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The L.E.S.S. Method
A Measured Approach to Oral Cannabis
Start Low. Establish Potency. Go Slow. Supplement as Needed.
(or How Not to Overdose on Oral Cannabis)
by Earth & Fire Erowid
Nov 2011
Citation:   Erowid E, Erowid F. "The L.E.S.S. Method: A Measured Approach to Oral Cannabis." Erowid Extracts. Nov 2011;21:6-9.
Small Piece of Cannabis-Infused Edible
Photo © 2011 Erowid.
More than half of all U.S. adults under the age of 60 have used cannabis at least once. While cannabis is usually smoked, oral consumption is not uncommon. When eaten, the effects take substantially more time to come on, are described as being more intense, and last hours longer than when smoked. The high potency of THC and other cannabinoids means that a large dose can fit into a tiny portion of food. These factors, combined with a wide variation in potency from one batch of edibles to another, present a considerable risk of unpleasant, long-lasting, accidental overdoses.

Cannabis edibles have become more available in recent years as the medical marijuana market has matured. They are popular enough that a page with two recipes for cannabis cookies was the third most visited article on Erowid.org in August and September 2011. Many medical dispensaries sell an assortment of edible products: from classic brownies and cookies, to fudges, lollipops, pizzas, bagel bites, tinctures, and "cannabutter" (for use in home cooking).

But even commercially available products are made from plants that naturally vary in cannabinoid concentrations. Whether bought or baked at home, the dosage of the same type of edible can differ from one batch to the next. As a result of this natural variation, as well as some common usage errors, over the past 40 years oral cannabis has developed a reputation for being unpleasant and too strong. An overdose can be overwhelming, including extreme disorientation, confusion, hallucinations, depersonalization, nausea, vomiting, pounding heart, anxiety, and paranoia.

"I started doubting I would ever be normal again, I thought I was gonna stay insane, trapped in this world of anxiety"
-- by Insane Sleep, Exp ID 75339
It's a familiar story. A student unaccustomed to oral cannabis is offered a pot brownie at a dorm party or festival, and ends up getting radically more than he or she bargained for.

Many people swear off ingesting cannabis after such an experience. Achieving just the right degree of effect from a proffered edible is difficult, even for those with extensive experience.

Yet, careful oral consumption can provide benefits over smoking, including reduced throat and lung irritation, and longer duration, which results in less frequent need to redose and greater consistency in intensity over time.

Some regular users of oral cannabis, such as medical marijuana patients, have developed personal protocols for achieving consistent results with various preparations. As vendors selling edible cannabis products multiply and reports of classic consumption errors continue to prevail, it's important to document the various techniques for successfully working with oral cannabis.

Several easily avoidable mistakes are the primary causes of most oral cannabis overdoses. As long as a few guidelines are kept in mind, cannabis edibles can be used safely, providing an effective--and in some ways preferable--alternative to smoking.

"I smoked a gram every day for 7 months, a gram of some damn potent shit too. But nothing prepared me for what I was about to face."
-- by Insane Sleep, Exp ID 75339
Oral Cannabis is Different
With key differences in dose, onset, duration, and methodology, it may be useful to think of oral cannabis as a different drug than smoked cannabis. Even frequent smokers can easily overdose when consuming orally. The slow onset and extended duration often surprise those who are only familiar with smoking or vaporizing.

Start Low & Establish Potency
THC is orally active in the range of a few milligrams (6 milligrams of THC without daily-use tolerance can get a person REALLY high), while a cookie or brownie typically weighs more than 10 grams. That means it's easy for nearly any cannabis-infused edible to range in potency from inactive to strong enough to induce a radical overdose. Unless one has personally established the strength of a particular batch of edibles, there's no immediate way to determine how strong it is. Without checking it first, an edible cannabis preparation should be considered potentially highly potent.

