Arkansas’s medical marijuana patients aren’t just blowing smoke: Many are using the wide variety of edible products created by the state’s cultivators and made available at the state’s 31 open dispensaries. From gummies to chocolates to hard candies, edible products provide an alternative for patients who don’t want to smoke.
While dispensaries say marijuana flower is still the product in highest demand, one dispensary reports edibles account for as much as 15% of sales. Another dispensary says edibles are about 10% of overall sales and gummies account for three-quarters of those sales.
The gummy candies don’t resemble the brightly colored bears and worms on convenience store shelves because of a state law prohibiting products that would appeal to children, such as candies in the shape of an “animal, vehicle, person or character.” Instead, gummies come in muted colors, like brown and black, that don’t match their fruit flavors, like strawberry and lemon.
Another benefit: They offer a low-cost alternative to flower. “The gummies are the most cost-effective [product] as a general rule,” said David Lawson, general manager of The Source in Bentonville. “They were also the first [medical marijuana forms] available [in Arkansas]. They are the most widely available. The gummies are definitely the winner.”
The state also prohibits the sale of cookies and brownies.
“What you do see on the market is a round gummy that’s black that has different flavors,” Medical Marijuana spokesman Scott Hardin said. “But the gummy itself is not anything that would resemble a product on the market.”
The state’s Alcohol Beverage Control has not issued a single citation for products that don’t meet state law, Hardin said.
In addition to being cost-effective, gummies tend to stay in stock, unlike flower, which has been in short supply this year, according to reports from dispensaries.
“The edibles tend to stay in stock pretty well,” said Blake Harris, budtender at Suite 443 in Hot Springs. “We might run out of a flavor of gummies, but they usually get put back in stock pretty quick. The flower seems to be the real issue with trying to keep it in stock.”
Dispensaries also sell chocolates that come in a variety of flavors that sound like the offerings of a high-end chocolatier. According to industry sources Weedmaps and Leafly, Arkansas dispensaries sell chocolate edibles in such flavors as hazelnut espresso, chili sea salt and coconut caramel. The chocolates are shaped differently from chocolate products on the general market, often coming in triangular pieces of “chocolate bark.” “What you are going to see is a chocolate that in no way resembles a commercially available product,” Hardin said.
Other products on the market include hard candies, tinctures (oral drops), chews, capsules and oils, such as Rick Simpson Oil.
Named for its creator, Rick Simpson Oil (or RSO as it’s sometimes called) is a cannabis concentrate that comes in a syringe containing as much as 900mg of oil, according to Jarrett McFarlin, general manager at Custom Cannabis in Alexander. In 2003, Simpson created the oil for use in a strict 12-week regimen, according to Leafly, but McFarlin says RSO can also be a cost-effective way to use cannabis.
“Rick Simpson Oil is phenomenal,” McFarlin said. “In my opinion, it is the best bang for your buck when talking about edible forms of cannabis.”
While dispensaries in other states offer bottled cannabis soda and tea, there are no cannabis drinks on the Arkansas market. The commission’s regulations do not explicitly forbid cannabis drinks, but the regulations do include language about processors combining cannabis with “caffeine or other chemical that may increase carcinogenicity or cardiac effects.”
“I think they are most likely going to run into that appeal to children if they try to make sodas,” Lawson said. “The drinks that I’m familiar with in this industry, it will be very difficult for those to be allowed in Arkansas.”
McFarlin is still hopeful a cannabis drink could be in Arkansas’s future. “It’s going to be something that I expect to come along pretty soon.”
In the meantime, McFarlin says patients looking for a beverage can purchase tinctures in a dropper bottle and mix those with a beverage on their own.
The commission’s rules prohibit cultivators from processing cannabis into common baked goods like cookies and brownies, but there is nothing stopping patients from purchasing flower and baking with it on their own.
Dispensaries offer advice to customers who want to give cooking a chance, but it can be a little tricky. Cooking with flower requires decarboxylation, a process in which the cannabis is heated to a certain temperature to activate the THC so that it can be absorbed by the body, according to Weedmaps. Failing to heat the flower enough will produce less than the flower’s maximum effects, while heating it too much can degrade the product.
“I recommend that they decarboxylate their flower for usually at least 45 minutes beforehand,” McFarlin said. “What that does is it converts the THC molecule into a more bioavailable form so the body can absorb it.”
So, patients need to cook their flower for a while before they start baking or otherwise cooking food that will contain cannabis. Machines that make the process a little easier are available for purchase at some dispensaries, other local stores and on the internet.
“Once it’s ‘decarbed,’ technically, you can eat it straight, but what I recommend is [to] use it in a coconut oil or a butter,” McFarlin said. “Any type of cooking oil works well.”
And it’s all perfectly legal under Arkansas law.
“I think one reason that you see flower still driving this market is that … there is absolutely nothing prohibiting a patient from taking it home and turning it into a candy or a cookie or a brownie,” Hardin said.
Patients who want to take an easier route can purchase cannabis-infused grapeseed cooking oil at dispensaries and cook with that.
Patients can also find edibles that meet their dietary concerns. Some gummies are made with a honey base, rather than gelatin, which is an animal product.
“We have a large variety in multiple flavors of vegan gummies,” McFarlin said. “Osage Creek Cultivation produces a wide array of vegan gummies.”
Take it slow
Dispensary employees have consistent and clear advice when it comes to using edibles: Take it slow. Because of the way edibles are absorbed by the body, it takes 15 minutes to an hour for a user to feel the effects, Lawson said. Dispensaries advise patients to eat only a little bit of a dose at first, then wait to see if they feel the effects. If not, they advise eating a little more.
McFarlin says some patients only wait 10-15 minutes after taking an edible, then take two more doses and risk becoming overmedicated.
“That’s the worst thing you can do,” McFarlin said. “That’s not how it works.”
Lawson says patients should take it slow because there is no way to reverse the process other than to wait for the effects to wear off.
“We recommend a half dose to begin with, because you can always try more,” Lawson said. “You can never go back. You’re just going to have to wait it out if you, unfortunately, try too much.”