The 5 Problems with Edibles
Edible cannabis products are more popular today than ever before, but the iconic weed brownie and similar edibles have been staples of cannabis culture for ages. Edibles are prized for their strong cannabis effects and long experience durations - however, they aren’t without their drawbacks. Common objections to cannabis edibles include concerns like:
Why are edibles so inconsistent?
Why are edibles so expensive?
Why are edibles so gross?
Do edibles cause digestive or health issues?
Why don’t edibles affect me - why don’t they get me high?
These reported problems with edibles are not without merit, but there are some explanations behind them that can help consumers understand how edibles work, and why they honestly might not be the best choice for them at the end of the day. In short, Edibles aren’t for everyone - but with a little bit of insight, cannabis consumers can consider all the pros and cons of this class of cannabis product, and decide for themselves how to experiment with oral cannabis consumption.
Here are the 5 biggest problems consumers report about cannabis edibles - including why those problems exist, and what edibles companies in legal markets are doing to address the issues for consumers.
1. Why are edibles so inconsistent?
This is one of the biggest problems with edible products purchased through the black market, and a big reason why new cannabis consumers are often weary of edibles - why are the effects of edibles so unpredictable, and why are the experiences often not consistent from one consumption to the next? It’s not uncommon to hear of an experienced cannabis consumer taking what they believed to be a reasonable dose of an edible, only to experience effects far beyond their normal baseline or acceptable comfort level.
Before the rise of lab testing, edibles were incredibly difficult to accurately dose during production and consumption, and two individual doses from the very same edible could produce wildly different results due to uneven infusion of compounds. Additionally, not knowing the starting cannabis material and infusion type of an edible makes predicting effects almost impossible for consumers. Thankfully, edible companies in legal state cannabis markets are making strides at addressing these problems.
The biggest advancement in producing consistent edibles is the state requirement for lab testing at multiple stages of edible production, making it much easier to know the overall dose for a complete edible, as well as the serving sizes for individual doses. This single step alone does wonders for improving edible effect consistency - no more do you have to wonder if that cookie has 50mg or 500mg of THC in it, the exact dose to the decimal point is right there on the label. Another manufacturing step that edible companies are taking to ensure repeatable cannabis experiences is the use of consistent, uniform starting materials - companies are beginning to establish relationships with cannabis suppliers that afford them a reliable stream of consistent quality cannabis for use in their edibles. Many companies are choosing to perform strain-specific infusions to add another layer of consistency to their product, and allow customers to estimate the type of effects they’ll experience from that edible based on their feelings toward the strain itself. Lastly, many edible makers are starting to pay close attention to the impact of the Entourage Effect on cannabis experiences and planning their formulations with these interactions in mind.
If you’re not familiar with the Entourage Effect, it is the principle that the full matrix of compounds in a plant (like the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and others in cannabis) interact with each other in unique ways and produce different, nuanced effects when consumed together than the same amount of an isolated compound like THC or CBD would on its own. By maintaining the natural balance and ratios of THC, CBD, minor cannabinoids like CBG and THCV, and the main terpenes giving the cannabis its scent/flavor, edibles producers can keep those specific effects produced by that cannabis type more consistent in their edible product and across batches. Edibles companies can also add in additional terpenes to try to control the nuance of the effects experienced - such as adding Myrcene to induce a more couch-locked feeling or Pinene for a more energizing and uplifting effect. While terpenes can affect people in different ways, many of them provide more predictable effects for the majority of consumers, so paying attention to the terpene types and concentrations in edibles can help consumers find consistent, repeatable effects through oral consumption.
2. Why are edibles so expensive?
One of the most common problems that customers cite when asked about edibles is the price point - why is an edible so much more expensive than cannabis flower, especially when the flower will potentially allow the customer more consumption sessions? There are several factors explaining the higher price of edibles.
The main reasoning behind the pricing of edibles is the amount of processing required to create them - not only must the starting cannabis material be purchased from the grower/supplier (whether it's actual cannabis flower for whole-plant infusions or pre-extracted cannabis compounds for isolate or distillate-infused edibles), it must then be infused into the ingredients of a manufactured food product, before creating the actual edible, which must then be packaged and branded for sale by the edible company. Each of these processing steps can add several additional costs to the bottom line of creating that edible.
