Incredible Edibles Roulette: Are You Ready to Play?
RxLeaf talked to edibles guru, Matt Fox from ‘Show Me Kindness’ to find out the secret to making a perfectly dosed edible. Then we went ahead and did it our way. You can learn from both.
Medicated edibles are the oldest way of consuming cannabis, besides smoking it. Medicated edibles, or medibles, can be incredibly powerful medicine. They hit harder and longer than smoking cannabis, and for certain ailments, such as chronic pain, eating cannabis easily beats inhaling for longevity of relief.
For patients, edibles may also offer discretion. Edibles can remain camouflaged in a refrigerator, stealthily scattered about with other food stuffs. Edibles also don’t leave a skunky scent on the clothes or skin. They can, however, be like playing a game of Russian Roulette – which dose will I get this time? There are ways to avoid that.
Should You Make Your Own Edibles?
Seems like a cheaper and totally feasible venture to make your own. There are certainly many recipes out there on the Internet. And some of us have dietary needs that can’t always be met in the mainstream, such as gluten free or vegan. Further, most commercially available edibles do come in sugary incarnations: gummies, candies, cookies; these may not jive with diabetes or cancer patients. Sugar can cause a host of other health problems, such as tooth decay or metabolic dysregulation.
The problem with making them at home is achieving consistency of dosing. In a professional kitchen, lab testing is required to check regulated edibles for consistency of THC content.
At home, however, if you are not careful, you can have concentrated areas in the canna-butter, oil, or gelatin that you are using for cooking. You can also inadvertently create higher (or lower) THC areas in the mixing and distribution into the pan. And this is what we call ‘incredible edibles roulette’ – the game that could have you face planting on the couch for a mid afternoon nap. Alternatively, you may find yourself flaring with pain or inflammation because the cannabinoid concentration was too low.
Most “recreational” edibles contain anywhere from 5 to 10mg THC per serving, to minimize the chances of overdoing it. Edibles designated for the medical market, however, can reach 30mg THC or more per serving. With your personal kitchen equipment, you can have anything in that range due to inconsistencies at any step along the way.
Image Credit: Dan Holm
Or maybe you’re like me, and you’re comparing the cost-to-milligram ratio. I’ve seen cannabis sodas with a mere 10mg of THC go for $10 or more, and – no. Just hell no. I’m not paying $10 for a freakin’ soda. Movie theaters, the bastions of price-gouged corn syrup, don’t even charge that much for a drink.
Or maybe, just maybe, you’re one of those people who likes to cook. Better yet, maybe you’re one of those people who’s really good at cooking, and you know you can show-up those mass-produced edibles any day of the week.
If you’re going to experiment with crafting your own edibles, step one is Know you can make the thing. Nothing is more soul-crushing than dumping hundreds of dollars’ worth of weed into a cake only to realize you mistook the table salt for cane sugar. Whoops.
What About Buying Homemade?
If you live in a place with legal medical cannabis, you may know caregivers or friends who can hook you up with their own homemade edibles. And that’s fine. If you trust them to dose your stuff correctly, go with that. If you don’t know them or don’t trust them, sample a small amount of it before diving in whole hog.
The problem with getting other people’s homemade edibles is you will never entirely know if their dosing is accurate either. A lot of things can go wrong between Step A to Step Z. Gray market products don’t undergo lab testing, so it’s a bit of a crapshoot. That may not be an issue for some of you. For others, it could be the difference between getting to work versus curling up in fetal position on the kitchen floor.
So, You STILL Want to Make Your Own…
Keep It Simple: Start with Concentrates
Matt Fox is one of the founders of Show Me Kindness, a medical cannabis consulting firm based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I’m including him first because he has the most efficient and sensible method for making edibles at home. What’s his trick? He recommends skipping the extraction step (which I detail further down) by avoiding raw buds altogether. Fox says the key is to start with a good quality concentrate.
Start with a Good Concentrate
“Use distillate or isolate products from a dispensary to get an easy dosing measurement,” he wrote to RxLeaf in an email. “The milligrams of THC are listed on the container, just divide by number of portions. Anything over 90 percent THC or THCa will be close enough” so when doing the calculations, exact values won’t really matter.
By the way, THCa is the acidic or “natural” form of THC we find in cannabis. The acidic form will not get you elevated, which is why we must heat it (lighter flame, cooking, etc) to get it to work its magic for us. You’ll see this term pop up again.
If you live under prohibition, Fox added, oils in your area won’t be as potent or reliable as those available in regulated states. If this is the case, then assume whatever isolate you got is just 10 to 20 percent THC.
