4 Must-Know Facts About Marijuana Edibles

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Conversations about the legalization of marijuana are taking place in households all over the country right now. No matter how you feel about the topic, it’s important for parents to understand what any increased availability of marijuana products can mean for our families. Marijuana edibles are one such product that can pose dangers to our children.

What are marijuana edibles? They are food products that contain marijuana. As a fellow parent, I think it’s critical to understand four main points about these products:

  1. the way they are packaged,
  2. the amount of drug they contain,
  3. how the drug is absorbed in the body, and
  4. the availability of the edibles.

Packaging Can Look Like Candy
Marijuana edible products are mass-produced and are often made to look very similar to popular brand name candy and food products. For example, the package may resemble a Kit Kat® or Butterfinger® wrapper, but the title is slightly altered to include a name associated with marijuana. Examples include “Buddahfinger,” “Keef Kat,” “Munchy Way,” “Pot Tarts” and so on. It would be very easy for a child, or even some adults, to mistake a piece of candy or other food item that contains marijuana with a regular food item. Having these child-attracting products in the home increases the risk of kids accidentally being exposed to marijuana.

Amount of Drug and Serving Sizes
In addition to the attractive packaging, marijuana edibles often contain much higher amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than what is considered a safe dose. In fact, some products can contain four or more times the safe dose. In addition, these products are typically sold in multi-serving packages. One cookie or piece of candy may contain five or six servings. Users may overlook the serving size when ingesting these edible marijuana products and consume the entire piece of candy or cookie, resulting in an overdose.

Absorption and Timing of Drug Effect
Another concern is the way marijuana is absorbed into the body when it is ingested. When marijuana edibles are ingested, the psychotropic effects of the drug are delayed for 30-90 minutes afterward. The maximum or peak effect of the drug is not reached until two to three hours after ingestion, and the effects last on average from four to 12 hours. Someone experimenting with marijuana edibles might not feel the effects as quickly as expected. That could cause the user to eat more of the edible which can lead to overdose. (There is a reported case of this happening where it indirectly resulted in a teen’s death.)

In addition, this timing of drug effect is very different from what users experience when they smoke marijuana. When marijuana is inhaled, the psychotropic effects begin almost immediately, within minutes of use, with a peak effect within 15-30 minutes, and a duration of drug effect of two to three hours. Users who are used to smoking marijuana may not realize the differences in absorption of the drug and the subsequent delay in feeling the effects of the drug. This may, again, lead to users ingesting more than the recommended serving size.

Edibles are Readily Available
The availability of edible products in states that have legalized marijuana is widespread. Products may be purchased in local stores and through online retailers by those age 21 and older.

These four factors of marijuana edibles — packaging, drug amount, absorption rate, and availability — can all contribute to accidental exposure in young children. Unintentional ingestions in kids under 12 have started being reported in at least one Colorado children’s hospital emergency department over the past few years.

The chance for accidental ingestion of marijuana by kids is very real. The safety of our children should be at the forefront of our minds as we think about the legalization of marijuana products. It is important for parents to understand the potential dangers so we can help keep our kids as safe as possible.

Becoming educated about issues like this helps me start conversations with my kids so I can guide them in making good choices as they grow up. I hope it helps you do the same.

Please do not hesitate to call the Drug and Poison Information Center if you have any questions. We are here to help 24 hours a day at 1-800-222-1222.

Photo credit: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

Sheila Goertemoeller, PharmD, D.ABAT

About the Author: Sheila Goertemoeller, PharmD, D.ABAT

Sheila Goertemoeller PharmD, DABAT, ICPS is a pharmacist and clinical toxicologist with 22 years of experience at the Drug and Poison Information Center Hotline at Cincinnati Children’s.

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