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Cannabis Edibles Aren’t as Safe as People Think

Share on Pinterest Overconsumption of cannabis can happen more easily when it’s used in edible form and it can have adverse effects on a person’s health, especially in youths and older adults. Getty Images

  • Both young and older adults are at greater risk of overconsumption and accidental ingestion of cannabis edibles.
  • Unlike inhaled cannabis, ingested cannabis must be digested first before being absorbed.
  • This delay can lead inexperienced users to inadvertently overconsume because they might not feel the intended effects immediately.

Despite their appearance, cannabis edibles — sweet treats like gummies and chocolate bars infused with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive component of marijuana — can be risky for some users.

They may look just like candy, but these potent products definitely aren’t for kids. And that’s part of the problem.

In a new article appearing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers outlined the most prominent risks associated with cannabis edibles for different users and found that young people are among the most at-risk when it comes to overconsumption and accidental ingestion.

The other most at risk: older adults.

And for those two groups, there are some serious potential adverse health problems that can sometimes result in a trip to the emergency room or just a really, really bad day.

In places where marijuana is legal recreationally and there’s data available, cannabis edibles still remain just a small part of the overall industry. However, in some cases, as in Colorado, they’ve put a disproportionate number of people in the hospital.

There are specific reasons for that, some of which are owed to the difference in how the body processes cannabis based on how it’s consumed.

It’s well established that cannabis edibles take significantly longer than inhaled marijuana to enter the bloodstream.

Smoking results in a near instantaneous onset, whereas consuming cannabis commonly takes between 30 to 60 minutes. But that can vary depending on many different factors including the user’s metabolism and the contents of the edible itself.

“Overconsumption is a significant concern because of the delayed time to onset of its intended effects. Unlike inhaled cannabis, ingested cannabis must be digested first before being absorbed, and once it has been ingested, it’s on board, which means people might not feel effects immediately and hence inadvertently overconsume,” said Dr. Lawrence Loh, MPH, an author of the research and faculty member at the University of Toronto.

Other significant factors in determining how quickly an edible could kick in include: sex, weight, diet, and tolerance to cannabis.

The effects of marijuana edibles also last a lot longer than smoking, with peak THC blood levels occurring around 3 hours after consumption.

The latency of the high from edibles can frequently result in an all-too-common scenario for some users: eating the edible, not feeling the effects immediately, and then consuming more.

By the time the effects are felt, the user could be in over their head.

There’s the potential for cannabis-induced psychosis, which results in paranoia, confusion, and hallucinations.

Particularly in older adults, cannabis can also result in cardiac events.

Last year, the Canadian Journal of Cardiology published a case report on a 70-year-old man who had a heart attack after ingesting a cannabis lollipop.

Cannabis is known to affect the cardiovascular system and can cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

Previous research has shown a higher risk of heart attack following the use of cannabis.

But overconsumption also presents specific risks for different age groups, as outlined in the new Canadian report.

For youths, the risks outlined include panic attacks, psychosis, and hyperemesis syndrome — a serious condition that results in uncontrollable vomiting.

There are also potential long-term effects from cannabis consumption beginning at a young age, including “impaired brain development and poor mental health.”

Older adults, the other at-risk group outlined in the report, may experience increased cognitive impairment, risk of falls, heart arrhythmia, and various drug interactions.

According to Loh, these two groups are at higher risk because, “[They] have different metabolic rates and pharmacokinetics than other groups and hence respond differently… For seniors, many may have other conditions that might place them at risk of overconsumption and other indirectly related health issues.”

Rais Vohra, the Medical Director for California Poison Control System Fresno Madera District, told Healthline that his experience in dealing with emergencies associated with cannabis edibles are consistent with findings in the report.

He emphasized how important it is to keep these products out of the hands of children in order to avoid accidental exposure.

“What we really try to repeat over and over again is that kids and cannabis don’t mix. We really should be treating these edibles like we do alcoholic beverages and prescription medications and really trying to keep them out of the hands of toddlers and children who can accidentally ingest them,” he said.

And prevention is the best measure because when it comes to treating cannabis overconsumption, there are few options besides just riding it out.

“There’s really no antidote to marijuana toxicity. So, whenever somebody is having these effects of marijuana intoxication you really have to just give them supportive care and let time do its thing,” said Vohra.

“As their body metabolizes the cannabis they will become normal again. It may take a day or two and in the meantime they may require intensive supportive care,” he added.

