University City’s Honest Tom’s Plant–Based Taco Shop has a new objective: introducing cannabis in the kitchen. On April 7, the restaurant hosted an educational night explaining marijuana's medicinal and culinary properties. Despite the stigmas surrounding the use of marijuana—both recreationally and medically—the event was completely sold out, marking the public’s attention and interest. Owner Tom McCusker believes that educating medical marijuana patients and caregivers about, “how to A) cook with it and B) what it means to put 10 mg of THC in your food,” will help in a small way to de–stigmatize medicating with Cannabis. 

To create the event, McCusker partnered with his friend Dale Ruschmeyer, as the two had been mutual admirers of each other's work. Ruschmeyer had the initial idea for the taco shop to host an educational event targeting the older generation. "For a lot of people this has been taboo for their whole life, and now it’s really moving into the forefront of being legal and an actual medicine that helps people,” said Ruschmeyer, who planned to teach the class about how to prepare medicated food, how to distinguish dosages, and everything else you wanted to know about CBD and THC, the two major compounds found in cannabis, but were too afraid to ask.  

The event, McCusker explained, was not an “edible free–for–all,” but rather, a small way to show people that it is okay to use THC or CBD in their meals, and how to do it, so that the next time they walk into a dispensary, they aren’t walking in blind. Since many medical dispensaries don't sell edibles, cooking with cannabis is on people's minds. 

Photo: Eleanor Shemtov

The two discussed their plans to use a 50/50 blend of 10 mg of THC and CBD for the event. "Extraction from whole flower plant material, meaning cannabis buds, is pretty simple. First is the decarboxylation process. This is when the THC-A is converted to THC...This sounds complicated but it just means heating the material at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time. There are a million opinions on how to do this best, but I usually do 240 degrees for 40 minutes for THC  and 240 for an hour if I am doing a CBD extraction," says McCusker. He goes on, "Then the bud is removed from the oven and placed into a crockpot and cooked very very low for 12–16 hours, while immersed in a fatty oil of your choice. Most prefer coconut oil for its versatility and high fat content. Then it is strained thoroughly." While the process seems complex, the aim of the workshop was to make it much more straightforward through hands–on demonstration.

Ruschmeyer puts it simply: "If you had a headache and I gave you Tylenol, but you had never seen Tylenol before, you’d be like, ‘Do I eat all of these things? I don’t know what to do,’ which is precisely why this education is much–needed. Even if people have a history using marijuana, it is still possible, and most likely, that they don’t know how to quantify the amount they are using or will be using." 

Ruschmeyer understands the hesitation surrounding medical CBD and THC. “There are so many people out there who have had a bad experience, and say like, ‘Oh, my friend made these brownies and I didn’t know what was in it.’ I equate this situation to someone being given a whole bottle of vodka and then drinking the whole entire thing.” Ruschmeyer believes that if people understand how to properly use medical marijuana, traumatizing edible experiences will cease to happen. "You would pace yourself, you would use the right amount, and you would use what you know works for you,” he said.  

According to Ruschmeyer and McCusker, some of the benefits of medicating with CBD and THC include improvements with anxiety, inflammation, overall wellbeing, sleep deprivation, and PTSD.

“Honest Tom’s is starting to look at food as medicine,” said Ruschmeyer. He praised McClusker for recently turning Honest Tom’s into a plant–based and all–natural restaurant that is both "good for you and nourishes your body.”   

Typically, we don’t associate medicine with food, which is why this step by Honest Tom's toward a culinary revolution is worth our attention.