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Why Edibles Is the Healthiest Way to Consume Cannabis

Even as cannabis becomes legal in more and more places throughout the world, there still remains a lot of ignorance about how best to consume it. Its long underground status has created a lot of myths and old wives tales around its use, benefits, and consumption.

One of the most contentious topics is which methods of consumption are the healthiest – smoking, vaping, or edibles. To get the obvious out of the way, let’s cite the Canadian “Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines”, or LRCUG for short: “The most effective way to avoid any risks of cannabis use is to abstain from use.” Of course, that’s probably not what you wanted to read, but the fact remains that none of the methods of consuming cannabis will remove all of the risks associated with cannabis’s effects.

That said, the only way one could make any real direct comparison is to treat cannabis like the medicine that it is. This means adjusting the methods and calibrating the effective dosage on an individual basis.

To be realistic, “medicinal” marijuana only accounts for a small minority of use cases. The vast majority of users use cannabis recreationally, which is why Canada created the LRCUG in the first place. Canada is a great starting point, as they have had official guidelines for most use cases far longer than most other countries. And as far as the guidelines go, yes, edibles are by far, the healthier option followed by vaporizing, with smoking through all sorts of paraphernalia coming in last. 

Yes, edibles are healthier! But…

So, at least as far as Canada is concerned, edibles are indeed generally the healthiest way to consume cannabis. However, there are a lot of “buts” attached to this statement.

As anyone who’s had expertly-prepared edibles before can attest, the high comes much later but is often more intense and long-lasting. The longer, stronger high that comes from eating edibles happens because of how THC, the active ingredient in cannabis and marijuana, is metabolized within the body, as well as how edibles are actually made. First, we have to understand how cannabis and marijuana make us high.

How THC works

Cannabis and marijuana contain Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a plant oil that’s one of the at least 113 cannabinoids found in cannabis. Applying heat to THC converts it into Delta-9 THC. Delta-9 THC is what binds to brain receptors to cause the sensations and experiences that we associate with being high. Just eating straight cannabis does not produce a strong high, if any, due to the fact that the THC is not being converted to Delta-9 THC.

THC and smoking/ vaping

When marijuana is smoked or vaped, it’s heated sufficiently to convert it to Delta-9 THC. This then passes into the bloodstream through the lungs. However, when smoked or vaped, it metabolizes relatively poorly because as an oily compound, it doesn’t dissolve very easily in water. However, smoking and vaping are usually able to deliver a significant enough amount of Delta-9 THC to the brain so results are felt in a matter of minutes.

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THC and edibles

Creating edibles usually involves dissolving the cannabis in a fatty substance, such as cooking oil or butter. This allows THC to be released into the fat and lets much more of the THC to be absorbed into the body. The application of gentle heat during the cooking process also converts THC to Delta-9 THC as well as to 11-OH-THC, an even more potent THC-based compound that produces an even stronger high.

Eating cannabis edibles results in a delayed high because the active ingredients take a much longer time passing through the body than they would if you smoked or vaped them. These compounds are first metabolized in the liver, and from there they enter the bloodstream. During this process, much of the remaining Delta-9-THC is converted to the more potent 11-OH-THC as well. Due to the comparatively massive quantity of cannabis compounds that edibles are able to deliver into your system, the high can last much longer, up to 8 hours in some cases.

However, this does not directly answer the question of why edibles are a healthier way to consume cannabis. To answer that question, we have to look at the drawbacks of smoking and vaping the active compounds found in cannabis products.

Drawbacks of smoking

It should be clear by now – you really don’t want to be inhaling smoke particles. Smoke is harmful to your lungs, full stop. It does not matter if you’re smoking cannabis, sawdust, or kale chips – that smoke is bad for you. Smoking cannabis converts a significant amount of the material to ash and other carcinogenic compounds.

Research from The American University in Washington DC has also linked smoking marijuana and cannabis with chronic bronchitis. Like any other type of smoke, cannabis smoke can injure the lung’s cell linings, including those of the large airways, making them less supple over time. Regular cannabis smoking has been linked to chronic coughs, excessive phlegm production, wheezing, and acute bronchitis. Mouth cancers are another cause for concern when it comes to smoking cannabis or anything else.  Repeated smoking over a period of time can deposit a significant amount of carcinogens into the mouth, making it more likely to develop gum and soft-palate diseases. Smoking can also cause serious complications with dental implants and cause them to fail. The dryness and acidity that results from smoking can also disrupt the chemistry of saliva in the mouth, which can lead to a premature wearing down of tooth enamel.

Other less serious, but still negative effects of smoking as a way to consume cannabis include stained teeth and clothes, and an often hard-to-remove smell from living spaces.

In any case – you will rarely hear a doctor recommend smoking over any of the other consumption methods – if at all.  