Vohra said that when it comes to marijuana overconsumption he commonly recommends “home observation,” meaning a trip to the ER probably isn’t necessary.

However, for some extreme cases — particularly in young children and infants — a visit to the hospital is a good idea.

Good regulation of cannabis edibles is the first step in making sure no one ever ends up in the ER because of them.

In Canada, these regulations demand that edibles are stored in plain, child-resistant packaging and require a standardized health warning sign on them.

“Common sense and best business practices dictate that in a legally regulated adult-use market, cannabis-infused edible products ought to be readily distinguishable from non-infused products by their packaging. Moreover, such products ought to be properly and accurately labeled for potency and cannabinoid content and served in childproof packaging,” said Paul Armentano, the Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Armentano was not affiliated with the report.

The report also calls for more widespread community-based education around edible cannabis and encourages physicians to more openly discuss marijuana usage with their patients.

“I think that any step that we add to ensure safety, they all synergize. At the community level people just need education and reminders in many different forms that these products can be hazardous,” said Vohra.

Overconsumption of cannabis can happen more easily when it's used in edible form and it can have adverse affects on a person's health, especially youths and older adults.

Cannabis Pro Tips: Make Your Own Edibles with Healthy Infused Recipes

We love getting crafty over here, and one of our favorite ways is cooking with cannabis. If you love cannabis and you’ve got the cooking bug, it’s easy as pie to make your own delicious cannabis infused recipes (yes, you can actually make pie with them, too!). All you need are homemade cannabis-infused oil and a little free time.

We’ll share a simple method for making your own cannabis infusion. And guess what? If you don’t have the free time, don’t sweat it: You can always use a premade tincture instead! Ready? Get your weed out and your apron on!

Cannabis Infused Recipes: How to Make Your Own Canna-Oil or Canna-Butter

Because it’s nothing more than an oil rich in THC and other cannabinoids, homemade canna-oil is a delicious (and incredibly versatile) product to have up your sleeve. And because you make it yourself, you have control over which oil and which strain of cannabis you use. Here’s the basic method:

Measure out 1 cup of fresh cannabis flower (or, better yet, AVB: Already Vaped Bud) and 1 cup of the cooking oil or butter of your choice (we love fruity olive oils or rich and neutral-tasting coconut oil)

Carefully grind the cannabis into small chunks (but not a powder). You want the pieces large enough so that a kitchen strainer will catch all the plant matter later.

Combine the oil and the cannabis in a double-boiler or a slow cooker and heat them on “low” or “warm” for a few hours. You can use a regular saucepan, but you run the risk of scorching the oil (especially if you’re using butter!).

Whichever method you use, get an inexpensive kitchen thermometer and make sure the temperature doesn’t exceed 245°F. Let the infusion cook for as long as you can; we recommend 4 – 6 hours in a slow cooker, 6 – 8 hours in a double-boiler, or at least 3 hours in a saucepan.

Once the oil is fully infused, carefully pour it through a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Resist the urge to squeeze all the oil out; this will add more chlorophyll (but not more cannabinoids). You’re done! The oil will keep for at least two months on a dark pantry shelf, and typically longer in the refrigerator.

Using Tinctures

Of course, you can always make infused recipes by adding a few drops of already-prepared cannabis tincture. The amount will vary depending on potency, but a good starting point is to add 1mL of tincture per person to any recipe. If you don’t feel any effects after an hour, take another mL (and remember to start with 2mL per person next time!).

Healthy Cooking Ideas

Once you’ve prepared your homemade canna-oil, the sky’s the limit! Mix a splash into a vinaigrette for a truly special green salad, stir it into pancake or waffle batter for an “elevated” brunch, or use it to make stir-fries and sautes. We think the mild weed flavor is especially good with Indian recipes like this simple lentil dal.

Source: The Wanderlust Kitchen

A word of caution: The effects from consuming cannabis-infused oils are different from smoking or vaping. The high will take its time coming on—we suggest waiting at least an hour—and they’ll tend to be longer-lasting. So while you’re figuring out just how strong your homemade oil is, use a little less than you think you should. Remember, you can always take more, but you can’t take less!

Ready to get cooking? Stop by our Sherman Oaks dispensary to get your supplies!

If you love cannabis and you’ve got the cooking bug, it’s easy to make your own delicious edibles. Here are some tips and healthy cannabis infused recipes.