Take That Maureen Dowd: I Ate 90 Servings of THC and Lived
Edible marijuana is mysterious—scary even. How much can a person eat without completely losing it? I wanted to find out.
So you wanna get high, eh? Get weird, have the giggles, get the munchies, see what all the excitement is about?
Marijuana is straight up legal in Colorado and Washington, and will be in Oregon and Alaska soon. Over the counter legal, just like buying beer or cigarettes or Penthouse. But you knew all that. You don’t live in a box.
Now see, smoking weed, that’s no good. Inhaling smoke. Coughing and hacking. The territory of tatted up rappers and furry hippies with ornate glass pipes named after characters in Phish songs, two demographics too wrapped up in their countercultural conceits to worry about the damage all that sticky, stinky smoke is doing to their lungs.
You could use a vaporizer, cook up the bud or oil just enough that the THC crystals turn to a deliciously earthy haze. But then you need equipment, and have to deal with bags of product and smelly vessels. Not too complicated, but more effort than you really want to exert.
No, what you want to do is get yourself an edible. Eat that shit.
In the rocky mountain high state of Colorado, you can get your THC-infused food products in almost any format: cookies, candy, brownies, granola, potato chips, pasta, breath strips that dissolve on your tongue, soft drinks, muffins, popsicles, ice cream. If you can bake it with weed butter, oil, or extract, someone has festively packaged it and made it available.
But wait, doesn’t eating it make people go crazy? Didn’t a paralyzed Maureen Down poop her pants or something after chowing down on a piece or two of a reefered-up chocolate bar?
How much can you eat and not have to worry about overdosing?
First of all, if you tried to eat enough edibles to actually have a lethal THC overdose, you’d die from overeating first. It’s basically impossible. That doesn’t mean you can’t overdo it, push your psyche to the extreme and do something potentially harmful in a physical sense, but a little common sense should keep you safe. Start small. Use the buddy system.
But how much is too much, and how do you know how much you’re getting?
Starting on February 1, Colorado had new laws go into effect that directly dictate the amount of THC each laced consumable may contain, with a maximum of 100mg per package, and those divvied up into easy to discern 10mg portions.
For the novice, try a half a dose. Be patient.
Even regular smokers, with Willie Nelson grade tolerances capable of huffing down whole blunts of the ooey gooiest boutique ganja in a single toke, can be laid low by a small chunk of freaky fudge. When ingested, the active ingredients are processed by the liver, which is bypassed when inhaled via smoke or vapor. The effects are also notably different from smoking—more psychedelic, longer lasting.
This is exacerbated by the fact that, unlike toking, eaten THC takes some time to kick in, leading to neophytes going back for second and third helpings before their first round has had a chance to manifest itself. (For more on the science behind this, click here.)
So some people overdo it. Big deal. If it’s not gonna kill you, then can’t people just hold their shit together? What’s all the excitement about? Why are people freaking out so much about the “scariness” of canna-cupcakes?
How bad can it really be? There’s only one way to find out.
I was going to have to get my hands on some of these legal edibles and eat ‘em. Push the envelope in the name of journalism. There are worse gigs to get.
Luckily, I found myself next door to Colorado recently, and, being (well) over the legal age of 21, I could simply saunter in to a number of retail marijuana outlets and get my grocery shopping on.
Remember when I said edibles came in every shape and size? I wasn’t kidding. I settled for the basics: cookies and chocolate bars, with a little added pizazz from some “Weedish Fish,” a stony take on gummy classics and my personal favorite, Swedish Fish.
All in all, I had in my non-descript brown paper bag about 900 mg of THC, or 90 “doses.”
Before we delve into the dirty details, a little about myself. I’m a nearly 40-year-old dude, weighing in at about 200 pounds (not, as my wife would be quick to point out, in a muscular way).
As far as a tolerance, I have none. Oh sure, I’ve dabbled, and then some, in my day.
But these days, who has the time? Work, family, life in general… It’s not that I’m opposed to the idea, but the opportunity to toke is scarce, and it’s been a very, very long time since I’ve taken on Olympic-sized lungfulls from a 3-foot bong.
But here we go.
Rather than approach this with any sort of delicacy, I decide to just shovel everything in at once, methodically stuffing sweets in my face like Jerry Garcia at the all you can eat drug buffet, or maybe a gluttonous Cookie Monster in a Dead tour parking lot.
Through the sugary favor and generally stale texture, the taste of marijuana is apparent. For the uninitiated, imagine a decent yet aging cookie, made in the Toll House fashion, but with basil added. Now imagine that “basil” tasted more like the way a tomato plant smells, tangy and earthy and like seasoned dirt, and you’ll get the idea.
The first challenge turns out being to get it all down the hatch without barfing it back up or finding myself suddenly beset with diabetes. In the hopes of aiding in digestion, I go for a walk.
As previously mentioned, it can take some time for the fun to start. Up to two hours, one of the labels cautioned. According to the sales statistics, it must be worth the wait: around 40 percent of all legitimate cannabis sales last year were some form of edible.
