Maureen Dowd, who won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1999, might have asked a few more questions before biting into that edible. Photo by Bob Daemmrich/Corbis
Many people have overdone it on marijuana edibles and lived to tell a harrowing tale, including yours truly, a guy who now writes a column for VICE about cannabis cuisine called The Weed Eater. So if I've personally fallen victim to THC-infused food, how can I possibly justify calling Maureen Dowd stupid for stepping into the very same pothole?
Because the night I bit off a bit more brownie than I could chew, I obtained the cannabis confection in question from a well-meaning hippie outside a Grateful Dead show who made them way too strong and never warned me about the delayed onset of effects when you digest pot in your stomach instead of absorbing it through your lungs. And so, I initially ate only a quarter brownie, per the nice hippie's recommendation, but then, ten minutes later, when nothing happened, I chowed down on the rest—assuming one of Jerry's Kids had just scammed me out of $5 in exchange for a stale, high-less treat.
And what happened next? Well, let's just say we all make youthful mistakes, and I'm lucky I took such a large dose of a drug with incredibly low toxicity or I might indeed be dead. Around 1,500 people die from accidental alcohol poisoning every year in America, after all, even though booze is perfectly legal and sold in bottles clearly labeled with all relevant potency information.
Which brings us to Ms. Dowd, who, in a New York Times column published Tuesday, described departing from her typical “drug of choice,” chardonnay, in order to sample a cannabis chocolate from one of Colorado's new recreational marijuana stores.
Sitting in my hotel room in Denver, I nibbled off the end and then, when nothing happened, nibbled some more… For an hour, I felt nothing… But then I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours. I was thirsty but couldn’t move to get water. Or even turn off the lights. I was panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn’t answer, he’d call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy.
Let me start by saying that I sympathize with her very genuine discomfort, even if I smirk a bit when I think about how much her story reminds me of Lil Dicky's “Too High” video.
I also find it interesting that she's totally consumed with paranoia by the thought of her own rich white ass getting arrested for the fake crime of not being “able to handle” her candy, but seems largely unconcerned with the very real fate of the 800,000 Americans who will be arrested this year alone on marijuana charges. (Later in the column she describes becoming “convinced that I had died,” without ever mentioning that there's no such thing as a fatal marijuana overdose.)
Meanwhile, my aforementioned feelings of compassion don't change the fact that she largely suffered her fate due to an overdose of stupidity. At least, that's how I'd diagnose a 62-year-old “reporter” who walks into a retail marijuana store to purchase and consume a drug for the first time but asks no questions of the state-licensed store employees who've been trained to offer their advice. Who does no research regarding a proper dosage of THC for a novice user, the amount of time the drug will take before you begin to feel its effects, or even the overall potency of the product she selected—which might have been listed on the label, though she neglects to say.
Dowd also provided her readers with exactly no advice on how to avoid an unpleasant edibles experience, or what to do if it happens. So I thought I'd offer my own insights.
How to Avoid an Unpleasant Edibles Experience
When Marinol, a synthetic form of THC sold as a prescription drug, was tested for FDA approval, researchers determined that for novice users, 2.5 milligrams was barely perceptible or imperceptible, 5 milligrams was clearly perceptible to most participants, and 10 milligrams was significantly noticeable to most recipients.
Novice users should stick to these low doses until they become familiar with the drug's effects. That's relatively easy in Colorado, where lab-tested cannabis-infused products sold in retail stores include the product's THC content right on the label. But it can be a lot more difficult when making pot food at home or buying it on the black market.
Also, always remember that eating decarboxylated marijuana produces a far stronger effect than smoking the same amount of raw plant material, largely because of a reaction that takes place when THC moves through the liver. The digestion process also means that instead of coming on almost instantly, as when pot smoke is absorbed through the lungs, the high of edibles may be delayed up to 90 minutes, particularly on a full stomach. So wait at least that long before going back for more.
And never drive while impaired on marijuana edibles, or try to do your taxes.
How to Deal with an Unpleasant Edibles Experience
Dim the lights, lie back somewhere comfortable, and try to relax, keeping in mind that while your present condition may be both psychologically alarming and physically debilitating, it will definitely pass in time and will not result in any lasting damage to your body or mind.
So put on familiar, soothing music, watch a favorite movie, or talk with a trusted friend. Stay hydrated and, if possible, eat some non-marijuana-infused food, as this will slow the onset of any remaining THC that's still in your stomach.
Definitely don't think about your leading role in reducing our national political discourse to the level of high school gossip. Or the time you got caught plagiarizing but inexplicably kept your highly paid position at the nation's most influential newspaper. Or the time you got caught fabricating a quote but inexplicably kept your highly paid position at the nation's most influential newspaper…
I have a long standing theory that certain people don't like marijuana because they've got a guilty conscience. I can't cite any science to back this up, but I do believe that cannabis—in high doses and for novice users—allows you to see yourself with a piercing clarity and a depth of honesty that's not always flattering, particularly if you're a total fraud.
According to the Zendo Project, an onsite harm-reduction service providing compassionate care for individuals having difficult psychedelic experiences, it's important to avoid the “bad trip” mindset in these circumstances. Instead, try to use the experience as a chance to ask yourself hard questions and investigate new ways to approach your life with a greater sense of balance and harmony.
“Difficult psychedelic experiences can be frightening, but they are also potentially among the most valuable experiences someone can have,” according to Zendo's official Harm Reduction Manual. “By working with these experiences, rather than trying to 'talk someone down,' together the sitter and the psychedelic user can make a difficult psychedelic experience a chance for personal growth.”
I know that I've certainly learned a lot from pot in my life, including that frightening night way back when spent wandering around Shakedown Street in a haze. Mainly, I've learned not to indulge my mean streak.
So Maureen Dowd, if you're reading this, I'm sorry about the headline. You're surely not stupid—you just acted stupidly on this occasion, which happens to really smart people all the time. That's why, as you mention, “Governor John Hickenlooper and the [Colorado] Legislature recently created a task force to come up with packaging that clearly differentiates pot cookies and candy and gummy bears from normal sweets—with an eye toward protecting children—and directed the Department of Revenue to restrict the amount of edibles that can be sold at one time to one person.”
Still, with this and every other drug, humans will continue to occasionally make stupid mistakes, no matter what efforts society makes to protect them. Which means the real lesson to learn from your unfortunate incident is one about personal responsibility. Though a careful reading of your column finds you ready to blame everyone except yourself.
So perhaps a second cannabis chocolate is in order, this time with a carefully measured dose of THC and an experienced guide on hand to help you make the most of the experience.
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