I don’t remember my first experience eating a weed cookie, but I do remember my worst one. I had no clue what its potency was or what kind of strain it contained, but after eating just half, I was sinking into a friend’s sofa and questioning my relationships, my new haircut and my life’s purpose. Smoking weed usually made me chatty and extroverted, but this demon cookie made me feel anxious and paranoid for hours. I vowed never to eat another edible.
Flash forward eight years, and here I am preparing a cannabis-infused dinner party for seven friends.
What changed? Well, pretty much everything. THC and CBD are now part of our everyday lexicon. Craft cannabis makers hawk artisanal baked goods in pop-up markets. Trendy chefs organize hip supper clubs serving restaurant-quality, weed-infused dishes and publish glossy cookbooks. And until the Project Claudia police raid in 2016, dispensaries selling gummies, brownies and everything in between proliferated in Toronto.
Edibles are the future of cannabis consumption. (According to a 2017 Deloitte survey, nearly half of Canadians are interested in trying them.) Last December, the federal government released its draft regulations for edibles legalization, which isn’t expected until October 2019. Until then, you can buy edibles in illegal pop-up markets and at the few dispensaries still open – or make them yourself.
The latter option appealed to me: I could control the dosage and pick the strain. Plus, I’d made weed cookies a couple times and my friends liked them.
But planning a dinner party is a daunting task, and adding weed to the equation can spell disaster. Nevertheless, I decide to throw a THC-laced dinner party at home. What could go wrong?
Cooking with weed doesn’t mean grinding up some bud and sprinkling it onto whatever you’re eating. It involves math, science, dosing ratios, a process called decarboxylation and a bunch of other intimidating terms. So before I start planning, I consult Reena Rampersad, a Trinidadian chef who runs High Society Supper Club, a Hamilton-based cannabis catering service.
“The experience my guests have is completely reliant on me and how well I’ve organized it for them, so I’m very careful. I tell everyone to take it easy, go slow and see how they feel,” says Rampersad, adding that before she even starts thinking of the menu and how strong her dishes will be, she surveys her guests on their tolerance levels.
On my guest list are friends, all in their late 20s and early 30s, with varying degrees of experience with edibles, from a couple who eats infused gummies and cookies regularly, to a girlfriend who hasn’t tried any in over a decade, citing a bad experience with a super-strong cookie while travelling through Australia in a camper van.
I also seek the expertise of Sarah Gillies, a cannabis baker for nearly a decade and co-founder of High5, a promotions company that organizes pop-up markets and other events. Gillies’s mantra for edibles is “go low and slow,” as in, cook with low doses and pace yourself.
The first step in cooking with weed is decarboxylation. Cannabis won’t get you very high if you eat it as bud because the non-psychoactive component, THCA, needs to be heated before it transforms into psychoactive THC. This process happens when you smoke a joint or take a bong hit, but when you’re cooking with weed, you need to decarboxylate another way, such as baking or toasting.
I grind up the weed and bake it for around 20 minutes at 115°C (240°F). Nervous that isn’t long enough, I stick it back in for another 10. I can’t be sure it worked, but I figure we’ll all find out in a few hours.
After decarbing your weed, you need to cook it with a type of fat, like oil, butter or lard. Cannabinoids – namely THC and CBD – bind naturally to fats, so that’s the most convenient method to create an infused sauce, dressing or dish. Plus, your high will be more potent than if you just ingest decarbed cannabis. And it’ll taste better.
Rampersad says when she organizes the High Society dinner parties, she usually only infuses the sauces, gravies and dips instead of entire dishes. “That way, people can stop the dosing if they’re feeling like they’ve had enough.”
The recipes I’m following either call for infused oil or infused butter. Although any strain will work, I use Critical Super Silver Haze for the oil – according to Leafly, it “boasts an energetic long-lasting body high” – and for the butter, Deep Purple, which Lift&Co describes as having “strong cerebral effects.”
I make the cannabutter on the stove, simmering the butter and the weed on low heat and stirring incessantly so it doesn’t burn. After two and a half hours – and, yes, my entire house reeks at this point – I pour it through cheesecloth into a mason jar, filtering out the bud. I end up with a gross-looking dark brown liquid that I set aside to cool.
Infusing the oil is much simpler. I add my decarbed weed and oil to an automated herb infuser and it does all the stirring and cooking for me.
After hours of just prepping my cannabis, I’m finally ready to start cooking. I don’t want to taste test, since I’m not ready to get high yet, so I enlist my boyfriend to try my creations. He starts by eating a spoonful of the cannabutter, and by the time I’m cutting vegetables, he’s stoned.
For the menu, I settle on the following infused dishes: balsamic mushroom toast with sprigs of thyme and an olive oil drizzle a za’atar-topped cucumber and citrus salad a green salad tossed in a creamy cilantro vinaigrette mac and cheese with a pesto sauce (find the recipe here) and chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
In total, each person will be consuming around 15 milligrams of THC, which, according to Rampersad, is a safe number for beginners.
From the Bong Appétit cookbook, this mac and cheese is a delicious addition to cannabis soirées.
The Dinner Party
By the time my guests start arriving, I’m in full panic mode. Sure, the food looks good, but there are so many unknowns. Would the doses be so weak that no one would feel anything? Or so strong that someone could pass out on my kitchen floor? Would the macaroni taste like buttery ash? Was it completely irresponsible to throw a cannabis dinner party having only ever made weed cookies a couple of times?
My friends start by taking shots of CBD oil.
Both Gillies and Rampersad tell me to keep some CBD on hand – whether as a non-alcoholic cocktail, oil or joint – in case anyone gets too high, since it’s known to counterbalance the panicky effects of too much THC. “It’s for insurance,” my friend shrugs as she squeezes drops into her mouth.
