As you’ve likely realized, marijuana is legal! (For most Americans, at least.) California is beginning to settle into its first set of regulations, and an adult-use Michigan is looking like a sure thing. So, now what?
Now, I’d argue, it’s time to rewrite the rules of engagement surrounding cannabis use.
With legal weed comes infinitely more knowledge, and with that knowledge comes tremendous responsibility—and it’s a responsibility we all share, a mutual respect we owe to one another as we enjoy infused meals together and Pepsi-challenge each other’s vaporizers.
Before these regulated marketplaces gave us a retail infrastructure, multiple levels of consumer protection, and more substantive information about the cannabis we’re consuming, we rarely knew exactly what we were ingesting. While a select few grew their own, tracking all the nutrients and pesticides used in the cultivation process, most of us “got it from a guy”—a scenario I relived recently while strolling Pusher Street, Christiania’s world-famous hash market in the middle of Copenhagen, Denmark.
With the help of a Danish-speaking friend in September, I asked one of the nameless guys peddling hash and flower out of ready-to-run duffle bags about his product. The flower was grown indoors within Copenhagen city limits—illegally, just as he was breaking the law by selling the dried flower in the historic Free City. The hash was Moroccan, of course. (We were in Europe, duh.) When I asked if he had any edibles, he nodded no and pointed across the way to another guy with a nearly identical spread—though this one included a dark brown muffin in a Ziplock bag.
The other dealer knew even less about the weed muffin than his counterpart knew about the flower and hash, but he told me “I think you can eat the whole thing is O.K.” I bought the muffin regardless (because of course I did). And as I unwrapped the infused treat at a nearby cafe, a steaming coffee and bubble waffle as my chosen accompaniment, I felt the familiar sensation so many of us have felt: ignorance bordering on cluelessness as to what I was about to consume.
I had no idea how much activated THC was in this sweet, or how those cannabinoids had been extracted. While we’ve all been there and lived to tell about it, we now know more about the cannabis we’re consuming and we owe it to one another to share that information well in advance of any shared consumption.
Here are three of the new responsibilities we now share in this post-prohibition world. Let’s call them The New Rules of Engagement for Modern Cannabis Use.
Identify product potency
I see it happening regularly, from California to Washington, D.C.: Infused edibles shared with no word about their potency.
A poorly labeled infused candy from a known D.C. area business. A respected cannabis chef serving her house-made infused goods at a party in the Bay Area. An industry-leading marijuana company’s high-level networking gathering passing infused and non-infused apps to attendees. I’ve taken part in these exchanges in the past six months, and I’m consistently dumbfounded when people share edibles with others without first communicating the product’s potency.
C’mon, friends. This is the easy part. This is the bare minimum. This is the important place where you can easily guide someone through an enjoyable experience—and also help them avoid a god-awful scenario that might turn them away from marijuana forever.
Everyone has a different tolerance for edibles. I know a veteran consumer who goes through a gram of wax daily, and yet a 5mg edible will put him on the floor. As most of us know, 10mg of activated THC is considered a single dose of edible cannabis by most state regulatory agencies.
Also worth noting: Identifying potency isn’t specific to edibles. If you know someone hasn’t gotten high in years or decades and you’re offering them a hit off your joint or pipe, a friendly warning should be common courtesy. “Hey, you know this is a lot stronger than it used to be, right?” Even if they do know, it’s the right thing to do.
Know your products’ ingredients
Knowledge is power, and marijuana consumers are more powerful today than they’ve ever been, though we still have a long way to go. It’s legitimately important that informed consumers know and understand cannabinoids, terpenes, and the pros and cons surrounding the entourage effect. But since so many of today’s best-selling cannabis products are man-made, it’s also important for us to be aware of the many other ingredients, additives, and mixing agents in today’s marijuana products.
Your vegan friends might ask, “Are these gummies made with gelatin or pectin?” Your California friends might ask, “Do you have any solventless extracts?” Your science-minded friends might ask, “What was the cannabis oil inside this vape cartridge mixed with?”
These are real conversations happening today among thoughtful cannabis consumers, and I promise you these conversations are becoming more common from Anchorage to Boston. Some consumers are curious about edibles made without sugars, and others are actively avoiding vape pen cartridges formulated with the ubiquitous mixing agent polyethylene glycol.
It’s easy for you to be the informed connoisseur who easily can answer these questions because you read the package’s ingredients, so you know this gummy is not vegan-friendly because it’s made with gelatin; this shatter was made with butane, but you have some solventless rosin over here that your friend might love.
Know how your products’ active ingredients
Speaking of solventless extracts—not to mention the rise of hyper-informed cannabis connoisseurs—do you know how the oil in your vape pen was extracted? Do you know whether your favorite edible is powered by cannabutter or some other extract? Do you know the difference between supercritical CO2 extracts and BHO (butane hash oil)? And did you know, technically speaking, CO2 is itself a solvent?
Most of my friends in Oakland, California, often lecture on the necessity of consuming only solventless extracts while many of my friends in Denver consume only concentrates made via solvents, and each of their arguments is convincing.
Can you hang in these conversations, backing up your argument with the pros and cons of each method of extraction? As I mentioned, these conversations are becoming more prevalent, so you’ll at least want to know your way around the subject matter so as to not be left in the kief-like dust.
(Fun fact: Kief is, of course, solventless.)
Like every other substance people put into or on their bodies, cannabis can affect users in vastly different ways. While the herb delivers many recreational and medicinal benefits from relaxation to alleviation of the nausea that often accompanies chemotherapy, unwanted side effects may occur. They can include minor issues like the notorious “munchies” or disruptive responses like anxiety, paranoia, and cognitive impairment.
In the 1970s, black market pot seized by authorities commonly tested between 1 percent and 3 percent THC. Granted, weed was anything but pure in those days, containing not only flower (where THC is concentrated) but also stems, seeds, and leaves. Even with low THC levels, though, some users experienced unpleasant reactions. Today, depending on a variety of variables including cultivation environment, strain, curing method, and processing, THC may reach 20 percent or higher.
The amount of THC and the ratio of THC to CBD determine users’ experience: The higher the THC content, the more noticeable the psychoactive impact. Because CBD can moderate THC’s effect on the nervous system, the higher the CBD content, the less noticeable the “high.”
Delivery methods also make a difference in how users experience cannabis’s effects. Smoking produces an almost immediate response in most people, while edibles’ effects may not be perceived for an hour or more.
All those factors—plus additional considerations like residual pesticides and solvents, and legal risks in medical-only states—make it imperative consumers know the details about cannabis selections prior to use. One type of product may work better than others for any given consumer, and dosage tolerance definitely makes a difference. Yesteryear’s horror stories about unwittingly ingesting “pot brownies” pale in comparison to the unintended potential consequences of sharing cannabis with others who don’t have the facts to make an informed decision.