Drawbacks of vaping

Vaping, on the other hand, removes most of the negative aspects of smoking by mostly ensuring only vapor and the active ingredients of cannabis go into your system. While vaping is not a new technology, there is still some confusion and misinformation about vaping cannabis. There’s a wide array of options and it’s all too easy to get too strong of a dose. Contrary to popular belief – you can definitely get an overdose from cannabis. However, such overdoses are not usually lethal unless there is some other underlying medical condition. In most cases, an overdose can lead to intense paranoia or feelings of anxiety as well as intense unpleasant feelings. While an overdose can happen with any consumption method, the high concentration of THC typically found in vaping cartridges makes it easy to go overboard a little too quickly. 

The present lack of regulation of these cartridges also poses a health risk. While strides have been made to make these safer for the consumer, there are still some concerns over additives that are sometimes found in these.

The act of vaping also has many of the same risks as traditional smoking, though it’s safe to say at this point that it is a comparatively safer delivery method. While no smoke is being inhaled, the solvents and additives that may be present in cartridges can still irritate the cell linings in the respiratory system. The usual culprits are propylene glycol or polyethylene glycol, which are widely agreed to be unsafe to inhale. Experts instead, tend to recommend vaporizers that use the whole cannabis flower, rather than the cartridge-style vape devices.

Drawbacks of edibles

Edibles avoid the whole business of potentially transferring carcinogens into your lungs and mucous membranes, sidestepping the health issues commonly cited in the smoking vs. vaping debate.  But while edibles are by far the safest way to consume cannabis among the most popular choices, it also has its own sets of drawbacks.

Edibles can take a couple of hours to kick in. This means a bit of planning and patience is necessary when consuming edibles for medical or recreational purposes. It’s necessary to plan a few hours ahead so you don’t actively put yourself in a dangerous situation. You seriously don’t want them to kick in right when you’re in the middle of driving or operating heavy machinery.

The delayed onset and the greater potency can also confuse first-timers. Those unfamiliar with edibles may unintentionally consume much more than necessary to get an intended high. This can lead to bad experiences and possibly a non-lethal overdose.

There’s also an elevated risk for edibles when consumed by someone who is taking certain types of medication. As the Delta-9 THC and 11-OH-THC go through the liver, they have the potential to disrupt the functioning of other medication that one might be taking.

Other than that, the health risks of edibles are more in the sugar and oils that might be used in making them, and the risks are mitigated if one has professionally-prepared edibles in recommended amounts.

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Other Major Benefits of Edibles

Not only are edibles the healthier way to consume cannabis, but they also have a number of other benefits outside from those already offered by cannabis. Here are just some of the less-considered upsides to cannabis edibles.

1. They’re discreet

There remains discrimination against cannabis users throughout the world, even in jurisdictions where medical and recreational use is completely legal. A large number of cannabis users also have a distaste for the stereotypes surrounding the cannabis community. Edibles are able to help users get around both of these issues by allowing them to consume cannabis without attracting unwanted attention or eliciting negative reactions from others around them.   

2. You can easily control dosage

One major issue with smoking cannabis is that the dosages can vary wildly, and you’re not always sure about what to expect until you’ve sampled enough from a certain batch. This difficulty with dosage also was an issue back in the day, before the wide availability of quality cannabis. Thanks to the wide availability of high-grade cannabis oils and other carefully dosed cannabis products, it’s fairly easy to make edibles with just the right dosage you need, for whatever recipe you have. This repeatability makes it possible to easily avoid both ‘impotent’ edibles and overdoses and help you create something that is both enjoyable and useful for conditions that are helped by cannabis.

3. They’re a good way to introduce cannabis benefits to others

Smoking, be it of tobacco or cannabis, is now on a downward trend, and that’s a good thing. Today, more and more people are turned off from smoking in general, for health and other lifestyle reasons. Those who may benefit from cannabis, however, might be turned off from it because they may associate it with smoking. Edibles are a good way to introduce cannabis to those who are avoiding smoking for health reasons or are otherwise unable to take it any other way. Just be sure you disclose the contents and nature of the edibles before offering them to others, as the failure to do so may lead to a negative experience. It’s also simply not cool to do that, as consent is incredibly important. For all you know, they may need to undergo a drug test for a certain job later on, and you don’t want to be the reason they get into trouble.

4. Preparing it yourself can be enjoyable Cannabis and food have gone hand-in-glove for at least the past 10,000 years, and possibly much longer. Archaeological digs in China have unearthed evidence of their use in food from that period. In India, Bhang, a cannabis-based food, has been enjoyed for millennia and is part of the continuing traditions in the subcontinent. In the Arab world, it was also a component of several dishes from the rise of Islam in the 7th century up until prohibition in modern times, spurred on by the banning of alcohol in the Quran. Renaissance Europe also attested to the use of cannabis in a few dishes.

Today, making cannabis edibles ties you to a continuing culinary tradition that is more than twice as old as the Pyramids. The popularity and diversity of edibles today closely mirrors that of the rise of cooking as a hobby in the past few decades. The science, history, and sheer versatility of cannabis makes it as much of a joy to prepare in the kitchen as it is to use with close friends. Thousands of great recipes are out there and learning how to incorporate cannabis into food can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience.