A few years ago an “acquaintance” gave me some brownies. “How nice!” I thought as I dove into the first scrumptious bite. And since I love everything made with chocolate, I helped myself to a couple right there on the spot. Call me naive, but it didn’t even occur to me to ask if those brownies were “regular” or “medicated”. They were freshly baked, warm and moist, melt-in-your-mouth rich, ooey-gooey chocolatey goodness with no “mystery crunch” or “spinach in your teeth” to make them suspect. Twenty minutes later, however, I was on the floor – literally – and within an hour I was so sick I thought I was going to die.

Turns out I was having a “bad trip”. No one else who ate the “medicated” brownies got sick, but everyone agreed they were “potent”. This recipe wasn’t for the pot brownies of the good old days (remember Peter Sellars 1968 “I love you Alice B. Toklas”?) with that telltale crunch. This batch was infused with oil that has a stronger concentration of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that becomes more potent as it is metabolized. Weedmaps.com includes this statement in a long disclaimer on the use of edible pot: “When cannabinoids pass through the digestive system (edibles) they become much stronger and can lead to uncomfortable experience. Many patients are forever turned off to cannabis because of a bad experience with an overly strong edible.”

I admit it: I am extremely naive when it comes to marijuana and its derivatives. I smoked a joint (or two…) in high school…but that’s about it, and now I live in the cannabis capitol of the country. Before marijuana went retail “medical” regulations protected the inexperienced from bad trips – most of the time. But now that retail marijuana is taking our community, our culture and our economy by storm, everyone – users and non-users alike – need to be informed about the newly sanctioned drug on the block.

Medical vs. Recreational: Cannabis has been cultivated for medicinal uses for centuries in many cultures throughout the world. As a medicinal herb, marijuana is lauded as pain relieving, anticonvulsant and nausea relieving, especially for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. It has been accepted as an effective treatment for anorexia and may help relieve eye pressure in glaucoma. The legalization of retail marijuana, however, means you don’t need a medical condition and a prescription to purchase and use pot. Medical marijuana is held to a very high standard of testing for active chemical components. Recreational pot is also a closely regulated product, however, manufacturers are not required to test for potency. The consumers safest bet is to look for clear and legitimate labeling so you have an idea what you’re getting into.

So many “flavors”: A joint is not just a joint. Is it sativa, which has a stimulating effect? Or is it indica, which is more of a sedative? Angela O’Grady, Nederland resident and co-author of the recently published Hemp and Cannabis Cookbook, recommends to “explore different strains for different effects.” Strains are varieties of marijuana specifically cultivated for harvest yield, seeding, flavor or potencies. The Canary’s Song, Nederland’s first retail dispensary which opened for business on March 8, features strains such as “sweet island diesel”, “papaya”, “blackberry kush” and “bubbleberry haze”. The names are descriptive not only of the taste, but the general effect. Diesel is a hybrid sativa that works fast and has a concentration of 80%. Kush, on the other hand, is an indica strain known to produce the slow-motion “stoned” feeling, with a concentration of 90%. Ya dig? Finally, there are many different ways of concentrating the psycho-active constituents of cannabis. While buds are reserved for smoking the rest of the plant material still contains enough THC to be effective when cooked in oil or butter, or ground very fine and added to flour. The method of concentration will determine the amount of active THC that remains in the final product, for example, high temperatures are known to change the chemical properties of THC making it less potent.

Health risks vs. benefits: Public health doctrine routinely dismisses any potential health benefits of cannabis. Government statistics, however, clearly demonstrate that intoxication from marijuana is considerably less dangerous compared to alcohol (according to the CDC 75,000 people die every year from alcohol related causes in the US) and tobacco (an astounding 443,000 people die prematurely every year from tobacco use). There are no documented cases of cannabis related deaths. According to saferchoice.org, marijuana contains proven antioxidants and has “neuroprotective” properties. Marijuana users may be less likely to develop certain cancers, including lung cancer. The various strains have been cultivated to contain specific amounts of different alkaloids for different medicinal effects: weight gain or weight loss, anti-anxiety or enhanced mental clarity, pain relief and antidepressant. The Hemp and Cannabis Cookbook also highlights the nutritional benefits of incorporating cannabis into your diet.

Don’t be naive. Marijuana is not completely harmless. It is first and foremost a medicinal herb and should be respected as such, with or without a prescription. Angela O’Grady shared with me that “the edible is not for everyone. We do have a form of a disclaimer in our book saying that if you are not informed on the subject to do some research before diving in. To try small amounts at a time until you find what is comfortable to you.” Whether you choose to use or choose to abstain it is imperative for our whole community to be informed. Edible treats are not for kids, you need to be over 21 to purchase and consume any product containing active THC. Advocates and detractors agree that legalization will eventually make marijuana safer for everyone by regulating industry standards for cultivation, production and marketing of retail weed. 

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