Ingested THC can reach pain where inhaled THC cannot, due to the way the digestive tract processes infused substances.
But if edibles affect the body differently than inhaled marijuana, they're also notorious for affecting the palate differently than "real" food. For a long time, most edibles tasted like medicine — unless they were drowned in fat and sugar.
Today, all that's changing. The attitude at Twirling Hippy Confections and Simply Pure, two Colorado-based companies, is that edibles should be seen as both a food product and a medicine. That means less fat, absolutely no solvents, and good taste.
Twirling Hippy just unveiled a line of balsamic and cracked-pepper nut mixes; Simply Pure sells all organic, vegan and gluten-free products, many of which are also sugar-free.
"If we're in a health industry in a very healthy state," says Jessica LeRoux, owner of Twirling Hippy, "then why is there so much junk food?"
A changing market
Not so long ago, there were two good answers to that question.
First off, the nature of the patient base was different. LeRoux made a lot of infused cheesecakes for hospice patients a decade ago; chronic wasting and low appetites made rich edibles a good choice for people who needed tempting to eat, she says.
Secondly, cooks would rely on easily accessible but heart-unhealthy fats to hold onto cannabinoids like THC. By working them into baking recipes, they could also mask the taste of the cannabis.
Today, the majority of LeRoux's patients are active people in their 40s and 50s who need relief but don't want to put themselves at risk for high cholesterol or celiac disease. And MIPs, or manufacturers of infused products, have found ways to create healthier products that are still strong in THC.
On the molecular level, THC gets into food in one of two ways. It can be extracted from marijuana leaves, flowers or shake with water or chemical solvents like butane (which makes for a potent, but slightly toxic product); the results are bubble hash and hash oil, respectively, which can be added to foods later. Or the marijuana itself can be cooked into butter and oil (a lipid suspension).
Lauren Gennett, a chef at Simply Pure, says some of their products are made with bubble hash or a suspension of organic coconut oil. Gennett says coconut oil on its own is a "miracle food," but its high count of healthy saturated fat makes it a perfect carrier for THC. The chef says the infused oil is often more potent than tinctures (alcohol or glycerin suspensions that can be added to soups and teas).
Yet another benefit of the coconut oil, Gennett says, is that it's more inclusive for patients with special diets, like diabetics or people who don't eat dairy.
Low and slow
Those changes don't come without a learning curve, however, and one compounded by the newness of the industry. LeRoux says that a lot of MMCs don't rotate their edibles or use refrigerators, which means that products can not only go stale, but lose their potency — THC begins to degrade after 60 days at room temperature. (Twirling Hippy Confections need to be refrigerated.) That's why she encourages patients to work with their MMCs, or find one that gives them what they need. She's also happy to talk to patients herself.
Consistency is also an issue with many MIPs, the women say. To combat this, Simply Pure works with Full Spectrum Labs to test the THC amount in its plants (which it grows) so each batch contains the same dosage. Gennett says that based on the amount of THC in the buds, Simply Pure chefs can adjust their recipes to accommodate a strain that's particularly stronger or weaker for the same potency each time: "So you won't be blindsided," Gennett says, "or left without feeling anything."
Simply Pure's 11-ounce cans of green chili and marinara sauces run at about 200 milligrams of active THC; 7-ounce jars of mango salsa, strawberry jam and peanut butter contain 250 milligrams. In comparison, Twirling Hippy Confections runs from 45 to 80 milligrams per product, which is labeled accordingly.
If you're going to make your own at home, Gennett and LeRoux both say getting to know your baseline products is essential. Gennett encourages patients to use organic cannabis. LeRoux adds that doing a thorough, safe extraction method, with no chemicals, is also important. To maximize efficiency and potency, take your time with your cannabutter — low and slow for the cooking. And, they say, it's always better to start on the weaker side and build up.
To aid the home cook, Simply Pure will unveil a line of infused cooking oils next month. Its website says a cookbook is also in the works.
Homemade Cannabis Oil
30 oz. organic coconut oil
3 oz. organic cannabis flower, ground into a semi-fine powder (you do not want it so fine that it will go through cheesecloth)
Simmer oil and ground cannabis in a slow cooker on the lowest setting for 12 hours. Strain oil through cheesecloth to separate the fiber. Keep the oil and use in your usual cooking. If you want, you can take the fiber from the cheesecloth and use it for a second batch in fresh oil; the second batch of oil will be less potent.
Store your bright green oil in the fridge. Start with about 1 tsp. per serving. The potency will vary greatly depending on the quality of your cannabis. Start slow and low. Enjoy.
Note: This can also be used as a topical for achy joints.
— Courtesy Lauren Gennett of Simply Pure