How To Read The Label To Get The Right Edibles Dosage

Jessica McKeil November 5, 2019 2 comments

The RxLeaf Guide to finding the correct edibles dosage will help you medicate and may save you from the discomfort of over doing it.

Edibles are cannabis-infused goodies widely available across the U.S. that will soon be available in Canada as well. Edibles are technically just another method of consumption on the table for patients, but they can catch the inexperienced (or even the experienced) off guard.

Learning to read an edible label accurately should help keep the experience pleasant and predictable. Do you know what to look for when shopping for a THC-laden brownie or infused olive oil?


What Should an Edibles Label Tell You?

In regions with medical cannabis programs, policymakers are strict about what package information is mandatory for edibles. In perhaps no other product category, are there this many regulations.

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You’ll always find the following information on any edible sold in legal markets: ingredients, cannabinoid content, and various government warnings. There are slight variations from one state to another, but edibles should give you, the consumer, information to make a safe determination on the dose.

As an example, in California, an edible label must include the following information:

  • Net weight (or volume) of the product
  • Total cannabinoid content, broken down by THC and CBD
  • Total cannabinoid content, per serving.
  • Product packaging and manufacturing dates
  • Product ingredients
  • Nutritional panel and allergen list
  • Government warning
  • Expiry date

In another example, in Canada, edibles must display the following information on the packaging:

  • Government warning
  • THC/CBD content
  • Equivalency to dried cannabis (ex: equal to two grams of dried cannabis)
  • Product ingredients
  • Allergens
  • Nutritional panel and allergen list

State by state, there are also slightly different regulations on total THC per package, and total THC per serving. In Canada, the laws are quite strict, with only 10 mg of THC allowed per package. On the other end of the spectrum, California allows for edibles with up to
100 mg of THC per package (but a maximum of 10 mg of THC per serving).

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Edible packaging should make the dosage clear for the consumer. The per serving THC vs. total THC should not be a guessing game.

woman about to eat a delectable brownie

What is a Good Starting Edibles Dosage?

Unlike normal, non-infused foods, eating edibles a piece at a time is the done thing. Although you might enjoy an entire non-infused chocolate bar in one sitting, this is typically not the case with a cannabis chocolate bar. Carefully read the label to understand the per serving (or per piece) THC vs. total THC per package. One piece of the chocolate bar could be a single serving.

The perfect edible dosage depends on the patient and the desired therapeutic purpose. From one person to the next, THC can produce highly variable experiences. Therefore it’s always recommended to follow dosage guidelines on the package, but equally as important to take your own tolerance and experience into consideration.

The end goal of medical cannabis is to settle on a valuable therapeutic dose but without any adverse effects. The same holds for medibles. An ideal dose is one which delivers relief, plain and simple.

Where Should You Start in Dosing Edibles?

Here is a general dosage guideline to work from:

  • Beginner Dose
    • 2 to 5 mg of THC
    • Designed for those with no experience with cannabis
  • Low Dose
    • 5 to 10 mg THC
    • Designed for those with limited experience and/or low tolerance to THC.
  • Moderate Dose
    • 10 to 20 mg THC
    • For those who already have experience, specifically with cannabis edibles.
  • High Dose
    • 20 mg THC and higher
    • Only suitable for those with extensive experience with cannabis edibles, and who have an established tolerance to THC experiences.

Most medical cannabis regulations set 5 mg or 10 mg as a single serving. While this is generally a safe suggestion, total beginners or those with a high sensitivity to THC may find even a 10 mg overwhelming.

Ultimately, a safe dose of THC will depend on tolerance and medical condition. Aim for equal parts relief with equal parts comfort. If you have any doubts, always underestimate your dose. As Health Canada recommends, start low and go slow.

Calculating Edibles Dosage by Looking at THC vs. Total THC

Theoretically, a reputable commercial edible should clearly display both per serving THC and total THC per package. But, as is often the case, patients often get their medicine through the black market (and sometimes for good reason).

If you have purchased an infused snack with absolutely no label, it is highly suggested to forgo that experience altogether. The edible may be too intense for your tolerance, or too weak to provide results.

If you purchase an edible with only the total THC per package displayed on the packaging, you can likely determine a rough calculation of per serving dose.

If it has 100 mg of THC, then you can cut the edible into ten pieces for 10 mg per serving. Keep in mind there may be substantial variation from one piece to the other, as home-made or unregulated goodies are not subject to homogeneity testing.


Why is THC So Potent in Edibles?

Understanding an edibles dosage, and in particular, the THC dosage of an edible is much more critical than with almost all other methods of consumption. Ingested THC works in different ways than inhaled or topical options, and it usually is a stronger experience.

