Understanding the Consumer Experience: In Cannabis, No One is Created EqualIn the world of cannabis consumption, what’s good for the goose isn’t always what’s good for the gander.
Variances in cannabis formulations, as well as variances in body chemistry, make achieving consistent effects difficult, and not just from one consumer to the next but from one product to the next as well. Understanding these chemical differences from person to person and product to product is critical for business owners and their staff. To establish rapport with customers and ensure that they walk away fully educated, everyone must understand the finite details of cannabis consumption.
The effects caused by cannabis are influenced by several factors, including the type of product, personal tolerance or experience, mental state, environment, body chemistry, dosing, and the complete profile of compounds consumed. Even what consumers eat can alter the way particular products react.
In this article, we’ll review the science behind cannabis consumption and discuss some of the most common pitfalls consumers should learn from their budtenders.
The Endocannabinoid System: A Physiological Fingerprint
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a vital, self-regulating system in the human body. The ECS helps our bodies manage and adjust other systems in response to certain stimuli, by sending and receiving chemical messengers and making appropriate adjustments. The goal of the endocannabinoid system is to find homeostasis, or perfect balance, within the body.
The ECS can respond to both internal and external stimuli. Thus, because each human lives differently, in different parts of the world, with unique DNA and experiences, every person has variances in how their ECS performs. Current health issues, the environment we live in, the toxins we are exposed to, and the nutrients we eat can change how the ECS responds to triggers.
As such, ten different consumers could all consume the same product at the same time, and each one might have a completely different experience.
Bioavailability is Key
All products have one similar drawback – the body only absorbs or processes a certain percentage of the dosage consumers take. In this case, the type of product consumed can make a significant difference in how much of the active ingredients actually make it into the body.
Vaping or dabbing extracts is one of the most efficient and fast-acting ways to consume cannabinoids. Estimated to deliver up to 80 percent bioavailability, vaping also provides a fast onset. Since the cannabinoids are vaporized, not combusted, and delivered directly to the lungs, where they quickly enter the bloodstream.
On the flipside, edible products are at the bottom of the bioavailability pyramid, as they’ll lose between 80 and 95 percent of their potency through the process of digestion. However, eating THC products adds a little magic to the equation, which often leads new consumers into hot water.
The Science of Edibles
Although edibles have the lowest bioavailability of any product on the legal market, many consumers find that their effects are much more profound than other consumption methods. Meanwhile, others frequently report getting no effect from eating edibles at all. This discrepancy between consumers can be explained by differences in biochemistry, specifically how the body produces particular enzymes.
First, because edibles have to be digested, it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 4 hours for the consumer to feel the effects. This delay can prompt new consumers to take more before the first dose has the opportunity to kick-in, which often leads to overconsumption. Additionally, there’s little to determine how long the effects will last from person to person. In most people, effects will wear off within a couple of hours, while others reported feeling the effects a day or two later.
Edibles, the ECS, and DNA
As part of the ECS, certain enzymes breakdown cannabinoids during the digestion process. The metabolite produced when THC is digested is called 11-Hydroxy-THC, and it is more potent than its predecessor. It can create strong, potentially adverse, psychoactive effects.
Genetic variances in FAAH enzymes play a role in determining how a person reacts to cannabis edibles. Those with genetically lower production of FAAH will not as efficiently metabolize THC.
Additionally, a group of enzymes, known as cytochrome P450, metabolize cannabinoids, and other substances. And it is the consumer’s genetic code, that defines how well they process those substances: (chart courtesy of selfhacked.com)
Since these CYP enzymes breakdown THC, poor metabolizers will need higher doses to experience any effect. While those who have ultra-rapid metabolism react more strongly to smaller doses and can suffer adverse effects such as intense paranoia, hallucinations, vertigo, and cardiovascular abnormalities.
But Wait There’s More!
While genetics and metabolism play a considerable role in how someone responds to cannabis, other factors impact cannabis effects, as well.
- Mood – how someone feels can often affect their reaction.
- Environment – an unfamiliar environment can bubble up anxiety.
- Other substances – alcohol and caffeine combined with THC, can amplify the effects.
- Food – fatty foods can increase the bioavailability of THC in edibles.
Why Businesses Should Take Consumer Safety Seriously
Between 2012 and 2016, Colorado hospitals reportedly saw an increase in emergency room visits and attributed 11 percent to increased marijuana edible consumption. Although uncomfortable and frightening, unlike other overdoses, typically, a regimen of IV fluids for hydration and anti-anxiety medication is all the ER must do to help the patient calm down.
While some canna-businesses may think that their responsibility ends when the product leaves their store, legal precedent proves otherwise. In 2014, Gaia Gardens LLC was sued by the children of a man who shot and killed his wife after eating a 100mg THC-infused candy. Another young man in Colorado committed suicide shortly after consuming a cannabis product, and another leaped to his death from a balcony while under the influence of a marijuana edible.
Although these extreme cases are rare, we cannot pretend they didn’t happen. Disregarding these incidents would be unethical, irresponsible, and disrespectful to the families of those who were lost. Instead, retailers and producers should heed the warnings and fully educate their clientele regarding potential adverse side effects – something many cannabis advocates don’t like to admit.
Editor’s Note: As a former budtender in Denver, a common problem I would hear from new consumers was a reaction I called, “The Alcohol Mentality.” After eating one candy too many, and the effects start to kick in – like muscle memory, consumers tend to pull from what they know. Since most people are familiar with being drunk, the first gut reaction is a panicked, “I need to eat something!”
So, they do what any other person with the munchies would do… they order a pizza. But, when that grease-laden pizza arrives, they don’t realize that the fat calories they add on top of those edibles will actually increase the effects of the THC. They get a free trip to the ozone, it terrifies them, and they swear off edibles for life.
Here are a few tips I’d offer my new customers to help them avoid repeating the same mistakes:
- Edibles today are delicious. You will want to buy something else to eat besides the infused-candy. When the munchies set in (and they will) – you will want to eat another piece, and that is not advisable!
- Avoid Fatty Foods when you get the munchies. Or if you not feeling the effects of your first dose after an hour – before you eat another dose, try something fatty to see if you just need to help the THC bind.
- Water! If the consumer does start to feel uncomfortable or suspect they may have taken too much, they need to drink water. Dilute it. Make the THC “swim” to bind with the fat calories in your system.
- Relax. Breathe. Overconsuming cannabis can be very uncomfortable, but you will come out of it. Listen to your favorite music. Watch a funny movie. Take your mind off the moment.
- Buy a CBD vape cartridge. CBD is a competitive inhibitor with the CB1 receptor in your brain. So it blocks THC from binding and reduces the psychoactive effects.