When it comes to recreational marijuana, forget the joint! People in Colorado—both Coloradoans and tourists—are enjoying cannabis in all kinds of new ways. "Most people don't want to smoke," says Troy Dayton, CEO of The ArcView Group, a private marijuana investment and market research firm based in Colorado. "I think that the future is not going to be smoking of cannabis. It's going to be all the other things. So there's a huge, huge boom in alternative forms of ingestion."
Alternative forms include every kind of edible imaginable (candies, cookies, butters, cooking oils), vaporizer pens, concentrates, tinctures and rubs.
"People used to be afraid of edibles," says Bob Eschino, head of Incredibles, a Lakewood, Colo., marijuana chocolatier. "You would eat an edible one day, you would have a great time. You would eat the same edible from the same person the next day, and it would be way too much medication. Nobody tested anything."
Today, the law requires testing and consistency. Incredibles' product, for example, is tested for purity, potency and consistency at CannLabs in Denver. Another Denver lab, Herbal Synergy, tests product for At Home Baked, producers of cannabis-infused brownie and blondie mixes to bake at home.
Eschino reveals his dark and white chocolate magic on CNBC's new documentary, "Marijuana in America: Colorado Pot Rush." Legal recreational marijuana is revolutionizing business and society in Colorado. Catch the rush and click on for more cannabis goodies.
"We stink up our kitchen, so you don't have to stink up yours," says A.J. Ashkar, aka A.J. Hashman, owner of At Home Baked. Instead of selling packaged cookies or brownies, At Home Baked sells brownie, blondie and other mixes that people can bake in their own homes. Normally, says Ashkar, the activation of THC in the oven will create a smell that permeates the whole house. However, because his mix contains a packet of cooking oil infused with activated THC, Ashkar claims "the only thing you smell baking is brownies." These days in Colorado, though, baking anything with cannabis has become easier and more accurate. Most shops sell cannabutter as well as cannabis-infused cooking oil and a portion of either of these can be substituted for regular butter or oil in a recipe. Some quick math will help the chef figure out how much active THC will be in each serving. Ashkar recommends mixing the ingredients very thoroughly before baking, then cutting the finished product into equal parts.
Vaporizer pens have become very popular with medical and recreational users. They are discrete and create very little smell. Users think they're a good alternative to joints and bongs. The cartridge, filled with hash oil, is sold separately from the pen. To begin, you charge the pen by plugging it into any USB outlet. Once the pen is charged, you can insert the cartridge and "smoke" it like an e-cigarette. As the user inhales, the hash oil is vaporized. Small lights at the bottom of the pen shine white as you inhale. They stay on for about six seconds, then start to flash to indicate that the hit is over. In this controlled way, one cartridge provides about 50 to 60 hits, and the user knows how much THC she is getting with each hit. There's a window in the vape pen so that the user can see the level of the hash oil in the cartridge, so she knows when to replace it.
The advertising claims these cannabis-infused topicals won't make you high but will reduce inflammation, relieve muscle and joint pain, reduce swelling and ease stress. Many people who use them swear by them. But there's still scant scientific literature to back up the claims. Nevertheless, people like attorney Cheryl Smith, executive director of a medical marijuana clinic in Eugene, Ore., and onetime "total skeptic," find themselves convinced. Smith, who a few years ago researched the medical literature and published an article called "Topical Cannabis Preparations: Snake Oil or Healing Options?" has become a convert. "It does penetrate to the muscle, I'm convinced," says Smith. Using an infusion of her own that she's had tested in a lab, Smith's own experience has made her an advocate. "All this is anecdotal," she says. "I question some of the products. I just know this one works."
Three years ago, says Incredibles' Eschino, "the edibles and concentrate market ... was about 10 percent of the business. The last study I saw ... it's closer to 40 percent of our business now." According to Brian Ruden, co-founder of the medical and recreational marijuana dispensary Starbuds, recreational edibles are all limited to 100 milligrams of active THC. It's easy to portion the candy and figure out how much THC is in each bite. And they taste, says Ruden, pretty much the way they look—like chocolate, raspberry or strawberry candy. All the more important to keep them away from the kids! Every package, says Eschino, must be child resistant.
Recreational cannabis candy comes in every variety imaginable. These are just a few sold by Incredibles in Lakewood and Kine Mine in Idaho Springs, Colo. Unlike marijuana that's smoked, eaten cannabis products take about an hour to produce a full effect. It may be easy for a beginner to eat too much. Genifer Murray, trained in microbiology and CEO of CannLabs in Denver, suggests the beginner start with 5 milligrams of THC in an edible. "You can't die from it," Murray says of overdosing, "but you can feel like you're dying." If you smoke too much, the effect subsides quickly. But if you eat too much, says Murray, the bad feelings can last for hours. She suggests that people who have problems with anxiety or paranoia might want to try edibles that have more CBD (cannabidiol) which is a non-psychotropic cannabinoid that, Murray says, "kind of curves the psychoactivity of THC."
While marijuana is about 15 to 18 percent THC, says Ruden, concentrates are about 80 to 90 percent. They are smoked in "dabs," a tiny bit at a time, vaporized in superheated bongs. The bud, or flower, of the marijuana plant is dried and sold to smoke; the trim—the leaves and stems—is made into concentrate. At one time, the concentrate was hash, made with a process involving ice water. That was before butane came into play. Shatter is a concentrate made by stripping THC and other cannabinoids from the plant and pooling them in a concentrated mass. The process involve using hydrocarbons, usually butane, sometimes carbon dioxide. The marijuana is suffused with butane under pressure, the concentrate drips out, and then the residual solvent (that is, the unwanted butane) must be evaporated, or "purged," from the concentrate. When the finished hash concentrate is hard and glassy, it's called shatter. For more weed edibles, check out CNBC.
CNBC and correspondent Harry Smith tell the story behind this controversial and stunning development and report on the exploding legal pot market. Watch "Marijuana in America: Colorado Pot Rush" on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 10 p.m. ET.