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A first-timer’s guide to buying and using cannabis edibles

Here's what to know before you head to the dispensary.

Morgan Olsen
Written by
Morgan Olsen

Cannabis edibles have gone through a serious glow-up in the past 10 years, graduating from the humble pot brownie to perfectly dosed, Willy Wonka-approved treats that are served over the counter at dispensaries across the country. These days, edibles come in many shapes and sizes—from sugar-coated gumdrops and micro-dosed mints to gooey caramels and decadent chocolate bars.

If you’re getting reacquainted with edibles or trying them for the very first time, it can all feel a bit overwhelming at first. "I like to make the joke that it’s like picking up the Marvel movies at Ant-Man and going, 'Oh, gosh, what’s happening?'" says David Cooper, the national retail trainer for Cresco Labs, a Chicago-based cannabis company.

Buying and consuming edibles should—and absolutely can—be fun when you know what you’re doing. Luckily, if you’re visiting a recreational or medical dispensary, the folks behind the counter are there to guide you to canna-bliss. Of course, it never hurts to come prepared with an understanding of the basics—like, uh, how many milligrams should I start with?

We consulted three cannabis experts from across the country to get the lay of the land and score some easy-to-remember pointers about buying edibles for the first time (or the first time in a long time). Let’s dig in.


David Cooper, national retail trainer for Cresco Labs in Chicago

Megon Dee, founder and CEO of Oracle Wellness Co. in Portland

Miguel Trinidad, chef and co-founder of 99th Floor in New York City

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A first-timer’s guide to cannabis edibles

Every body is different

Before we geek out on the fun stuff, let’s get something out of the way: Your journey with edibles probably won’t look like your partner’s or your friends’ or your budtender’s. While the sensation of being "high" is relatively easy to pinpoint, the way your body processes THC (that’s the psychoactive compound in cannabis that makes you feel high) is wonderfully unique.

"Any sort of product recommendation that we build together for a consumer is going to be tailored specifically to that individual," Cooper says. "Everybody’s body is different, and everybody’s reaction to cannabis and cannabinoid therapy is different."

So, how do you figure out what’s right for your body? Having an open conversation with your budtender is a good place to start. You don’t have to spill your life story, but you should feel comfortable being open and honest about past experiences and future expectations.

"You should discuss any food intolerances that you may have and your own personal goals for the experience intended," Dee says. "Express if your tolerance for cannabinoids is at novice, experienced or expert level."

Finding your number

When you’re shopping for edibles, one of the first things you’ll notice is that every dispensary-grade product is clearly labeled with the amount of THC and CBD it contains. It’s one of the many benefits of buying lab-tested treats. Think of it like an ABV (alcohol by volume) label on a bottle of booze—a glass of wine at 12 percent ABV is going to hit you differently than a glass of gin at 40 percent ABV. Like alcohol, everyone’s tolerance level with THC and CBD will be different.

"Some people might have a glass of wine, and that’s enough," Trinidad says. "Some people can drink the whole bottle of wine and crack open a second."

All of our experts agree that first-time cannabis consumers should follow the golden rule—start low, go slow—which typically means reaching for products with 5mg or less of THC.

"It’s always best to start small and work your way up," Trinidad says. "Try [edibles] in 5mg increments, and if it’s too much, go lower. The way you’ll feel the effects—even if it’s a little too strong for you—won’t last as long as eating a brownie that’s 100mg."

Cooper recommends looking out for products with a 1:1 ratio (or equal parts) of THC and CBD, the latter of which can "help the THC from getting too racy." Remember, you can always eat more to enhance your experience, but you can’t hit undo if you’ve had too much. When in doubt, eat half of a single serving, hold tight and then go from there.

Method of delivery
Photograph: Shutterstock

Method of delivery

Once you’ve decided on the right dosage with your budtender, the fun part begins. Just about every confection you can imagine can be turned into a cannabis-laced edible—but not all treats are created equal.

Without getting too scientific, there are two types of edibles you should be aware of: sublingual and gastrointestinal. Sublingual edibles are fast-acting products you suck on or place under your tongue; they allow "cannabinoids to enter your bloodstream through the tissues in your mouth and the effects start to take place shortly after," according to Cresco Labs. Gastrointestinal edibles—anything you chew and swallow—will take longer to digest and kick in.

With gastrointestinal goodies in particular, it’s important to be patient, as it can take up to 90 minutes to start feeling the effects of the THC. You want to avoid the trap of not feeling anything after 15 minutes, eating more and then realizing you’ve overdone it.

Dee and Trinidad also add that it’s important to consider what kind of fat (like butter or oil) is used to carry the cannabinoids in the edibles you’re browsing. That, too, will affect how quickly or slowly you start to feel something.

"One of the things you should consider is how your body absorbs each edible," Trinidad says. "If you’re using something like MCT oil or coconut oil, it absorbs much quicker into your bloodstream than if you’re using an animal fat like butter or infused bacon fat. Absorption time is a question that you want to ask [your budtender about] in addition to the type of experience that you’re looking for."

Now what?

Enjoying edibles doesn’t have to be overly prescriptive, but there are a few things you’ll want to consider before you indulge. Because the effects of edibles can be felt for about five hours (much longer than smoking a joint), it’s important to plan ahead and clear your schedule.

"Like any medication, you want to make sure that you’re in a safe environment—a place where if you have a little too much and you need to rest, that you’re able to rest," Cooper says. "I wouldn’t suggest going into a high-stress environment and trying something for the first time, like a festival or a public speaking event."

Dee also recommends having some sublingual CBD-only products on hand, which can be used to subdue the negative effects of THC if things do take a turn for the worse. It doesn’t hurt to have non-medicated snacks around, too, just so you don’t keep reaching for your dosed chocolate bar when munchies strike.

Now that you’re comfortable, safe and stocked up on snacks, have fun and remember the golden rule: Start low and go slow.


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