Because expectations, tolerance, and reactions can vary dramatically from one person to the next, relying on someone else's description of potency is a recipe for disaster. Those who make oral cannabis products are more likely to be regular users who have built up a tolerance, and therefore they often underestimate potency for first-time or casual consumers. The size of a cookie or brownie provides no reliable clues: a powerful oral dose can fit into the size of a small tablet and it's unfortunately common for a reasonable dose to be a quarter or less of a cookie, brownie, or crispy treat.

"I got conflicting advice about how to go about eating the cookies. A guy in my building, Curly, told us we should eat them really slowly, take a few bites and then sit for a while, then take another few bites and wait again. But Coaster told us something like, 'No way! Then you won't get high! You want to eat them really fast!' I didn't realize that Coaster thought our goal was to get as incredibly high as possible, when in actuality our goal was just to see what it was like to be high...not necessarily extremely, extremely high. I trusted Coaster's advice because I figured he knew a lot about drugs. [...] Being high was pretty much the worst feeling ever to me."
-- by Captain, Exp ID 56706
Establishing the strength of the material for yourself, by starting very low, before you ingest a full dose is the fundamental key to the L.E.S.S. method. If one is faced with an edible of unknown potency, and yet is determined to try it, the best way to avoid an overdose is to intentionally underdose. Begin with a small piece (less than a quarter of a suggested portion). Measure or weigh the piece you try and make note of it. Then wait a minimum of 90 minutes on an empty stomach, or 120-150 minutes otherwise, before evaluating whether or not to consume another small piece.

Be Patient
"I'm afraid to ever ingest ganja orally again, and if I do it will be a much lower dose."
-- by Something Awful, Exp ID 70409
Depending on amount consumed, metabolism, and how recently a person has eaten, oral cannabis can take 30-120 minutes to initially be felt, and can last from three hours to more than 24 hours at high doses. Duration increases with dose, so it's critical to wait after trying a piece of an edible before adding more. Countless stories document people redosing shortly before the full-blown effects of their first dose kicked in.

Experimenters should consider whether they have enough time and patience to establish the potency of an untested edible: with 90-120 minutes for the first check-in, it could be three to four hours before the desired level is reached, and then another three to six hours back to baseline. If there are time constraints, the more responsible choice is to not redose with edibles and just enjoy whatever effects occur. If you don't have the time to be patient, perhaps it's not the right time to eat cannabis.

"When taken to the extreme, cannabis can become extremely dissociative and frightening to the inexperienced user. If you take anything from this story, it is that you must underdose when experimenting with any new form of usage that produces different effects. If I had eaten half a brownie and waited an hour, this all could have been avoided."
-- by Kaze no Koyo, Exp ID 58734
Start Sober & Supplement as Needed
When experimenting with new edibles, start sober. The likelihood of overdosing on oral cannabis is significantly increased if one is already high from smoked/vaporized cannabis or drunk on alcohol.
A low oral dose makes a good base. Once the effects are felt and have evened out, smoked or vaporized cannabis can be added to increase effects as desired. This method reduces negative impact on lungs and breathing while still allowing the dose to be titrated closely. It makes it practical to "underdose" with oral cannabis without having the experience be disappointing.

If supplementing with smoked or vaporized cannabis, wait a few minutes between tokes. The underlying oral cannabis can cause an unexpected acceleration of intensity.

"I packed a bowl with the pot, because I thought it would be better to smoke first in case we didn't feel anything from the brownies. Big mistake. [...] All of a sudden my stomach started to hurt so I took some Tums and tried to find something to eat, thinking that would make me feel better. As I stood at the cupboard, I literally vomited into my mouth. [...] I bolted into the bathroom and proceeded to puke my guts out."
-- by Mobiusant, Exp ID 49226
Drug, Not Food
Cannabis edibles are not food--they're drug delivery devices. Because of problems of accidental ingestion and overdosing, ideal edibles for recreational use are not ultra yummy, nor do they look enticingly delicious. It's better if a user doesn't eat too much of the edible simply because they're tasty. When the munchies kick in, the cannabis-laden food shouldn't be anywhere on the list of available snacks. The target is palatable medicine, not food.

