Inner High Foods brings whole-food edibles and teas to the medicinal marijuana market
Two years ago, Jacqui Pearson* noticed that her father was wheezing and coughing—and he began to complain of shortness of breath. After a few medical tests, his doctor diagnosed him with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The third leading cause of death in the United States this progressive lung disease manifests itself as emphysema, chronic bronchitis or, most often, both. As the integrity of lung tissue is destroyed, it gets harder and harder for the patient to breathe. Usually, COPD is caused by smoking tobacco. But Pearson, now in his late fifties, has smoked less than one pack of cigarettes throughout his entire lifetime. The culprit for Pearson’s lung disease is a decades-long habit of smoking marijuana.
“My father started experimenting with smoking marijuana when he was 18 years old,” says Pearson. “It became a chronic way to relieve stress and anxiety. It became a daily habit, many times per day.”
Though there have been few large controlled studies looking at the connection between marijuana smoking and lung disease, a 2007 study showed that smoking one marijuana cigarette has an effect on the lungs equivalent to smoking as many as five tobacco cigarettes at a time. Heavy cannabis smokers were found to have damage to the large airways in their lungs, as well as a diminished number of fine airways—both of which inhibit the amount of oxygen available to the bloodstream and cause the lungs to work harder to take in enough air.
Study authors concluded that the impact of cannabis on the lungs is largely due to the way in which it’s smoked. Not only are marijuana cigarettes usually unfiltered, but the temperature of inhaled smoke is higher and users tend to inhale more deeply into lung tissues, holding the smoke in for longer periods of time.
“Back in the day, you’d pass a joint around and you’d try to hold it in as long as possible,” says Pearson. “Now my father says he never feels like he gets enough air in his lungs to breathe.”
Despite the negative health effects of smoking marijuana, Pearson and her father still believe in the medicinal benefits of the cannabis plant and are strong proponents of the legalization of marijuana. That’s why the father-daughter team formed a cooperative over a year ago called Inner High Foods that specializes in producing raw, organic superfoods and fair-trade, organic teas—all infused with cannabis. They serve as an online order and delivery service throughout Santa Cruz County, supplying their goods to private medical marijuana cardholders as well as other medical marijuana dispensaries.
Because the edible cannabis market is still relatively new to this burgeoning medicinal field, 90 percent of Inner High’s business transactions involve selling smokeable marijuana flowers. But as Pearson makes it her goal to educate people about the viable—and healthier—alternative of ingesting cannabis rather than smoking it, edibles are beginning to catch on.
Inner High Foods’ best-selling chocolate is the Peppermint Pammy, which is touted on their website as “the best cure for cotton mouth.” Other products include cannabis-infused chips, stuffed dates and a variety of chocolate confections. But their signature products are their cannabis-infused teas, which come in a range of styles and herbal blends, from chai tea to detox tea and, Pearson’s personal favorite, Woman’s Lib, a tea concocted to alleviate feminine ailments from menstrual cramping to symptoms of menopause.
To encourage people to try their edible creations, Inner High Foods offers a complimentary edible gift with each quarter-ounce purchase of marijuana flowers.
“Edibles are such a new thing in California,” says Pearson. “The vast majority of dispensaries are serving white sugar Rice Krispies treats. We use whole foods, which are higher in price, but better (for your health). We’re the only ones in Santa Cruz County that I know of featuring granola bars that are raw, organic and vegan.”
But Pearson explains that the real hurdle to getting people to switch from smokeables to edibles has to do with predictability of dosing.
“People trust smoking,” she says. “You know how soon it’s going to make you feel high and how long it’s going to last. With edibles it’s hard to gauge—it depends on your tolerance and what’s already in your stomach.”
While the effects of smoking marijuana are instantaneous, the quintessential pot brownie can take up to an hour before the effects are felt—and the duration is longer than that of smoking, upwards of four hours, with a high that many people describe as more intense.
Inner High Foods claims to have solved some of the uncertainty of dosage, however, with their flash-boil technique that they use to activate the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the molecule in the cannabis plant that makes people feel high) and produce a versatile, highly useful, green-powdered substance known as “bhang.” Whereas traditional pot baking methods rely on binding the THC to fat such as butter, this method relies on heat to convert the THC to a form that can be absorbed by the body.
“It’s a 3,000-year old process that they’ve been doing in India,” says Rob Miralles, Inner High co-owner. “It tends to burn cleaner in the body. While a traditional pot brownie will take 45 minutes (before you feel the effects), most people will feel ours within 10 minutes. It goes straight into the bloodstream. The duration is as long as with the fat-based pot brownies—longer than smoke. But it feels more similar to smoke.”
“Back in the day, I’d go to Grateful Dead shows and people would be selling ganja goo balls,” says Pearson. “They’d put you on the floor and make you really tired. When people eat our goo balls, people tell me they give them energy. They’ll say they cleaned their whole house.”
But more important, for patients looking to cannabis to alleviate the nausea caused by chemotherapy or the wasting-away symptoms of HIV, a quicker-acting effect means that people can better manage their own dosing—rather than guessing how much to eat and then waiting an hour for it to set in. In a fledgling industry that lacks regulation, Miralles and Pearson agree that this is a vital thing.
“It’s important to properly dose people,” says Miralles. “We’ve done extensive market research as to dosage, size of chocolates, strength of teas. Everything is measured. One gram of raw cannabis is a single dose. Someone who is sensitive might take a half-dosage. We always err on the side of caution.”
For Pearson, spreading the message about the medicinal benefits of bhang-infused edibles has become a personal mission: “If I can turn people on to the wonderful alternative of ingesting cannabis as opposed to smoking it,” she says, “I will feel I have potentially prevented someone else’s father from coming down with COPD, or other smoking-related illnesses.”
*Both Jacqui Pearson’s name and the surname of her father have been changed. You can visit their website at innerhighfoods.com.