It didn’t take long for medical experts to point out that, yes, ripping joints and blunts and bongs during the pandemic may very well raise the risk of having COVID-19 complications. It’s pretty straightforward logic — irritated, weaker lungs are more prone to damage.
Though I’ve consumed weed steadily for the last decade while living in California, I figured I could avoid those cough-inducing smoke sessions and just stick with marijuana concentrates to vape. So I was surprised to wake up on Sunday with a little tickle in my throat and a dry, staccato cough anyway. It made me hit pause on inhaling anything for the rest of the day, and while it turned out to be nothing, it made me wonder what the best alternative oughta be.
Edible cannabis treats, for all the jokes and pop-culture references, are a rollercoaster ride. A little can go a long way, and differing metabolisms mean variances in how long it takes to get you high and the intensity of the high itself. It’s why many serious medical users have turned to fast-absorbing tinctures that can be dropped on your tongue, rather than munching on cake pops or gummies. It’s with that same logic that I think the best alternative is a cannabis beverage, which your body can process faster than solid foods. And while the retail pot market is booming with all kinds of canned drinks, the easiest to make at home is weed “tea,” made with milk and a touch of sweetener.
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as stuffing ground kush into your tea ball and brewing it. The famous compound in cannabis that gets you high, THC, is created as a result of heat changing the native THCA cannabinoid that exists on the plant in its raw state. This is the reason why chowing down on an eighth of Girl Scout Cookies would get you only a little more high than eating, well, regular Girl Scout cookies — heat unlocks the potent psychoactive we love. (Weed nerds call this process “decarboxylation.”)
Then there’s the issue of THC being fat-soluble, which means that a brew in straight water just won’t release much of the cannabinoid at all, even if it is “activated.” There is a case for brewing cannabis tea with only water for the benefits of THCA and the plant’s aroma and flavor, but I didn’t like the idea of wasting the medicinal potency of decent California cannabis. Nor did I really think a water brew would actually capture the floral, fruity, wet-cedar musk of top-shelf bud. I had both on hand — a Ziploc bag filled with years-old, just-okay cannabis I received from a nascent homegrower, and a fresh little jar of Wedding Cake from Humboldt Farms.
Some get around this riddle by directly infusing raw ground flower into fat and slowly heating it, whether it’s milk, coconut oil or straight-up butter, and adding it to a beverage. I personally love the approach from VICE’s weed sage Adbullah Saeed, who simmers pot and spices in milk for two hours to create the base for a rich chai drink. This is fabulous, as long as you have that much time or infused milk already on hand. Just make sure to avoid using skim milk — there’s not enough fat. (You can use nut “milks” or even coconut milk for the same effect.)
Me? I’d prefer to keep a little batch of dry “tea weed” around, rather than a jug of liquid. So I decided to do the magic of decarboxylation in the oven, by spreading both kinds of ground weed on opposite sides of a tray and baking it for an hour at around 220 degrees. By infusing this weed into fat, you maximize the ability to capture activated THC in your drink, rather than leaving it behind in the dregs.
Once you’ve baked your cannabis, the rest of the tea is simple. Start by adding about a teaspoon of ground baked cannabis to a cup with 5 ounces of milk and any spices you prefer (I added pinches of ground ginger, black pepper and cinnamon). Heat this up in the microwave until the milk starts to bubble and steam, or about 2 minutes. Let this mix sit hot for as long as you can spare (I left it for 10 full minutes, stirring occasionally). In the meantime, brew your tea in another, larger mug — I prefer a double-strength brew, with two teabags in just six ounces of hot water.
After a five-minute brew, take your milk and pour it through a fine mesh strainer to combine with the tea. Add a tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt, and you’re done.
I drank my big mug of milk tea at around 10 p.m., and like I hoped, the liquid dose worked more quickly than a snack. Within just 20 minutes, I felt my eyelids go heavy and felt lighter than usual sitting on the couch. But it wasn’t the stoned, out-of-body experience that heavy edibles can often leave you with — i.e., by the time I rolled into bed at 11:30 p.m., I was a little sedate but mostly mellowed out.
How long does it last?
Some suggest that THC in liquid form hits faster but leaves faster too; to that point, my high was fading by the time I slipped under the comforter. Legend suggests strong infused cannabis drinks can last literally all day — behold one famous vendor’s “full power, 24-hour, no toilet, no shower” bhang lassi popular during India’s Holi festival. But in reality, you’re likely going to feel it for around two to four hours, depending on your tolerance. I used a teaspoon of my cheap homegrown cannabis, not the top-shelf stuff, and I bet the same recipe made with the latter would hit me harder, for longer. (In fact, I-d probably make a smaller 8-ounce drink.)
Mostly, however, it was lovely to ride a calm buzz to round out my night. In an age when the race for potency has made weed downright unpleasant for some, this tea reminds me of the fundamental joys of the plant, coaxed out through the magic of time and gentle heat.