Spread It Evenly
To evenly mix the concentrate into the food – such as a batter – Fox suggests an emulsifier like lecithin or eggs. Emulsifiers will bind the cannabinoids into a syrupy mixture that keeps the medicine from unevenly distributing throughout the food. For some recipes (like cake or cookies), you’re already set, since you’ll be including eggs anyway. Other recipes may require some experimentation with various emulsifiers, which will change depending on if you’re making drinks, salad dressings, etc.
Decarboxylation is the most crucial step for making edibles. We commonly call this step “heating.” At the chemical level, heat adds energy to your THCa. Get enough energy, and the acid portion literally pops off the molecule, making it “bioactive” or “bioavailable” – fancy terms for saying it’ll get you high.
Fox recommends lower temps and longer cooking times if you’re looking for a more relaxing, sedative-like effect from the edibles. If you want a “fast and high” experience, use higher temps and shorter cooking times. Unfortunately, I can’t give you a quick-and-easy formula for cooking times because that will largely depend on what you’re cooking and how you’re cooking it. Regardless, try not to go above 118°C (245°F), otherwise you may burn your extract and fry the THC.
“Start small!” wrote Fox. “With all the complexities and variations possible, you’ll go through a lot of grams while finding the perfect recipe.”
“Plus, edible strength is often underestimated, so it’s best to start your own recipes with as small a dose as you can,” Fox continued. “Getting a batch down to 5 or 10 mg per dose and still having a useful effect is actually rather difficult. The decarboxylation process alone demands many rounds to dial in what works for you.”
If You Intend to Get Complicated: Starting with Raw Flower
Okay, let’s say you enjoy a challenge. Let’s say you’re going to throw out Matt Fox’s initial advice to start off with a concentrate. No, you’re a brass-tacks kind of kitchen warrior. You want to start off with flower.
This section is only if you want to start from scratch. I’m partially including this here to illustrate how incredibly fuzzy the math can get if you go this route. If you suck at math, you may want to seriously reconsider this whole homemade-edibles thing. The goal here is to reliably dose your food. If you put too little or too much THC into your dishes, you might discover that you’ve got a knack for wasting time and money. Let’s not do that.
If you happen to know someone who is decent at basic algebra, then get them to do these calculations for you.
Step One: Find out how much THC is in your cannabis flower.
Most labels for flower will report a THC amount based on weight percentage. If you see a value like “20 percent THC,” that means, by weight, 20 percent of what you have should be THC. For example, if you bought an eighth of an ounce of flower that has 20 percent THC, the actual amount of THC you have is
(%) x (total weight) = THC weight
In the cannabis community, we track weight by grams and milligrams. Because that’s the metric system, and the metric system actually makes sense, unlike the English system.
(.20) x 3.5g = 0.7g THC
If you’re a metric system whiz, you know how to automatically convert that 0.7g THC into milligrams (mg), which is how most folks report THC content. Just remember that 1g equals 1000mg. Or….
(0.7g THC) x (1000mg/1g THC) = 700mg THC
Wowza! 700mg THC in that little bag of pot, eh? Remember that the typical commercial serving of an edible contains about 10mg THC. So, if the lab data is accurate, you’ve got 70 servings of THC in that bag, right?
Kitchen extractions are an inexact science. The same goes for a lot of lab testing, too, unfortunately. Without getting too deep into it, lab reports for THC percentages are usually inflated. And I’m being nice by writing “inflated.”
Additionally, the percentage usually denotes THCa, the acidic form that doesn’t get you high. You may notice that packages mention that there’s something like a 15 percent error for their data, so that 20 percent THC (or THCa, rather) is really somewhere between 17-23 percent. Not a huge range, but it could mean the difference between a good night’s sleep or clutching the floor to keep from falling off the Earth, depending on how big a batch you’re making.
If you’re new to edibles or sensitive to them, err on the side of caution and always go with the largest value, just to be safe.
Anyway, you may have 700mg THC in your flower, but that’s not what will end up in your food. Basically, every step of the extraction and cooking processes introduces something called error into your calculations.
There are a few corrections to factor in when making edibles. The first correction is the heating factor. According to Steep Hill Labs via Leafly, that value is 0.88 (or 88 percent) when converting THCa to THC through heat.
(700mg THC) x (0.88) = 616mg THC
That’s what you should have left after heating. However, you’re going to lose even more during prep, which can range between 30 to 60 percent. Yeah, that’s a lot. Let’s go with a middle value (45 percent) and wing it from there.
(616mg THC) x (.45) = 277mg THC
616mg THC – 277mg THC = 339mg THC
So that’s what you can expect to end up in your dish: about 340mg THC, give or take 90mg (the error struggle is real).
If that’s too much math for you, just take your initially calculated THC value (700mg) and divide it by 2. Not precise, but it’s close. Sort of.