If making your own edibles, don't cut them into regular cookie- or brownie-sized pieces, and, whenever possible, clearly label them to avoid accidental ingestion. Very small and/or irregularly shaped pieces will both reduce the chance of overdose and make it more likely that a friend will realize they're not for snacking. The risk of overdose is especially high for an unsuspecting visitor. Guests shouldn't be tempted to unknowingly consume several cookies in the middle of the night, mistaking them for dessert.

"So we broke out the brownies and ate one each. [...] I did say that I was only going to eat half of it, but by the time I was high I got even more hungry and just didn't care. [...] In retrospect, I would do it again, but at a much, MUCH smaller dose [...]."
-- by Mobiusant, Exp ID 49226
"[...] there is always that temptation to use the leftovers, if there are any, for munchies (NO! NO! BAD STONER!)."
-- by Alex, Exp ID 90786
Larger Batches Provide Consistency
When working with edibles, making (or buying) larger batches allows for more consistent dosing over time. Starting low and carefully measuring is less useful if there are only one or two doses per batch. But if a batch contains 20 or more doses, once the appropriate level has been determined, weighing a piece from the same batch can provide a similar level of effects each time.

Put simply, oral cannabis can be used safely and effectively by consuming just enough to reach a low level of effects, redosing with small amounts as necessary (no more often than every 90 minutes), treating it as a drug and not a food, working with larger batches of confirmed potency, and supplementing with small amounts of smoked or vaporized cannabis to reach the desired level.

"I had only tried [cannabis-infused] brownies a few times before anything went wrong. Both times had been fairly good experiences from a batch that a friend had made, however I was unaware of how much cannabis was used. [...] A few weeks after trying the brownies I took it upon myself to make my own batch and asked for the recipe. [...] it was as if the drug turned on me. I was suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of fear and confusion. I was paranoid about everything and everyone [...]."
-- by Bunny Biscuits, Exp ID 7304
LOW, ESTABLISHED, SLOW, SUPPLEMENTED
L.E.S.S. In The Kitchen
Equipment Required
Mixing bowl, baking sheet, small metal sieve, small saut&eactue; pan.

Proportions
* Edibles Can Utilize Weak Material
One benefit of oral preparations is that they can make use of weak cannabis material such as leaves, or buds that have already been run through a vaporizer. There are still active cannabinoids left in depleted plant material after vaporization. Some people are tempted to increase the temperature on their vaporizer to minimize the waste, but this defeats some of the health benefits of using these devices. While ash from pipes or bongs is not useful in making cannabis edibles (even small amounts will ruin the flavor), weak or depleted cannabis is excellent for use in oral preparations.

6 g cannabis (fresh bud, shake, leaves, or post-vaporized*)

¼ lb (113 g) butter

3 cups (710 ml) flour

1 cup (235 ml) sugar

Choose a recipe that suits your tastes, remembering that it should not be for a common food that a stoned person might eat. Ginger snaps or other strongly flavored items work well, both to avoid over-snacking and to mask the flavor of cannabis in the final product. Using a boxed mix, while convenient, is especially likely to result in a product that is too easy to mistake for a snack.

Replace the butter in the chosen recipe with the cannabis butter as prepared below. The recipe should use approximately ¼ lb (1 stick) of butter per 3 cups of flour and 1 cup of sugar (or per 4 cups of total dry material) to match this template. If the recipe varies from those proportions, the dose needs to be adjusted accordingly.

