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The Dangers of Marijuana Edibles

8.1.2016 / Heidi Ganahl

What is an “Edible”?

There is a justifiable growing concern about the effects of edibles on children. The Merriam-Webster definition of “Edible” is “Safe or Suitable to eat.”  However, in common slang, the word “Edibles” has come to mean any consumable food or drink item that is infused with marijuana.  Everyone has seen the jokes on television or in the movies, where someone unknowingly eats a pot brownie and has an adverse reaction.

It is not funny when it happens to a child.

What are the dangers to children?

In 2014, the Colorado Children’s hospital saw an almost increase of almost double in the amount of children brought in for accidental marijuana ingestion, and the rate is still increasing. Most of the children were between the ages of 3-7, (The Denver Post)

In Oregon, Marijuana-related emergency room visits have increased by 1,967 percent in recent years, according to St. Charles Health System. Doctors and medics say they’re finding the culprit is often edible marijuana-infused products like candy, chocolates and sodas because it’s difficult for people to judge how much to ingest. “This is a drug that affects your brain, and it’s not safe for everybody,” Salton said. “If you have it in your house, you need to treat it the same way that you treat your prescription medications. You need to treat it the same way you would your alcohol.”(KTVZ News)

There is a reason childproof caps are used on prescription medication. Everyone recognizes the risks to a child who takes an adult dose of medication. How much more potentially lethal is it for a child to pick up or be given candy that contains an adult dosage of marijuana?

A 19-year-old Colorado college student who took his own life after consuming an edible marijuana cookie had no history of marijuana, alcohol, or illegal drug use, and no history of mental illness, according to the police report. Initially, he ate only a single piece of the cookie (one 10 mg “dose”). About 30-60 minutes later, not feeling any effects, he ate the rest of the cookie (five and a half more “doses”). During the next two hours, he developed erratic speech and hostile behavior. About three and a half hours after his first bite, he died after jumping from a fourth floor balcony. (Philly.com)

What happens when a child consumes an edible?

There is a common misconception that you cannot “overdose” on marijuana. While this is technically true, in practice it is much more complicated. In the story mentioned above, the boy in question did not “overdose”, rather he likely suffered a phenomenon called “Greening out.”

“Greening Out” is caused by ingesting (in any form) too much marijuana for the body to safely process. The symptoms to watch out for are:

  • Feelings of anxiety, paranoia or fear
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Hallucination and/or disorientation (TruthOnPot.com)

There are three insidious problems with marijuana edibles.

The first is their appearance. A partial list of edibles available over the counter are:

  • Crispy Chocolate Bars
  • Chocolate Cherry Pretzels
  • Mints
  • Watermelon Chews (like Gummy worms)
  • Dark Chocolate Bars
  • Ginger Snap Cookies
  • Macaroons
  • Lollypops
  • Toffee
  • Lemonade
  • Popcorn
  • Mixed Nuts Clusters
  • Chocolate Coins

The second, is their delayed effect. When marijuana is smoked, it’s effect is felt right away. When marijuana is consumed via an edible, there is a delay, and it is entirely possible to mistakenly consume a marijuana-infused snack. A child who has unknowingly ingested marijuana may not experience the negative symptoms until much later.

The third is the “dosage” level. The “recommended dosage” of an edible is not something that children are trained to be aware of, in the previous example, the “recommended dosage” was 1/6th of a cookie.  1/6th.  No child or teenager would not stop at that, and again, even if they did, the “dosage” is set for an adult.

What is happening in Colorado?

In 2014, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed legislation to tighten controls on edible and concentrated forms of marijuana. The first law signed by the governor creates a task force to devise packaging for cannabis-infused edibles such as cookies and candy that makes those products readily distinguishable from regular foods.

“Sadly, cases of children ingesting marijuana are on the rise in Colorado,” said state Senator Mike Johnston, the bill’s primary sponsor. “By improving labeling and giving kids a way to tell the difference between a snack and a harmful substance, we can keep kids … out of the emergency room.” (Newsweek)

While this is a definite step in the right direction, there are still too many opportunities for a child to be affected by edibles.

Take the example of an 8-year-old Klamath Falls (OR) boy in February of 2016. He complained about feeling ill after coming home from a family outing.  He was having difficulty breathing and had trouble keeping his eyes open. He said that he was vibrating all over, that his stomach hurt and then he vomited. Thinking he had food poisoning, his mother asked what he had eaten that day. His answer was as simple as it was frightening.  He had found a cookie on the ground, unopened, still in its original packaging. He had been told to throw it away, but as 8-year-old boys often do, decided that he would disobey and instead ate the cookie when the instructing adult turned away. Alarmed, the mother was able to send someone back and find the packaging. According to the label, the cookie was infused with an estimated 50 milligrams of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana). (Oregon Live)

The boy in the above story was lucky. His mother took him to the hospital and he was treated with fluids for five hours.

In Colorado, the emphasis is on labeling all edibles in the following ways:

  • to indicate the amount of THC present
  • to indicate the dosage recommendation
  • to make it clear from the packaging or the item itself that the item contains marijuana

This is a good start for manufactured items, but this does not cover any homemade items. Our children need to be made aware that, as with alcohol or cigarettes, marijuana in ALL its forms is a controlled substance.  That brownie a classmate offers them can hurt them on many levels.  The lollipop that the “fun” adult gives them is harmful. The cookie that they find is dangerous.

What are some steps you can take to pass this information onto your child?

  1. Emphasize that marijuana is a drug. Make sure that they understand that while a doctor may prescribe a dangerous drug for medical reasons, even aspirin, under the wrong circumstances can cause a dangerous reaction for a child.
  1. Teach them to question the origin of any snack food that is shared with them. If they do not recognize the brand, asking questions is ok.  So is politely refusing the snack.
  1. Encourage them to learn the signs of a marijuana overdose, to be on the alert for effects that might happen to them via accidental ingestion and also to their friends. Extreme paranoia, Nausea, Increased heart rate, Uncontrollable shaking and potentially, Hallucinations.
  1. Tell them what to do next. Get medical attention for the person experiencing the symptoms. Contact a responsible adult.

For now, the selling of edibles is legal in Colorado and it seems as if it may stay that way for a while. And while reputable establishments will not sell to minors, it is up to the parents to give the child all the information they need to make healthy and informed choices, both as children and as future adults.

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