Marijuana Edibles 101: What You Need to Know Before Imbibing in Denver

A Guide to Marijuana Edibles in the Mile High City

Marijuana Brownies
Getty Images/Lew Robertson/Fuse

Who can resist a little Mary Jane when it’s dressed up as a gummy bear, marshmallow treat, chocolate square, or even chocolate chip cookie?

But, though edibles may seem like an easy entry point into the new world of legalized recreational cannabis, they’re also the easiest way to get a little too high for comfort and some say ingesting marijuana lends longer highs than smoking it.

Everyone responds to cannabis differently, just like everyone responds to alcohol differently. And, as with alcohol, there are other factors that come into play -- Are you tired? Did you eat recently? Are you adjusted to the Mile High City’s altitude?

No matter if you’re a seasoned edibles pro or a total newbie exploring these tasty, THC-filled treats for the first time, there are a few things everyone should keep in mind when chowing down

Wait, Then Wait Some More

If you only follow one rule for eating edibles, it should be this one: Go slow.

It can take 45 minutes to two hours for the THC in your pot brownie to make it way through your system. If you take a bite, wait 5 minutes and think, ‘This is lame,’ you’re going to want to take another bite. And then another. And suddenly, an hour later, you feel nauseous, drowsy, dizzy or disoriented because you consumed too much.

You can always eat more, but you can’t go back in time and eat less.

Some edibles producers, like Denver’s Dixie Elixirs, will tell you right on the label how long it will take for the THC to kick in.

Read the Label

One thing that makes edibles tricky is the serving size.

When you buy a regular candy bar the store, you tend to assume you can eat the whole thing if you want. But with cannabis, one candy bar may contain 100 milligrams of THC, way too much to consume in one sitting.

So, check the label. Look at the total THC content. Then consider how many bites or pieces of candy you can eat to consume around 10 milligrams of THC, the recommended dose for cannabis. Think of 10 milligrams like you’d think of one beer.

If your candy bar has 100 total milligrams, split it into 10 pieces and start with one.

Some edibles brands, like The Growing Kitchen, make edibles that contain just 10 milligrams of THC to begin with, so you can eat the whole thing. The company says its Rookie Cookie is so good “you won’t be able to resist eating the whole thing.” And you don’t have to.

Expect a Different Kind of High

Eating cannabis produces a much different high than smoking it.

Some people describe the feeling they get after eating edibles as more of a full-body high, compared to the head high they feel after smoking.

Either way, most people report feeling a much stronger and longer-lasting high after eating edibles. Even the heaviest smokers still go light when it comes to edibles.

This is largely because of the way cannabis is processed by your body.  Smoking gets you high more quickly, but the effects don’t last long. When you eat cannabis, it can take a while to feel anything, but the THC sticks around for hours.

Buyer Beware

Even if you follow all the recommended dosing rules, you may still end up consuming too much -- or too little -- cannabis with an edible.

That’s because the THC content in marijuana edibles, even those regulated by the state, have been found to be inconsistent.

A study of several types of edibles by the Denver Post newspaper found that actual THC levels rarely matched the level printed on the package. Some were higher, some were lower.

This is risky because if you eat a marijuana-infused mint once and feel nothing, you might be tempted to eat two or three the next time. With inconsistent amounts, you could end up consuming more than you wanted.

So, keep in mind, this is still a new industry and even products made by professional chefs may not be entirely reliable.

Turn to the Experts

Don't be afraid to ask your "budtender" questions about how the edibles are made and what kind of high you can expect. At Dixie Edibles, for example, THC-infused chocolates and treats are produced using high-tech CO2 extraction technology. Their popular "Colorado Bar" is made with sunflower butter and a decadent chocolate.

But What If I Get Too High?

It happens. Even to Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Maureen Dowd, who chronicled her experience in a column after a trip to Colorado in 2014. Maybe you weren’t used to the altitude yet or you ate a pot brownie on an empty stomach (which is a total no-no).

If you get too high, prepare for a long night. Your body processes marijuana differently when you eat it (see above), which means you could feel high for several hours. Take deep breaths, stay calm and wait it out.
The important thing to keep in mind: You will eventually feel better.

Some Closing Precautions

Keep edibles away from children. Marijuana goodies have labels cautioning that they contain THC and many dispensaries sell edibles in childproof packaging. Plus, a new state law went into effect this summer that bans the sale of marijuana candies that are shaped like animals, fruits, or even people so that they're not confused for children's treats. Still, Colorado hospitals have seen an increase in emergency room visits after children have mistakenly consumed marijuana.