For example, if an edible company is infusing a butter or oil with cannabis flower, that company must have the batches of infused ingredients lab-tested to confirm potency before they can be used in the final edible product, which then requires its own lab testing to confirm the potency is within the regulated limit of THC per container. While this potency double-check is vital to ensure that you as the consumer get a reliably dosed edible product, it can add significant cost to the process, which must be factored in to the price of that good. Even edibles companies making extract-infused edibles who decide to make their own cannabis extracts in-house face additional production costs - extraction machinery is very expensive to source and operate, and strict production guidelines must be implemented to ensure final extract quality, requiring additional business resources for the company to effectively maintain. No matter how an edible is produced, the cost of ensuring quality and dosing is a major factor in deciding the final price to the customer.
Another explanation behind the increased price of edibles is the amount of specialization and expertise required to produce quality edibles - as with most things in life, when it comes to edibles, good isn’t cheap, and cheap almost always isn’t good. Crafting a high-quality edible requires in-depth recipe research and development, sourcing of the best ingredients, and formulating a cannabis infusion method that will deliver on many important factors such as taste, potency, and the type of cannabis effects a consumer wants. All of these requirements of above-average edibles add production costs, including worker compensation for multiple R&D rounds, cost of raw goods used in testing recipes, and the potential for wasted cannabis compounds through production errors.
So while the price for a good edible might be a bit higher than a similar quantity of flower, what you’re really getting is a high-quality, dose-verified cannabis product made by food artisans with your best experience in mind. Additionally, edibles carry the added value of a much longer experience duration and even stronger effects than an equal amount of cannabis flower. While a puff from a joint may keep you high for 45 to 90 minutes at most, a single appropriate dose of an edible is likely to produce effects for 2-4 hours or even more, and the effects are likely to be stronger than those from smoking. So not only is the edible a tested infused food product, it actually provides cannabis experience benefits beyond what flower can offer.
3. Why are edibles so gross?
This problem is a divisive one, and ultimately boils down to personal preference - some consumers absolutely love the earthy flavor of cannabis edibles, and for other consumers even the slightest taste of cannabis can be an edible deal-breaker. There are a few simple explanations behind why edibles can pack such a strong cannabis flavor, and some options out there for those who are interested in trying edibles but don’t want to taste their weed.
The most obvious explanation behind why edibles can taste off-putting to some is that they are packed with cannabis material. Especially for whole-plant infusions, some of the chlorophyll and other heavy plant matter can wind up in the final cannabis product and create an earthy taste. High-quality edible makers will refine their infused butter or oil to reduce the amount of plant matter captured, but even the most rigorous refinement process can’t remove every trace of cannabis taste from a whole-plant edible. This is especially true for terpene-rich edibles, as terpenes are the essential oils responsible for the strong, distinctive aroma of cannabis strains. While terpenes have the benefit of potentially helping to modulate effects, they do underscore the cannabis-reminiscent flavor in the final edible. However, terpenes are also used in aromatherapy, cosmetics, and as food additives due to their pleasant scent and flavor, so terpenes can actually add a nice flavor that balances the borderline dirt-earth flavor of plant matter. Craft edible makers will even take the extra care to select specific terpenes that compliment the natural flavors of the food item being infused, so that the flavor is not distracting from the main flavor notes to be enjoyed. For this reason, a whole-plant cannabis infusion may be an enjoyable culinary experience, and can even be an acquired taste similar to that for strong dry wines which cannabis connoisseurs can hone.
While a cannabis flavor can be nice to some consumers, it’s a hard line for others that prevents them from experimenting with edibles at all. For those consumers, edibles made with distillate or isolate are likely to be the best choice, as the lack of plant material in the starting cannabis product will produce less earthy flavor in the final product. Some isolate-infused edibles have almost no discernable cannabis flavor at all, and the lack of terpenes will prevent a strong floral note that reminds you of cannabis flower scents. If a cannabis flavor in your edibles is a big issue for you, starting with an isolate infused edible may be the way to go - just keep in mind that when you lose the whole-plant material, you are also losing the full spectrum of cannabis compounds, which will impact the effects you experience.
4. Do edibles cause digestive or health issues?
If you search any cannabis forum, you’ll likely run across questions like these before too long:
“Do edibles cause bloating, gas or heartburn?”
”Will edibles upset my stomach, or cause constipation?”
”Do edibles cause liver damage?”
While most people are aware that there are no acutely dangerous side-effects to consuming cannabis, there can still be some uncomfortable physical sensations, especially associated with eating edibles. Aside from the potential for accidental THC overconsumption, which can certainly lead to nausea and other physical symptoms, some people may experience some digestive discomfort in response to cannabis and edibles. However, this is more similar to lactose intolerance than a guaranteed side effect - some people are more sensitive to consumed cannabis than others, and it may not be the right fit for them personally, but it will likely not be the experience of most consumers. More research is still needed in this area, but early studies suggest that some may be allergic to cannabis, in which case ingesting plant matter could certainly cause discomfort.