Once consumed, edibles have a long journey through the digestive tract before they are absorbed and metabolized by the liver. The delay in onset convinces inexperienced patients to go back for seconds. Unless it’s been three or more hours, it’s highly recommended to never go back for seconds. More than a few people have stories of getting hit with two doses at once because they didn’t wait until the first fully kicked in.

Furthermore, the THC metabolite, 1-hydroxytetrahydrocannabinol (11-OH-THC) is powerfully intoxicating 

According to an in-depth review published by Methods Rep RTI Press (2016), “11-OH-THC is more potent than Δ9-THC” and it also “appears in blood in higher quantities when Δ9-THC is ingested than when it is inhaled.”

In a side-by-side comparison, the authors conclude that this THC metabolite is “responsible for the stronger and longer-lasting drug effect of edibles vis-à-vis comparable doses of smoked cannabis.” Even for people with cannabis experience, an edible can hit in unexpected ways.

Patients would be wise to pay attention to an edibles’ dosage (meaning the THC content). Knowing per-serving THC keeps the edible experience a pleasant one.

edibles dosage knowledge will help you make these cannabis brownies

Edibles Made With Full Spectrum Extraction vs. Isolate

What type of cannabis is listed on the back of the edible label you hold in your hand? You’ll find that some products contain whole plant extractions while others list distillates or isolates. In terms of experience and medicinal benefits, you may find subtle differences in these two cannabis ingredients.

Whole-plant extracts contain many different elements of the whole flower, including more than one cannabinoid, terpenes, and flavonoids. Depending on the extraction technique, the concentrate can contain more or less of these compounds. High heat extractions tend to burn off the more sensitive compounds, although some producers re-introduce these elements post-extraction. These full-spectrum extractions still taste earthy and may have a brown or green hue.

Isolates and distillate extractions are highly processed and highly refined. At their most extreme, they contain upwards of 99 percent THC (or CBD). These are pure, crystalline products which incorporate seamlessly into the final edible product with little flavor or color. Their molecular structure makes them easy to incorporate into a variety of products.

Is One Ingredient Better Than Another for Medicinal Edibles?

It primarily comes down to patient preference.

  • Full-Spectrum Extractions: These contain dozens of compounds reflecting the original composition of the plant. Patients may want to take advantage of the Entourage Effect, which is the theory describing the way many natural compounds work best together, then when used in isolation. For example, an edible containing a balance of THC:CBD will have a more mellow experience than an edible with pure THC. Plus, it may have double the therapeutic action to target inflammation and neuropathic pain.
  • Distillate and Isolates: These are powerful medicines for patients looking to benefit from a very specific cannabinoid. Producers may prefer distillates and isolates because they are flavorless, colorless, and odorless. On the experience side, the experience of a purely THC isolate is much stronger than that of a full-spectrum extract. Pure THC isolates lead to greater intoxication. This may have value medicinally, but feel uncomfortable at higher doses.

Exploring the Other Cannabinoids on an Edible Label

Other cannabinoids, in particular, CBD, are increasingly making appearances within the edibles market. There is growing patient demand for the possible medical benefits of these lesser-known cannabinoids. So edible producers are ramping of the production of specialized cannabinoid blends.

Although this could change with evolving extraction techniques, CBD is by far the second most prevalent cannabinoid. Pure CBD edibles have no recreational value, as there is no chance of intoxication from CBD products. Pure CBD edibles are a relatively new phenomenon without much scientific research behind them. However, one can assume there would be similar benefits to other types of CBD products like anti-anxiety, anti-inflammation, and more.

Many infused cannabis foods combine both THC and CBD, to provide a well-balanced experience and perhaps synergistic medicinal value. Thanks to the Entourage Effect, experts believe that when used together, cannabinoids offer more value than just a sum of their individual parts.


A Final Word on Edibles

According to the above mention 2016 review Tasty THC: Promises and Challenges of Cannabis Edibles, cannabis edibles have led to more emergency room visits than other cannabis products. Much of the research points to inexperience with edibles and accidental overexposure as primary reasons for these hospital visits (most of the research followed the introduction of adult sales in Colorado). Both of these conundrums can be overcome with education about edibles, and understanding of the label.

So long as you take the time to read packaging, and consider your own experiences with THC, determining edibles dosage isn’t overly complicated. If you approach edibles with knowledge of their effects and suggested edibles dosage guidelines, your experience should be predictable and provide appropriate relief.

Author avatar

Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She is lucky enough to live in beautiful British Columbia, Canada where the cannabis industry is exploding. When not writing, she spends much of her time exploring in the coastal forests.

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  1. The article doesn’t discuss the differences between edibles made with whole plant concentrates vs isolates/distillates. In my experience, they affect me differently. Other people I know experience the same difference. Further, if you’re eating edibles for medicinal reasons, you need to know which you buy. Whole plant concentrates will have the other medicinal properties found in the plant, while distillate/isolate ones don’t. Love your articles, though, so forgive the criticism!