Step Two: Pick an Oil
If you’re making a cannabis dish from scratch, you’ll need oil or fat to extract THC from the plant matter. Butter is one of the more common ones, but olive oil, vegetable oil, or coconut oil are fine, too. Personally, I recommend ghee, because I’m pretty sure it extracts damn near everything. But I’m a bit of a snob, too.
How you decide to heat the oil to extract the THC is entirely up to you. I’m not going into that here, because it’s been covered to death elsewhere. If you’ve got the cash and you’re serious about edibles, consider getting a machine to do it for you, like a Mighty Fast Herbal Infuser or a Magical Butter Machine.
Basically, take all your cannabis (buds only; sift out stems and seeds), grind it up, and heat it with the oil. After you’re done heating it, strain it through something, like an aluminum mesh or cheesecloth. The leftover plant matter is essentially useless now. I promise you, if you try to smoke that stuff, you will have a very, very bad time.
Step Three: Mix It In
After you’ve got your THC-laden oil or butter prepped, you’re ready to cook it in to your food. This next step can go a million different ways depending on what you’re cooking and how. Obviously, some methods are more effective than others, but there’s a general principle to follow that should apply in most cases.
The trick to consistent, reliable dosing is evenly spreading the oil through the dish. Remember when Fox said to use an emulsifier? This is the time to include one if your recipe doesn’t already call of it. For example, if you’re baking cookies, be sure to beat the butter or oil thoroughly through the cookie dough. After you think you got it, do it again just to be sure. If you own one, pull out that dusty electric beater you got three Christmases ago. The more vigorously you can mix the ingredients, the better.
If the oil unevenly spreads to one side of the mix, you risk inaccurately dosing yourself. One cookie may do nothing while another cookie – from the same batch – can knock you into a temporary weed coma.
Once you’ve got everything mixed, toss it in the oven or whatever ASAP. Don’t let it sit around. Although cannabis dissolves in oil, it tends to clump up into little globs that will settle to the bottom of whatever you’ve made (assuming there’s no emulsifier). That may work for some foods but not for others.
On that note, if you plan on storing your infused butter or oil for later use, remember that the cannabis extract will eventually settle to the bottom of the container. Be sure to melt and mix the oil before using it again, whether you stir it or shake it to make it homogenous.
Step Four: Cook Accordingly
Heat degrades THC. Recall that you lost some THC during the extraction process. It also got stuck on the sides of your bowls and spoons. Some got stuck in the strainer. Some got stuck on your beater. When you cook it, even more THC breaks down. Some will break down into other cannabinoids like CBN. Other THC molecules will simply become useless atomic fragments.
Some dishes don’t require you to cook the butter or oil into your dish. You may drizzle it onto your food or mix it in cold, like in a salad. And that’s totally fine. If you did the extraction correctly, the oil will work regardless if it’s cooked in or not. Heck, you could even drink the oil straight, if you wanted. (Ew.)
Step Five: Partition
Now that you’ve got your dish completed, you should divide it into equal, even parts. If you don’t, you certainly risk inaccurate dosing. If you made a 340mg THC cake, and you go nuts and eat half of it – bye, bye. See you in a few days.
Rather, you should use your calculations from Step One to figure out how much THC you want in each serving. We’re assuming you’re using the entire batch of oil you made earlier. That 340mg THC cake can be cut into, say, eight slices. That leaves each slice with about 42mg THC. You can further split a single slice into roughly equal parts, say four more times, giving you about 10mg THC per piece of cake.
But remember! Every step of the cooking process adds more error to the entire thing. Heating the THC adds error. Transferring the oil from one bowl to another container adds error. Using a spoon adds error. Dipping your finger into the mix and tasting it adds error. Beating it adds error. Baking or cooking the oil into the food adds error. And partitioning adds error as well. All these little errors compound and ultimately add up to a mystery THC value.
Without lab testing your ingredients every step of the way, you really have no idea how much THC you’ve got in a single serving. Ever. This is why buying edibles from a dispensary is much, much more reliable than making them at home.
Step Six: Know Your Limits and Your Needs
This final step requires that you already have some idea of how much THC you can handle. I know some people who can eat 1000mg THC in a single sitting and never feel a thing. I know others who will consume 5mg THC and lose their danged minds.
We all react differently to cannabis, so it’s no different with edibles. In fact, edibles can be surprisingly potent even to heavy smokers, so dine accordingly.
All-in-all, when you make edibles at home, you’ve turned yourself into a guinea pig. There are so many variables that factor in to what you’ll end up with that it’s practically impossible to calculate it based on whatever (and likely inaccurate) THC percentage is reported on your flower label.
Some of you may prefer it that way. Heck, it’s how our ancestors prepared cannabis, and it’s not like you can die from it, right?