It’s important to make note of your individual experiences, and take some precautions to set yourself up for a good cannabis experience. For example, try not to eat an edible on a completely empty stomach, as the digestion of the cannabis plant material can increase the likelihood of stomach pain and gas. Eat a fatty snack along with, or just before, your edible to help coat your stomach and metabolize the cannabis more effectively. It’s also always a good idea to ensure you’re adequately hydrated before and during cannabis use as dehydration can lead to negative physical side-effects that cannabis use would compound, such as light-headedness, stomach upset, constipation, and others. Keep plenty of water on hand for any cannabis experimentation. If negative symptoms persist, consider trying an isolate edible that would be devoid of all plant matter, and if you still experience negative side-effects, it’s possible that you have a cannabis allergy and should minimize your cannabis exposure.
Lastly, there’s been a fair amount of buzz recently around the idea that cannabis, and specifically CBD, can be damaging to the liver. This is mostly the result of a 2019 research study that found liver damage in some mice who were exposed to CBD, which the media ran with as potential proof of a dark side to CBD - the unspoken caveat here is that the experiment was designed specifically to find dangerous doses of CBD, and liver damage only appeared at astronomically high levels of cannabinoids in lab tests, far beyond what a person would ever reasonably consume. Standard dose ranges of CBD did not exhibit negative outcomes, and in fact separate research has suggested that cannabinoids may even be able to help prevent certain liver disease. More research is needed in this field as well, but as it stands right now, there is no credible research suggesting that recreational doses of cannabinoids cause liver damage, when taken in edible form or any other cannabis delivery method. So while stomach discomfort may be a possibility with edibles, any liver damage or other acute health risks are highly unlikely.
5. Why don't edibles get me high?
Earlier we discussed the fact that edibles typically produce much stronger cannabis effects than inhalation of flower - however, do you know someone who claims that edibles don’t affect them at all? You may have been inclined to think they were just lying to sound tough, but the reality is that some consumers do not feel psychoactive effects from edibles, and while science is still working to understand this phenomenon, there might be a few explanations at hand.
Firstly, cannabis is known to have an incredibly variable effective dose range - meaning that some consumers will feel effects at 2.5mg of consumed THC, some will not feel effects until they reach the 25mg range, and some may take 250mg and still feel no effects. Due to this wide variance in the dose at which effects are felt, it’s very hard to establish a baseline for what dose will produce certain effects. So it could be that some consumers have a THC tolerance of 300mg, but because a standard dose is currently set at 10mg and they’ve tried 3 at a time with no effect, they’ve never actually consumed a high enough dose to reach their ideal effects range, so they believe that edibles cannot effect them at all.
There is also the First-Pass Metabolism effect to consider - First-Pass Metabolism is how your liver filters out foreign compounds from your bloodstream before the blood circulates throughout the rest of the body, and just like standard digestive metabolism, it can be stronger or weaker than “normal” depending on the individual’s body. Generally speaking, when an edible is ingested, a large percentage of the active THC is wasted out by the liver before it circulates to the brain and can cause an effect, but the amount of THC that gets through this metabolism process is usually still strong enough to cause noticeable psychoactive effects. However, it may be the case that an individual has such a strong First-Pass Metabolism that the remaining THC is too diluted to have noticeable psychoactive effects once it reaches the brain. For these consumers, even extremely high doses of THC may be filtered out by the liver, leaving edibles essentially ineffective on them. For these consumers, sublingual absorption may be the answer to extended oral cannabis effects - when an edible is dissolved completely under the tongue rather than chewed and swallowed, the cannabinoids enter the mucus membranes and glands of the mouth, penetrating the bloodstream directly while bypassing the liver and its metabolic functions. Effects from sublingual consumption are typically longer in duration than smoking, but not quite as long as edibles. If you’ve thought to yourself “why don’t edibles affect me?”, try this consumption method and see if you get noticeable cannabis effects from smaller edible doses taken sublingually.
Edibles, like any cannabis consumption method, have their definite pros and cons and will be a better fit for some cannabis consumers than others. It’s important to consider your individual wants and needs from cannabis, examine whether or not you experience the problems outlined above when trying edibles, and decide from there what the best cannabis consumption method is for you at a given time and for a certain situation.
We hope that this discussion has helped shed some light on the factors behind edible objections, and empowered you to take charge of your cannabis journey most effectively. If you’re interested in other cannabis educational resources, be sure to check out our Cannabis Science 101 and Terpene Education pages, subscribe to our Cannabis Business & Science podcast for weekly industry insights, and join our mailing list below to get new cannabis science delivered right to your inbox!