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Q: One of my relatives wants to get into cannabis (which is legal in their home state, of course). Should I tell them to smoke weed or do edibles?
A: Ah, the joys and terrors of exploring cannabis. We’ve all heard tales about overdoing it—maybe like me you once stood in line at an ice cream shop dumbfounded by the exchange of goods and services for money. But it doesn’t have to be this way! You can guide your relative as Virgil guided Dante, only without all the nightmares.
It may be “just” a plant, but cannabis is an extraordinarily complicated drug that science is just beginning to understand. It demands respect and takes practice. The first thing to know when helping your relative decide between edibles or the smoking route is that the human body processes THC—the psychoactive compound in cannabis—differently for each. Smoke (or vape) cannabis and it goes to your bloodstream and makes its way immediately into your brain. Eat it, and the liver gets first dibs at processing the THC, turning it into 11-hydroxy-THC, which is five times as potent. The high will be delayed, but the effects last much longer.
Edibles might seem convenient and innocent enough (yay brownies!), but you need to be very careful with dosing. When you buy an edible at a dispensary, more than likely the dose is going to be 10 milligrams of THC. Which can be too much for a beginner.
So follow the most important rule for cannabis, and for edibles in particular: Start low and go slow. You probably want to begin with a dose closer to 2 or 3 milligrams. You might not feel anything from it, but you’re going to prefer that to overdoing it and descending into paranoia. Wait an hour, if not longer to be safe (we metabolize things differently on different days, after all), and try a bit more. Low and slow.
Smoking or vaping weed is a bit easier to dose because the effects are much quicker and milder. Newbies might want to take a hit and wait 10 minutes or so and repeat as needed. Again, this isn’t a race.
What about tinctures?
Whether your relative decides to smoke or do edibles, I’ll give you a little secret to pass along: Before doing either, start with a CBD tincture. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive compound in cannabis. And it is insanely popular right now: Manufacturers have been putting it in face creams and claiming it can cure pretty much any ailment a human can suffer. Science has yet to confirm almost every single one of those claims, though CBD does seem to at least have anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory properties.
Science has also been exploring how CBD interacts with THC. For years, anecdotal evidence has suggested that CBD dampens the psychoactive high of THC. And increasingly, researchers are putting hard data to this. Patients taking the synthetic THC drug Marinol for nausea, for instance, often report nasty psychoactive side effects like paranoia. But they tend to handle the drug Sativex, which combines CBD and THC, much better.
Problem is, cultivators have over the years neglected CBD in favor of breeding high-THC strains—smoke standard cannabis flower these days and it’s likely to have only a tiny amount of cannabidiol, if any. (Some special strains like ACDC, though, are loaded with CBD.) That and if you’re buying an edible, it probably only contains THC isolated from flower. If CBD isn’t there to put a check on THC, you’re more likely to have a bad time. So a few drops of pure CBD tincture under the tongue taken before THC might make the high much more manageable.
Or, to be extra low and slow, start with a tinctures alone, which contain THC and CBD in various ratios. It might be 18 parts CBD to 1 part THC (which would produce a very mellow effect), or 3:1, or 1:1 (you might actually feel pretty high). This might actually be a safer way to go for newbies than traditional edibles.
Just remember. Cannabis can be extremely powerful, especially if taken as an edible. And cannabis hits people differently depending on your physiology, plus the high can vary from experience to experience for the same person.
Repeat after me: low and slow.
Matt Simon writes for WIRED about biology, robotics, and his struggles with ordering ice cream.
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