Indeed, in the pot shop it seemed as though actual plant matter was a rarity. The real draw was wax and gum and BHO (Butane Hash Oil, which from a purity and production standpoint is basically the crystal meth of Cannabis) extracts, intensely concentrated with up to 80 percent THC that make smoking the plant’s actual flowers, containing on average 14 percent, seem cute by comparison.
At around 30 minutes in, I started to feel tingly in my tummy. It’s hard to explain the sensation, and it may well have been psychosomatic, but it was almost like being tickled from the inside. My brain may have been doing it, manifesting anticipation. Either way, things were starting to happen. Lights suddenly grew a little brighter. Sounds were richer. My eyelids started to feel heavy and droop, taking on the stereotypical stoned face, which surprised me, since I always assumed that was an offshoot of smoking.
I had been planning on stopping in a little country store while out, but common sense, or perhaps the first stirrings of paranoia, persuaded me against it. Things were progressing rapidly, and my heart rate was either increasing, or I was just more aware of it. The world itself sped up, just a bit, around me.
Now was not the time for potential social interactions, especially not with strangers.
I doubled back towards home base, but found myself so constantly distracted by my passing thoughts that it was as though those thoughts themselves were slowing me down, each firing neuron spraying molasses on my body mechanics and forcing me propel myself in the slowest of motion, even as the rest of the world kept getting faster.
Shit was, indeed, getting weird.
I finally managed to get inside, close and lock the door. Drink some water. Lots of water. Goddamn, was I thirsty. And the water was just so good. Pure. The juice of life. Even as it spilled out of my mouth and down my shirt in cold streams it was rejuvenating.
Sated, blossoming, I went and sat at the computer. I would now write, a real-time transcription of my journey into the depths of another world, an internal one, channeling Burroughs. Naked Lunch made so much sense, suddenly.
The coldly glowing screen was too much, as it stared back, judging me with its blue and white tones. I needed warmth, not metal. I tried to get one of the dogs to sit on the couch with me, but instincts more finely tuned than my own kept them at a curious distance, watching. Stalking?
“Ah yes,” I thought. “Here it comes. The Fear.”
Paranoia amongst marijuana users is documented to the point of stereotype. Any psychoactive drug has the potential to trigger a negative reaction in our deepest lizard brains, flooding the rest of the control room with irrational terror and mistrust.
I would not succumb. I knew better.
There was a persistent buzzing, as though the undercurrent of radio waves and energy that always surrounds us, invisible except to devices trained to see them, was rising up and showing itself. I breathed in deeply, stretching my arms over my head, rotating on the threadbare couch and laying down, giving myself over to the experience.
It had been only an hour and a half. By my calculations, we were only about 30 percent kicked in. My jaw, which I had to make the conscious decision to unclench, was sore. My lungs felt heavy, though I don’t smoke, and hadn’t been. More water sounded like just the thing, but the faucet, in the other room, was just too far away.
The THC, which had been washing over me with gentle persistence, like the turning of the sea’s tide, now crashed like a wave, driving me into the sands of my psyche.
The radio, which I don’t recall turning on but now was, transitioned from NPR to the BBC World News. A man with a British accent had just declared Godzilla was in Kazakhstan, or at least that’s what I heard. It made total sense that this would be the case. I questioned nothing.
I allowed my eyelids, which were so, so heavy, to close, for just a moment. I fell, literally and figuratively, feeling the sensation in my abdomen as the cushions dropped out from underneath me.
And then it was over.
When I reopened them, the sky was dark with a rosy tint, as though the sun had just set or was about to rise. I reached for my phone to check the time, but it was nowhere to be found. Sitting up, I realized that my head, while not exactly hurting, felt as though it had been wrapped in and stuffed with thick transparent gauze. God, I was thirsty.
I found my phone, and in doing so found that, somehow, I had time travelled. It was the next day. 15 hours had passed. The sun was, indeed, coming up, and I had missed most of the prior day’s afternoon and evening.
I made coffee, which I discovered in my present state no longer had any effect whatsoever. It’s not that I was tired, or had a headache per se, but I was, for lack of a better description, stunted. Dumb, even. Typing was a monumental effort—this story, which should have been a quick transcription from notes, has thus far taken me an entire day to cohesively construct.
I’m not sure, frankly. I think the lesson I learned here was more about myself than the overarching effects of eating too many magic brownies, and that’s that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. I, however, pass the fuck out.
Maybe that is the lesson: that when confronted with too much stimuli, our brain will protect itself in the best way it knows how. Since I had come into this experiment prepared to do battle with whatever demons I was told I would confront, somewhere deep inside my head knew that it was all a ruse, the fever dream of too much of what can be a good thing, and simply deployed an involuntary system reset.
What would have happened if I had stayed awake? If I had stayed out in public, where nodding off would have caused a scene, and the prying eyes of those around me would have certainly stoked the paranoia, rational or otherwise, to a fever pitch?
This is where, I suspect, people go wrong with edibles.
They don’t know what to expect, heading to a party or a club or other social setting, thinking that they’ll be laughing and having a good ol’ time. I can’t imagine that scenario playing out positively for me, though I also wouldn’t be surprised after last night if I would simply lock myself in the bathroom, lay down on the floor, and go to sleep.
When in doubt, knock yourself out?