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COVID Isolation Guide: Safely toking the hours away 

click to enlarge Flower that has previously been used in a vaporizer, nicknamed AVB, still has some psychoactive compounds in it. We covered the AVB with grain alcohol, which produces a strong tincture meant to be diluted before use. For this amount of flower, the Leafly recipe would use around 5 ounces of grain alcohol. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Flower that has previously been used in a vaporizer, nicknamed AVB, still has some psychoactive compounds in it. We covered the AVB with grain alcohol, which produces a strong tincture meant to be diluted before use. For this amount of flower, the Leafly recipe would use around 5 ounces of grain alcohol.

Everyone is looking for a way to weather this pandemic, be it ordering takeout from a favorite restaurant, holding happy hours with friends over video chat, enjoying the outdoors, bingeing that stupid Tiger King show, or any of a thousand other things that make this quarantine feel less like the end of the world. For some, cannabis can help in the slow murder of hours. It’s not a complete solution, but it’s a popular one. Hell, Gov. Jared Polis even included marijuana dispensaries — medical and recreational — in a list of essential businesses exempt from his March 22 stay-at-home order.

But smoking, vaping and taking dabs may make people more vulnerable to catching, and even dying from, COVID-19. In mid-March, Dr. Peter Pryor of Wheat Ridge, who runs a medical marijuana practice, gave Denver alt-weekly Westword some clear and direct advice on the matter.

“Stop using your lungs for smoking marijuana,” he said. “It’s a lung injury, and that’s what most people are worried about with this COVID-19 thing. It’s not the most important thing, but it can break down that barrier in your lungs, and that’s what we’re worried about right now.”

Furthermore, in 2017, four researchers with the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México released a paper titled “Immunoregulatory Role of Cannabinoids During Infectious Disease,” which says that the administration of THC “could be harmful for a host infected with the influenza virus.” They write that, in a study on mice, the amount of virus particles in the host’s body was higher in mice dosed with THC (it wasn’t clear how researchers got the mice stoned).

click to enlarge When chilled, the infused clarified butter or coconut oil will form a disc on top of the water, which can be removed, cleaned, dried and stored in a cool, dry place. It has many culinary applications, like sauces and baked goods. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • When chilled, the infused clarified butter or coconut oil will form a disc on top of the water, which can be removed, cleaned, dried and stored in a cool, dry place. It has many culinary applications, like sauces and baked goods.

In plain English: The stuff in weed that makes people high could also make the flu worse. Does that mean it will make a COVID-19 infection worse? Given how little scientists know 

about the strains of coronavirus going around, odds are low that we’ll see a clinical study of effects of any kind of cannabis use on this particular infection, so it’s hard to answer that question conclusively. But it’s worth discussing with a health care professional, as well as considering risk versus reward.

For those who do wish to imbibe, risk or no, experts like Pryor are now recommending consumers switch to edibles, which are already a popular option for many. For first-time users, eating a brownie can feel less illicit than lighting a joint or packing a bong. Further, edibles are more discreet than other options; not everyone wants it known that they use cannabis products. Those who rent an apartment may not be in a smoking-friendly setting. The reasons to ingest instead of ignite abound.

click to enlarge The clarified butter/coconut oil method described can also be used to extract the small amount of THC in leftover stems and leaves from home-grown cannabis, which we had on hand. These were crushed and infused into clarified butter along with some cannabis flower. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • The clarified butter/coconut oil method described can also be used to extract the small amount of THC in leftover stems and leaves from home-grown cannabis, which we had on hand. These were crushed and infused into clarified butter along with some cannabis flower.

That said, the phrase “my first experience with weed was an edible” does not typically begin a story with a happy ending. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd had a famously unpleasant experience with a too-large dose of an edible she tried in Colorado. Edibles, especially the store-bought kind, tend to be strong. They can take up to 90 minutes to start taking effect, too, so it’s important to start with a low dose. Individual sensitivity can vary, but integrative medicine physician Dr. Dustin Sulak wrote a dosage guide for cannabis resource site Leafly. He suggests an edible with 1 to 2.5 mg of THC as a good option for first-time consumers, while 2.5 to 15 mg THC in an edible does well for standard recreational use.

Anyone who wants to buy their edibles from a dispensary can do so, and many dispensaries across the state have begun to offer curbside pickup for orders placed online or over the phone, a great way to purchase cannabis products without risking unnecessary exposure.

People can also make their own edibles at home, and with a little math or some small-dose testing, they can retain control over the potency of the final product. The trick: Most of the THC in cannabis is in a form that won’t make someone high unless it’s exposed to heat, which causes a chemical process called decarboxylation. For Leafly, Chef Alex Goodall from Toronto recommends grinding cannabis flower into rice grain-sized pieces and toasting on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet in the middle rack of an oven heated to 225 degrees for 45 minutes, until lightly toasted and golden brown — not burnt.

click to enlarge After filtering, cannabis tincture made with decarboxylated flower typically has a lighter color than our brown tincture (left), retaining some of its green color. The infused clarified butter (right) does best in a sealed, air-proof jar. Both can be used to enjoy cannabis without involving the lungs. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • After filtering, cannabis tincture made with decarboxylated flower typically has a lighter color than our brown tincture (left), retaining some of its green color. The infused clarified butter (right) does best in a sealed, air-proof jar. Both can be used to enjoy cannabis without involving the lungs.

To get around the smell, it’s also easy to infuse cannabis into a fat that solidifies at room temperature, such as coconut oil or clarified butter (see p. 18 for two ways to do it.) Another versatile way to consume cannabis without smoking is to make a tincture, which also helps you get more mileage out of cannabis flower that’s been through a flower-compatible vaporizer, called already vaped bud (AVB).

To make a tincture, add decarboxylated cannabis flower or AVB to a Mason jar and add food-grade alcohol, the higher the proof the better — try 190-proof grain alcohol or, if that’s unavailable, 151-proof rum. Shake vigorously for three minutes, then strain out the cannabis and store the tincture in a cool, dark place. For a mild tincture, Leafly advises using 750 mL of alcohol for every ounce of flower, or about 3 fluid ounces of alcohol for every eighth of an ounce of weed.

Leafly also provides a great method for measuring the potency of a tincture. Using a dropper, put 1 mL of tincture under your tongue, then wait 15 to 45 minutes for the tincture to take effect, noting that the high should peak around 90 minutes later. With their ratio of alcohol to cannabis, that should be a small enough dose to help a new user figure out how strong their tincture is without getting uncomfortably high. If it’s too weak a dose, try 2 mL the next day. If it’s too strong, try a smaller dose, or dilute the tincture. Much like infused butter or oil, it can be taken on its own or added to food and drink. Either way allows adults to enjoy their high without taking on the added risk of smoking.

Recreational and medical marijuana dispensaries are considered essential businesses under the stay-at-home order. Smoking and vaping may put you at higher risk for COVID-19.

Buy edibles from a dispensary, or easily make your own.

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