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Story highlights

Chef Chris Sayegh describes his luxury dinners as "cerebral experiences"

The dinners are held in private homes in states where some marijuana is legal

Expert cautions that people might not know how much drug they're consuming or how it affects them

(CNN) —  

Chris Sayegh is a 24-year-old chef who has found a niche in the world of cannabis. He established a business that combines food and the controversial drug.

His company, the Herbal Chef, offers a variety of food services catering to both the medical and recreational needs of marijuana users, but his most popular service involves private dinners.

People pay upward of $500 each to indulge in a 12- to 15-course dinner infused with cannabis.

He describes these luxury dinners as “cerebral experiences” meant to introduce more than just a high, although scientists advise dining with caution.

“There is music setting a tone. There is terpene (plant) extracts in my centerpieces that are creating an aroma. There is art everywhere that is creating and stimulating conversation. So now it becomes an immersive experience where you are present in the dining experience,” Sayegh said.

Sayegh prides himself on selecting organic ingredients native to the region where he is cooking.

The locations for these dinners vary, but most are held in private homes in states where either recreational or medical marijuana is legal. He says he complies with state laws and has all dinner participants fill out a questionnaire on their marijuana tolerance. In states like California, where only medical marijuana is legal, he requires clients to have a medical marijuana card.

He says the only common denominator among the diners is a search for a new experience.

“I get people fresh out of college; I get people for their anniversary; I get people who are huge into the dab (concentrated cannabis) culture; I get people who are corporate, who just want to have a new experience. … There is no similarities other than they love good food and they want to try a new experience.”

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. It’s no surprise businesses like the Herbal Chef have learned to monetize and create new ways to use it. Sayegh, who says he has a medical marijuana card, is among the first to combine culinary training and experience at Michelin-starred restaurants in New York and California with a personal appreciation for cannabis.

“I was a student at UC Santa Cruz studying molecular cell biology, and I chose to go into the cannabis field because all of my studies were basically looking at the cognitive function of the brain on cannabis. What happens? I was telling myself, ‘if I am going to smoke every day, then I might as well know what I am putting in my body,’ ” said Sayegh.

Is it safe?

Marijuana Business Daily’s Factbook 2016 (PDF) estimates that retail sales of medical and recreational marijuana for 2016 will hit between $3.5 billion and $4.3 billion. This includes marijuana-infused food products. Edibles – typically brownies, candy and cookies – have been popular for years.

Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the two main ingredients in the marijuana plant, belong to a class of compounds known as cannabinoids.

Dr. Igor Grant, a neuropsychiatrist and director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, explains that unlike THC, the psychoactive ingredient responsible for causing a high, CBD has been found to have medical benefits.

He says marijuana can soothe neuropathic or chronic pain.

“It turns out cannabis can be helpful in this, and we finished six different short-term clinical trials with people with neuropathic pain, and they all found benefits,” Grant said.

Sayegh believes that when it’s consumed responsibly, marijuana can have even more medical benefits.

“This is a part of our life, and … CBD should be used daily to supplement and give nutrition to your body, to your endocannabinoid system, which then allows your body to achieve homeostasis, and that’s what we want for our bodies. We want our bodies to run smoothly,” Sayegh said.

The endocannabinoid system, discovered by Israeli organic chemist and researcher Dr. Ralph Mechoulam in the 1990s, is a group of cannabinoid receptors in human and animal brains that help translate the active ingredients in marijuana. The brain can receive and communicate to the body the different messages received through the cannabis that affect many functions, like how an individual reacts, moves and feels.

Many marijuana users and advocates, like Sayegh, support the idea that activating the endocannabinoid system helps promote equilibrium amongst the brain, body and the senses.

“I think people need to be educated, and they also need to understand we have an endocannabinoid system in our body that is meant to receive THC and CBD,” Sayegh said.

Grant agrees that our bodies can receive a physiologic or beneficial effect of some kind from THC and are set up to process these molecules, but he says there’s not a need to activate the endocannabinoid system.

“I don’t think there is any evidence that we as a group of people are cannabinoid-deprived,” Grant said. “The side of the argument doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Grant also argues that more long-term research is needed to truly understand marijuana’s effects on the body, and he cautions those consuming food laced with the drug.

“I would always be concerned with people taking medicine or chemicals of various kinds, where a person may not know exactly what the content is, in other words, how much THC or other cannabinoids are there. Also, we don’t know from the individual person, how will they absorb and what effect it may have on them,” he said.

Cooking with cannabis

Sayegh’s conduit for equilibrium is his food, and his goal – aside from getting you to that homeostasis stage – is for individuals to experience the different tastes, smells and textures of the dishes.