinks at home is legal for those 19 and older in Ontario as long as you’re not selling the products or sharing them with someone under the age of 19.

The problem is that when you eat cannabis it has very different effects on the body compared to when you smoke or vaporize (vape) it.

If you choose to use cannabis, edibles are safer for the lungs than smoking. However, if you choose to consume cannabis in edible/drinkable form, it’s important to know what the differences are.

Difference #1: When you eat or drink cannabis, it takes much longer for the active ingredients to get into your system. You might not feel the effects for 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating it.

In that space of time, you might think “it’s not working” and eat more, which can lead to overconsumption. (Signs of overconsumption can include becoming paranoid or anxious, psychosis, and other negative effects.)

Difference #2: The effects last longer – 8 to 24 hours

Keeping in mind it could take 2 hours or longer to feel the full effect from an edible, eating or drinking cannabis could be a day-long affair.

Cannabis impairs your judgement and reaction time, and makes you less coordinated. Driving after using cannabis is dangerous and illegal. Learn more about driving and cannabis and plan a safe ride home if you need to.

Difference #3: Dosing is difficult with edibles

In Canada, there’s currently no such thing as a ‘standard’ dose of cannabis, or its main active (psychoactive) ingredient, THC. In Colorado, where edibles are legal, products cannot contain more than 10 mg of THC per serving. It’s very important to ‘start low and go slow’ to see how you feel. How strong the edibles are depends on:

  • The THC content of the cannabis used to make them
  • How much THC there is per serving
  • The amount of decarboxylation (‘activation’) through heating
  • Your own body’s specific way of responding to cannabis

Some people also say eating cannabis leads to a stronger and more physical effect.

How to reduce the risk with edibles

  • Starting with a small amount and going slowly can help you avoid a “bad high”, which may include confusion, paranoia, anxiety, hallucinations, fast heart rate, nausea or vomiting.
  • Never mix cannabis, including edibles, with alcohol or other drugs. Mixing cannabis with alcohol can cause anxiety, nausea, vomiting or fainting. It can also increase the risk of accidents and injuries.

And remember:

  • If you’re under 25, it’s best to delay use. Cannabis in any form can affect brain development.
  • Keep edibles in a secure (locked) location, out of reach from children, teens and pets, where they aren’t visible.
  • No form of cannabis is known to be safe while pregnant or breastfeeding.

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