Along with the explosion of the medical and recreational marijuana industry comes the rise of marijuana “edibles,” ranging from cannabis-laced brownies and chocolates to weed-infused lemonades and even beef jerky.
In Colorado alone, where marijuana has been legalized for medicinal use in 2000 and recreational use in 2012, more than 5.8 million worth of cannabis edibles were sold in 2014. This was according to an annual update released by the Colorado Department of Revenue.
Similarly, using edibles for medical marijuana purposes can prevent patients from “feeling medicated” or getting a “psychoactive effect,” according to Blythe Huestis, dispensary manager at Natural Selections in Arizona.
The potency question
But while weed edibles inarguably have their own benefits, the products also have risks.
Whereas a typical marijuana bud used to contain only two to three percent of THC—the active hallucinogenic ingredient in cannabis—today’s buds now have as much as 12 to 25 percent of THC. But this still pales in comparison to edibles, which can contain 50 to 90 percent THC. According to Bob Eschino, president and co-founder of edibles manufacturer Incredibles, his concentrates contain about 99 percent THC. It’s a great selling point for customers, he said.
After all, a product with higher potency means less consumption of edibles. A study from the University of Albany revealed that people who use marijuana for medicinal use prefer consuming edibles because the higher intoxication allows them to reduce the number of times that they have to consume the product.
This would have been great if the potency of each product is consistent. But that’s not always the case. Hence, it’s hard for medical patients to take the correct those, or for recreational users to not consume more than the recommended amount, that is, 10 milligrams of THC for a single serving.
Colorado, Washington, and Oregon already added stricter packaging and labeling requirements to edibles so that consumers can follow the recommended amount of THC consumption. Eschino said that the packaging is the most expensive part of their products. “We’ve added almost a million dollars just to our packaging budget this year,” he said. However, he said that it helped companies improve their consistency because of the move.
Increase in hospitalizations
Edibles are more potent than marijuana itself, and some experts say that this has increased hospitalizations and use among adolescents, since these are easier to access than traditional pot preparations.
“Edibles are what are driving hospital admissions for youth, for animals, for adults,” noted Ben Cort, director of professional relations for the Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation at University of Colorado Health.
In Colorado, a 2015 report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area showed that the intake of edibles has increased marijuana-caused hospitalizations since 2009. One reason behind this is that it can take up to two hours of digestion before users start to feel THC’s psychoactive effects, prompting them to take more, thinking it would help them achieve their desired results faster.
“Edibles are a greater hazard for us than smoking marijuana because smoking marijuana gets in your system really quickly, and you know your level of impairment generally. (The risk) is amplified with edibles,” said Mark Vasquez, chief of police in Erie, Colorado.
There were also instances when overconsumption of weed edibles was associated with fatalities. A young man jumped from a balcony after eating multiple cannabis-infused cookies, while another man shot himself after eating more than the recommended amount of pot candies.
But Dr. Andrew Monte of the Department of Emergency Medicine and Medical Toxicology at the University of Colorado Denver was hesitant to make the direct connection. He said, “The edible likely caused either hallucinations or simply impaired judgment. Similar to association with car accidents, this is a risk when any drug is ingested. We would not say the marijuana edible is causal, just associated with the death.”
Is discretion a good thing?
Marijuana concentrates are discreet and easy to take, hence making them popular among patients who need to take marijuana for medicinal purposes. But on the flip side, this could also mean that it’s harder to detect and regulate, especially among adolescents.
According to Jim Gerdhart, vice president of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association, “If you walked into a school cafeteria, how would you know when you watch a kid eat a brownie? How would you know that it was a pot brownie or anything else?”
Similarly, the rise of assorted vaporizers has also made it easier for kids to get high even at school. “They got vaporizers made to look like highlighter pens, made to look like Bic pens, made to look like asthma inhalers, lighters, just about anything, cell phones, just about anything you can imagine, they’ve disguised THC vaporizers in,” Cort said.
That is why edibles pose much of a challenge to authorities—more so than traditional weed. Ron Kammerzell, deputy senior director of enforcement for Colorado’s Department of Revenue, said that manufacturers of edibles should label weed products as such, even outside of the packaging.
For Eschino though, the main responsibility lies within the parents. “You have to make sure they stay out of sight of your kids. It’s pretty simple.
But for parents, the commercialization of edibles is just making things a lot harder for them, especially in years to come.
Do you think marijuana edibles should be made more available to the public? Voice your opinions in the comments section below—your opinion matters to the nation.