A Note on THC Dosage in Edibles #
The amount of cannabis edible to be consumed can be calculated roughly by estimating the strength of the starting cannabis material and the total mass/weight of the resulting edible product. If a recipe results in 1000 grams of final cookie (after baking) and contains 6 grams of cannabis starting material, that means that you will have 6 / 1000 grams of cannabis per gram of cookie, or .006g cannabis per cookie gram. If the starting cannabis is strong bud, that might be 10-15% THC. Taking those together means that per gram of final baked edible, there would be .006g * .10 = .0006 gram or 0.6 mg THC per gram of cookie. With 15% THC material, it would be 0.9mg of THC per gram of cookie. A common oral dose of cannabis for non-daily users is somewhere around 2-6 milligrams, with a strong dose being 4-8mg oral THC. Tolerances, expectations, and contexts vary so much it's impossible to give a single number as a good dose. Also, some cannabis is higher in other psychoactive cannabinoids, such as CBD, and the best way to avoid getting WAY TOO MUCH is to start with LESS. One can always have a smoke later to bump up the effects if necessary and can take a little more next time.

Cooking Materials
Photo © 2011 Erowid.
Cannabis Butter Preparation
Cannabis is ground or minced thoroughly. Butter is cut into thirds. The cannabis is browned at medium heat in one third of the butter and thoroughly saturated in liquid butter for several minutes. Stir frequently. Do not walk away or use too much heat, as the cannabis can burn quickly.

The liquidy mixture of butter and cannabis is poured into the sieve and pressed with a spoon, draining the liquid butter into a mixing bowl and retaining the cannabis in the sieve. Repeat this extraction process two more times, re-browning the same cannabis in one third of the butter each time.

After three extractions, nearly all of the cannabinoids are now in the butter, and the plant material can be discarded. If the recipe is strongly flavored, the remaining cannabis plant material could be added back into the product; however, don't try this the first time you make the recipe, as it may produce unpleasant-tasting results.

Use the resulting cannabis butter in your selected recipe, label the final product with a clear warning, and store out of the reach of children.

L.E.S.S. Out of The Kitchen
Equipment Required
Scale accurate to 0.1 gram, clock, notepad.

Establishing Potency
After a batch is first created, it is critical to try it at a dose well below what you have used before with other batches. If you have never previously tried this approach, start with about 1 gram of final baked product (assuming use of the L.E.S.S. recipe template). If you have used the procedure before, start with half the mass that you predict would be a low dose. This creates a safety margin in case the cannabis is unexpectedly strong. Keep in mind that the goal is to hit a low level of effects: underdosing is not an error, it's the target. Record the weight of the sample dose, the time, and--once the effects manifest fully--the approximate strength. Variants of "strong", "medium", and "weak" are sufficient for this purpose.

Consumption Tips
Using the L.E.S.S. recipe template, 1-5 grams of the resulting baked goods will contain a moderate dose for an experienced, non-tolerated cannabis user.

Forgetfulness is normal and expected with cannabis consumption. During a test, always write down how much was consumed and when, so you can double-check before redosing. Keep a clock and notepad next to your scale. Once you're in the habit of glancing at the clock and taking quick notes, it becomes easy and natural.

Vocalizing is a powerful mnemonic aid. If you're intending to take multiple doses over the course of an evening, consider saying the time out loud whenever a dose is weighed and consumed. This can help remind you to note the time and amount. It's especially useful when working with others who might then remind the weigher to make the record. If you discover that you forgot to write down a previous dose, enter a guess with a question mark and wait a little longer before redosing. Maybe you're higher than you think.

On an empty stomach, the effects come on fully between 60 and 150 minutes; on a full stomach they can take up to four hours to manifest. To maintain a given level, another dose of cannabis edible can be taken around 120 minutes after the previous dose (plus or minus 20 minutes depending on whether the previous dose was stronger or weaker than intended). Remember, redosing too early is likely to result in overly strong effects.

If experimenting with eating cannabis, be conservative. The common overdose errors associated with oral cannabis consumption can leave a lasting sense of trauma that nobody wants to experience.

Revision History #
  • v1.0 - Nov 2011 - Earth and Fire Erowid - Original Publication in Erowid Extracts Newsletter.
  • v1.1 - June 2012 - Published on Erowid.org website
  • v1.2 - June 2, 2014 - Erowid - Added section on how to calculate THC dosage in final edible product