From California to New York, infused meals have become a mainstay of today's cannabis culture, providing a focal point around which both enthusiasts and canna-curious may gather socially and learn about the plant. While THC-infused meals happen speakeasy style in states that have yet to pass adult use regulations, CBD-infused meals are ubiquitous.
Excitement over the Farm Bill has only increased the popularity of CBD, which functions both as an antidote to THC-induced anxiety and as a non-intoxicating baby step into exploring cannabis wellness. CBD-infused dishes are accessible to almost every kind of diner.
From CBD-infused chocolates and sodas to gummies and powders, the skyrocketing demand for the cannabinoid has inspired many chefs to get creative in adapting it to their menus. To learn more about infusing CBD into our food — which, inevitably, means working in the cannabis plant's iconic flavor, thanks to a host of accompanying terpenes (aromatic compounds) — we asked a handful of cannabis entrepreneurs, creatives, and chefs to dish on what it's actually like to cook with CBD.
What’s the deal with dosage?
"Keeping control of your dose is crucial," says Ron Silver, chef/owner of Bubby’s in New York City and founder of Azuca, a CBD-infused line of syrups and edibles. “We look at CBD as medicine, and not something to be thrown around.”
Silver says this is important to remember, and that just because there isn’t a ‘high’ from CBD doesn’t mean it’s not doing something. “As a sort of guideline, 25 milligrams a day is a pretty solid dose," he says. "Not too small, and not too massive.”
But this isn’t the end-all-be-all in the dosing department, especially since we’re all composed differently. Silver calls this “the burning question” in the CBD field, stressing that anecdotal discussions may guide research around the topic. “One close family member of mine who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis found relief in taking a massive dose of CBD, 500 milligrams, and then a 25-milligram dose two times a day, with a day off a week to 'reset' his system," he told Civilized. "This is what he came up with through talking to others with similar issues and comparing notes.”
Not only does every body and its endocannabinoid system process cannabinoids differently, but there are also many different delivery methods for CBD, notes Rachel Burkons, co-founder of Altered Plates. There's also product quality to consider, she adds, as well as other cannabinoids and terpenes that may be present.
Burkons is part of the team that’s opening Chroma Lounge in West Hollywood, which will be among Los Angeles’ first cannabis consumption spaces. Working with cannabis and food, Burkons says she has yet to see an adverse reaction to "too much" CBD. "I think people should be able to move forward without fear," she says.
For those looking to collect data on their cannabis experiences, Goldleaf journals offer a method for everyone (daily consumers, chefs, patients, growers, and so on) to catalogue things like dosage, strain, consumption method, and how they're feeling from it all. "Everyone is different. Our metabolisms, body weights, endocannabinoid systems, and many other factors very much affect the way we handle cannabinoids of any kind," says Charles McElroy, founder of Goldleaf. "Be weary of any ‘universal’ doses.” He advocates for dosing just one item in a mixed-tolerance meal, so consumers of different experience levels can have more agency over how much they consume.
Ingredients and delivery methods
The ingredients used to infuse a dish with CBD can greatly impact how it affects the consumer. Some products are coconut oil-based, which means they're great for garnishing or dressing food, but less so for frying or roasting, as the direct heat could degrade the delicate compounds, leaving less for the body to absorb — and, not to mention, a nasty taste if you’re not careful.
Food hub Epicurious discussed this in a piece about incorporating CBD into meals. "Don't place CBD oil over direct heat," the article cautioned. "While warming the oil may increase its effectiveness, heating the oil too high can cause it to lose terpenes, volatile compounds that work in tandem with the CBD to increase the medical potency. Also, more importantly, it tastes absolutely foul.”
Without being heated or cooked, the contents of a prepared, packaged, product (should presumably) remain unchanged for the duration of the shelf life. One study on the degradation of CBD points out that when you alter cannabinoids with heat or acid, it could change the dosage, and you may no longer be able to tell how much CBD is in something.