Gillies instilled in me the golden rule of “go low and slow,” but since it’s 9 pm when we finally start eating, everyone is famished. I’d planned to pace out the courses but end up serving everything at once.
The food is delicious. The macaroni is gooey and cheesy, the mushroom toast crunchy and fragrant, the citrus salad juicy and refreshing, and the chocolate chip cookies perfectly chewy with a whiff of butterscotch. And, surprisingly, none of it tastes like weed.
The high comes on like it always seems to with edibles: the feeling of “I don’t think it worked” suddenly becomes “I am definitely very high.”
“I’m starting to feel my face right now,” a friend says, as she picks at the citrus salad.
I’m also very aware of my face and whole body. Although I have some neurotic thoughts – “Is everyone having fun?” “Why didn’t I clean the bathroom beforehand?” – it’s nothing like my experience of eating the demon cookie in university. I feel slightly hazy, but in control and giggly.
My girlfriend who hasn’t tried edibles in a long time begins cackling uncontrollably as she precisely describes how she would make gourmet drumstick ice cream cones, while I scour my cupboards for snacks during a munchies-powered second wind.
Over four hours of eating, chatting, laughing and eventually playing several impromptu rounds of Catchphrase, we find ourselves at the bottom of a bag of Sriracha-flavoured potato chips and discount candy cane ice cream.
Experiences with edibles can be unpredictable. During dinner, one friend tells a story about having eaten the equivalent of a nibble of a single Kit Kat stick at a movie theatre and getting so high, he felt like he was “melting into his seat and couldn’t move.” Likewise, I remember buying a single toffee or cookie and being warned to only eat a tiny bite because it was so potent.
The federal government regulations for edibles are set to curb some of that unpredictability. The draft rules, which are currently under public consultation until February 20, include a 10 milligram limit per package (compare that to the Kit Kat-like bar, bought at a local dispensary, which had 400 milligrams), plain child-resistant packaging and the prohibiting of ingredients that appeal to kids.
Vanessa Lavorato, a contributor to the cookbook, Bong Appétit: Mastering The Art Of Cooking With Weed, where many of the recipes I used came from, says she recommends first-time users start with an even lower dose, like 2 milligrams. “Even if you don’t feel it, you can try a little more the next time until you find the right dose for you,” says Lavorato. “If you start off with 125 milligrams and have a bad experience, you might say, ‘I never want to try an edible again,’ which is a shame because it can be beneficial for sleep, relaxation and anxiety. That’s why I think regulation is important for educating people on how to consume.”
The government hasn’t announced who will be able to apply for licences to make edibles or what the requirements will be, but both Gillies and Rampersad are planning to apply.
“For someone like me who has been openly breaking the law, I hope the government sees that we are trying to create what [legalization] could possibly look like,” says Gillies. “I hope I’m allowed to be a part of it.”
Next month, Gillies is hosting a pop-up called Prohibitive Love featuring various craft edibles producers for Valentine’s Day.
Rampersad agrees that hobby chefs shouldn’t be barred from working in the industry post-legalization.
“We’re the people who created the industry and the demand. If we want to make sure [edibles] adhere to certain standards, we need to make sure we’re licensing experienced people,” she says. “I can understand why the government would be concerned about an [illegal] dispensary pulling in close to a million a week, but that’s a far cry from someone who is supporting their community by making them some brownies and cookies that aren’t accessible elsewhere.”
Meanwhile, Big Weed – Canada’s licensed producers (LPs) – are already moving to cash in on the appetite for edibles. Canopy has teamed up with fancy chocolate purveyor Hummingbird Chocolate to create THC-laced sweets, while the Green Organic Dutchman is building a massive new facility dedicated to edibles. Tilray has partnered with Labatt to fund a $100 million (USD) THC- and CBD-infused non-alcoholic beverages research division. According to Gillies, some LPs have already scooped up former black market bakers.
However with edibles legalization still months away, it’s high time to go DIY, whether it’s baking a batch of brownies or hosting five-course supper clubs.
The morning after my dinner party, I take a survey of how everyone is doing.
“I slept so deeply but was really foggy when I woke up,” a friend texts back.
“When I got home, I was in drunk survival mode,” says another.
One friend went to her early-morning workout class feeling fine.
I feel sluggish and have a headache all day, similar to a full hangover. Although the dinner party was a success, it’s something I’d only want to do once or twice a year. On the other hand, baking those chewy chocolate chip cookies, which only contain 3.7 milligrams of THC? I’m doing that again this weekend.
Tips for first-time edibles users
Start with a low dose
Health Canada is proposing a 10 milligram THC limit on packages of edibles. If you’re a beginner though, start with a lower dosage of around 3 to 5 milligrams. Never eat edibles if the dosage is unclear or you can’t speak directly with the maker to find out its potency.
Edibles affect everyone differently. For example, if you eat on a full stomach, it’ll take longer to experience the effects than on an empty stomach. Before you think, “This isn’t working, I should eat more,” wait at least one hour to see how you feel. You should also avoid drinking alcohol, since it can cause nausea and dizziness.
Keep some neutral snacks handy
If you get a classic case of the munchies while on edibles, it’ll be tempting to eat another delicious cookie or a few more gummy bears. But unless you want to up your dose, satisfy your cravings with non-infused snacks.
I’m too high, now what?
If your heart’s racing and you’re flooded with anxious thoughts, try not to panic. This feeling will pass. Drink a glass of lemon water or suck on a lemon wedge. Lemons contain the terpene limonene, which helps metabolize THC and will diminish your high. Other tips: put a cold compress on your head, get some fresh air and sleep it off.