An Interview with High Times' Elise McDonough
Few figures have been more significant to the edibles branch of the American cannabis movement than Elise McDonough. Over the last decade, she’s authored three books including The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook, which has served as a delectable blueprint for incorporating cannabis into a healthy diet since its release in 2012. We reached Elise at her home office in Santa Cruz, California, a vantage point from which she was happy to lend a unique perspective on the exciting future of the international edibles market.
You graduated among the top of your class from the School of Visual Arts in New York. Has that background helped your career as a canna cook?
Having an understanding of branding, marketing and good design has definitely helped when navigating this new world of legal edibles. When you’re evaluating a project because of its packaging, not only are you looking for specific label information, but you’re looking for signs that the person creating it put care and thought into it. If they did that, then they most likely put care and thought into their product.
“We need to move away from edibles that are packed with sugar and fat towards healthier choices.” Are you optimistic the sophisticated style that characterizes the contemporary cannabis edibles movement will continue in future?
You’re seeing so many products now that are designed for functional lifestyles – things that are designed for vegans, raw foodists, gluten free and diabetics – and that’s definitely going to continue. The way I like to look at cannabis is that it really is a health supplement or a vitamin. Just adding a little bit of it into your everyday life can have profound benefits. I think it will take hold as a health supplement more than anything else.
L.A. Weekly wrote of your book, “This is the first pot cookbook we’ve seen that reads like a modern cookbook, meaning one that relies on fresh ingredients and seems to care more, actually, about flavor than getting you high.” Was that your goal going into this project?
Working on the cookbook was amazing because it includes stories about legends of the cannabis movement, along with the best recipes selected from years of working at High Times. I really wanted the cookbook to reflect the rich cannabis culture we’ve inherited. The recipes emphasize adding cannabis to regular savoury, instead of relying on sugary, fat-laden edibles. As you see people move toward recreational usage, you’ve definitely seen a trend towards lower-dose edibles. In California in 2010, most [edibles] were 100 milligrams or more. When I cook for myself at home or at a dinner party, I want the accumulated dose of the entire meal to be manageable. That’s why I like to add a little bit of cannabis-infused oil or butter to enhance the meal, not necessarily get you totally inebriated.
The idea being that you’re offering a culinary and a cannabis experience?
Absolutely. And you’re seeing more chefs become attracted to that now, in terms of using the cannabis as just another ingredient.
Even as a health conscious cannabis cook, how important is it to sometimes sneak some, as you say, “hedonistic fare” into the proverbial stew?
I think it’s very important to indulge yourself every once in a while, especially if it’s a special occasion. But if you need this medication every day, you don’t want to be in the position of having to eat a brownie or a piece of cheesecake all the time. It’s much better to integrate [cannabis] into your regular diet.
You recently interviewed Mark Ainsworth of Altai, who said it was important to “change the paradigm” with regard to cannabis edibles as the market welcomes a newer, older generation. We advocate a dose low, go slow, approach to extracts. Is there a standard caution you lend anyone new to oils and edibles?
In the last couple years, I’ve seen a lot of people coming out with new low-dose products that are designed for the cannabis naïve. People are definitely preparing for that kind of recreational future. I’ve always said, go low and go slow. Start with a low dose of five or 10 milligrams and don’t exceed that for the duration of the day. Wait and see how that will affect you and adjust the next day.
In 2010, you helped launch High Times Medical Marijuana magazine. Do you see a significant difference between the medible and recreational edible markets?
Absolutely. And there’s a stark difference in Colorado right now because they’ve done an excellent job of maintaining their medical program and running their recreational program parallel without infringing on it. You can get high-potency edibles on the medical side higher than the 100-milligram limit that they set for recreational. Conversely, on the recreational side, everything needs to be cut up into 10-milligram increments and no one package can have more than 100 milligrams.
Edibles are a relatively new element of cannabis culture. How do you see this exciting end of the market evolving in coming years?
What I’m excited about is people are literally medicating every food that you can imagine. There's medicated pizza sauce, medicated empanadas, medicated hot wings – all these different products available. I’m excited about sauces, healthy options and there’s even infused coffees now! It’s wild.
Here’s to Future Growth!
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