Drinkable CBD products, depending on how they're made, may be digested as an edible or sublingual, which may make it a little easier to quantify the CBD than in tinctures and oils. “Beverages are a very good way of serving a controlled dose and being able to keep track [of how much you've consumed]," Silver says.
CBD can penetrate the skin when applied topically, and it passes through the tissues of the mouth, throat, and esophagus when vaped or placed under the tongue in tincture form.
“Sublingual administration refers to holding the drug in the mouth to allow the drug to be absorbed into the well-vascularized mucosa under the tongue," according to an article in Psychology Today about medicating with cannabinoids. "Absorption is fairly rapid and flows directly into the superior vena cava, a large vein that takes the drug first to the heart and then quickly into brain.”
When cannabinoids are eaten, not all of them make it through our system, but there is still a benefit to edible CBD: “If you are determined to eat your drug in a brownie or cookie, the blood levels of CBD, but not THC, are increased when consumed with food or just prior to eating.”
Terps are the word
Present terpenes can change the effects, as well as the taste and sensory experience of a meal. Since terpenes are the building blocks of flavor, as Burkons puts it, they can be played with as you would play with flavors in regular cooking. “I love a nice flavor-match, but I do find that contrasting terpene profiles tends to be the most dynamic," she says. "I find it is helpful to have people think about these flavors through the lens of food: sweet and spicy; citrus and herbal; acid and umami. These flavor combinations are classic across all food categories and definitely work if you're looking to pair a cannabis terpene with a specific flavor profile in a dish.”
These scent and flavor compounds are a fundamental part of the whole plant extract, so using terpene-rich products could give you the entourage effect that our bodies love, using all of cannabis’ minor chemicals to interact with your system, not just CBD on its own.
Terpenes like limonene, found in citrus, and caryophyllene, found in pepper, are among the most commonly added to food — and they’re also found in full spectrum CBD extracts. Sometimes these are added separately, since terpenes can also come from food sources like lemon peels, or a sprig of rosemary’s pungent pinene.
All of the compounds must work together, Burkons says. "Similarly, due to the entourage effect, whole-plant derived terpenes can enhance or alter both the 'high' you'll get when consuming THC—and the efficacy of any medical benefits you're seeking in a CBD product.“
The terpenes can shift the consumer's experience — even with CBD as the primary cannabinoid, says Katie Stem, CEO of Peak Extracts. “I think of terpenes like color s— it really is better to go for complementary or similar," she told Civilized. "We have had the most success with the terpenes that taste more like food or flowers. With our chocolate, the most delicious have been the fruity, piney or spicy varieties.”
But Stem thinks each can have its home. Even the fuel-like diesel notes of some strains can meld with the right food, “They could be very successful with something like grilled or spicy foods, that have bold, savory flavors,” she says.
Stem described how terpenes come into play in Peak’s high-CBD, low-THC products, and being in a legal state, they’re able to manufacture cannabis-derived CBD (as opposed to hemp-derived). “There’s one that’s derived from indica that’s high in myrcene and geranyl acetate that I use in the evening or for relaxation, and the other is sativa derived and higher in things like pinene," she says. "They taste and feel different, even though none of them are intoxicating in the typical sense of the word.”
Right now terpenes are so new to the mainstream consumer that it's unlikely that they’ll be the chief focus of cannabis food for the time being, though some like those behind Prank Bar in Los Angeles are beginning to experiment with these flavors.
"The terpenes are what give THC and CBD nuance," says Stem. "They’re not just flavors, they change the way the cannabinoids interact with your body, right down to the receptors.”
If you want to experiment with CBD and terpenes, seek out full spectrum extracts over isolate, which is just the CBD compound without the other plant constituents. Single strain options are available in adult use states, like what Peak Extracts offers, while the prohibition holdouts will see more hemp products, like Azuca CBD Simple Syrup.