The Joy of Cannabis Cooking 

The federal crackdown on pot dispensaries may spur the growth of the burgeoning DIY "medible" culture.

California cannabis cuisine is taking flight this spring with the publication of the first-ever High Times Cannabis Cookbook, hitting Amazon and bookstores on April 20, from Chronicle Books. The mainstream-looking gourmet cookbook is elegantly designed, containing fifty recipes that will entice amateurs, challenge top chefs, and raise the bar for the once-dark art of ganja gastronomy, said author Elise McDonough, who is also a High Times magazine designer and avowed Santa Cruz foodie.

At the same time, mainstream America appears to be highly receptive to cannabis cooking, judging by the release of another pot cookbook, the Cannabis Gourmet Cookbook, and the reception "medibles" are getting in the press. SF Weekly is hiring a weed food critic. On April 7, Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold sampled and reported on a nine-course gourmet cannabis meal served by chefs Nguyen Tran and Laurent Quenioux.

"Transgressive eating has become voguish," Gold wrote. "People were prodding the modish dish of cured duck breast, raw yellowtail and compressed watermelon, trying to figure out whether the cannabis was involved in the melon's marinade or in the garnish of chopped herbs, and where it might be hiding in an arrangement of papaya, roasted partridge, braised wild boar and baby ginseng."

"I think the time is right for these cookbooks," said Ed Murrieta, a Sacramento chef and author who writes about the topic. Two of Murrieta's weed recipes appear in the High Times Cannabis Cookbook: Vegan Cannabis Carrot Muffins and Chewy Cannabis Caramels.

Judging by the uninspiring treats available at most medical cannabis dispensaries, the game could use some elevating, too. "Fatty and sugar-laden keeps well on the shelf in dispensaries," McDonough said. "I want people to think beyond that."

"I see those rainbow-colored crispy treats and I just gag," Murrieta added, referring to offerings in some Sacramento dispensaries. "That's Fruity Pebbles!"

High Times Cannabis Cookbook starts off by teaching readers how to make cannabis-infused oil and butter. The psychoactive molecules in cannabis easily diffuse into fats and oils, and once a chef knows how to make cannabutter or cannaoil, "their imagination can be limitless," McDonough said.

Her favorite recipes in the book are Wake and Bake Eggnog French Toast and Granny's Ganja Smoked Mac 'n' Cheese. "I love desserts, I just try not to eat them so much. That's why we tried to pepper in some more of the healthier stuff like hemp cookies that are more nutritious. For those who eat ganja food every day as part of medical treatment, you need to get healthier food into you."

Edible cannabis can be effective for many people, including Alzheimer's and dementia sufferers, chemotherapy patients, and those with chronic pain. "My dad is in an Alzheimer's facility," said Murrieta. "Now, inside an Alzheimer's home is just hell, it's Cuckoo's Nest with old people. They steal his things. There's other people sacked out in his bed. There's no rest in there. It's constant stress."

Murrieta's dad loves KFC biscuits, so the California Culinary Academy-graduate doped up some faux ones. "I didn't tell him what they were, because he would have had a knee-jerk reaction and said, 'No.'"

"The next day I asked him how the biscuits were. He said, 'Oh, I slept so good,'" Murrieta continued. "Case closed, man. If the nurses had known I had done that they would have kicked me out."

McDonough said the experience of ingesting cannabis is generally a relaxing one. "I feel good for an hour or two, I'm extremely relaxed, them I'm asleep," McDonough said.

"It's not a high or stoned feeling you get when you spark up a joint," Murrieta added. "You're going to experience a minor euphoria in your head. You're really going to experience major euphoria in your body, your limbs become looser, back pain is likely going to be eased up a bit to a great deal."

Unless you can eat nine pounds of hash, one cannot overdose on marijuana. But "sometimes it can be rather unpleasant if you eat too much," McDonough noted. "You can become disoriented, and loose motor control."

"My bed was spinning. My heart was racing. I was hearing colors," Murrieta said of one intense experience. "I wouldn't call it negative though. I just rode it out."

"It's important to remember if you do eat too much, all you have to do is lay down and relax and most likely you're going to end up asleep," McDonough explained.

Dosing problems are endemic in commercial medible manufacturing. There is no standard dose of THC; it can range from 25 to 50 milligrams. Commercial Marinol pills, meanwhile, come in 2.5, 5, and 10 mg pills. And simply stating "5X strength" or "10X" or "200 milligrams" on the packaging doesn't cut it, McDonough said. Dispensary edibles too often lack a list of ingredients and allergy information as well.

But the federal crackdown on California's medical cannabis industry is slowing down dosage standardization, operators say. And targeting dispensaries, as the feds have been doing, can also be interpreted as a tacit endorsement of High Times Cannabis Cookbook's DIY message.

"They've said they are focusing on bigger fish. There's just too many people to go after individuals. It saps their budgets," McDonough said. "We want people to be able to be self-sufficient, we want them to have information to do it correctly, safely, and have it be delicious as well."

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