The Real Dangers of Consuming Marijuana Edibles

What Are Edibles?

Edibles are food products that have been infused with marijuana. These products come in a variety of different forms that can include:1
  • Baked goods.
  • Candies.
  • Gummies.
  • Chocolates.
  • Lozenges.
  • Beverages.
Edibles can be homemade or prepared commercially for dispensaries. When made at home the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is usually extracted into oil or butter that can be used in cooking or spread directly on food.  Although smoking remains the most prevalent method of marijuana consumption, the ingestion of edibles is quickly becoming a popular way to take the drug. Unfortunately, many people who consume edibles are unaware of the dangers associated with their use.

The Risks of Consuming Edibles

Long-Lasting Effects

The effects of marijuana edibles last much longer than smoking, usually up to several hours depending on the amount of THC consumed, the amount and types of the last food eaten, and other drugs or alcohol used at the same time.2 

Unknown Potency

The amount of THC is difficult to measure and is often unknown in many edibles. Regulations and quality assurance regarding the determination of THC content and product labeling are generally lacking, and as a result the dosage estimation for many edibles is often inaccurate.3 Consequently, many products contain significantly more THC than labeled and people who consume these edibles can be caught off-guard by their strength and long-lasting effects.4

Delayed Onset and High Potential for Overdose

Perhaps the most prominent difference between smoking marijuana and eating edibles is the delayed onset of effects associated with edibles. Whereas the effects of marijuana usually occur within minutes of smoking, it can take between 30 minutes to 2 hours to experience the effects from edibles.5 This delay can result in some people consuming a greater than intended amount of drug before it has taken effect.  Marijauna overdose is also referred to as acute marijuna intoxication.6 Research has shown that edibles are the form of marijuana consumption most likely to lead to emergency room visits for marijuana overdose, and the authors of at least one study believe that this is due to the failure of users to fully understand the delayed effects of these products.7 

Serious Negative Side Effects

The symptoms associated with eating highly potent edibles are often much more severe than the symptoms experienced after smoking marijuana.  According to Dr. Nora Volkow, the current director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, edibles are now being associated with “medical complications that we never knew were associated with marijuana”.8  Some of the more adverse effects associated with the consumption of edibles include:1,9 
  • Drowsiness.
  • Confusion.
  • Vomiting.
  • Anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Agitation.
  • Psychotic episodes.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Paranoia.
  • Impaired motor ability.
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Heart problems (ranging from irregular heartbeat to heart attack).

Increased Likelihood to Cause Self-Harm or Hurt Others

Due to the delayed onset and uncertain potency of edibles, many people who use these products may unintentionally consume excessively high amounts of THC.  One of the consequences of taking in too much of the drug too quickly is users can become violent or unaware of their actions. These individuals may exhibit self-harming behaviors or hurt others while in this state, behaviors that they likely never would have engaged in while sober.  There have been several tragic incidents caused by unusual and risky behaviors stemming from the consumption of edibles. One man, while on a family ski trip, shot himself in the head hours after ingesting a number of marijuana-laced candies.10  Another man, while on a spring break trip with college friends, plummeted to his death after jumping off his 4th floor hotel room balcony mere hours after consuming a marijuana cookie.11   Another man was recently sentenced to 30 years in prison for the fatal shooting of his wife.12 Prior to her death, the wife had called 911 out of concern for the erratic behavior and hallucinations that her husband was experiencing after eating marijuana-laced candies.

Treatment Options

Regardless of the form of consumption that is preferred, whether it be by smoking or eating, the use of marijuana can easily turn into a serious problem. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 3 in 10 marijuana users will continue use of the drug despite clinically significant distress or impairment, a condition that is known as a marijuana use disorder.13 Other studies report that at least 1 in 11 people who abuse marijuana will develop an addiction to the drug over time.14  If you are suffering from the effects of marijuana abuse or addiction, please know that help is available. Contact a substance abuse rehabilitation center today to learn about the available marijuana addiction programs that can be tailored to meet your specific needs and help you get on the path to sobriety.

Sources

  1. Barrus, D.G., Capogrossi, K.L., Cates, S.C., Gourdet, C.K., Peiper, N.C., Novak, S.P., Lefever, T.W., & Wiley J.L. (2016). Tasty THC: Promises and Challenges of Cannabis Edibles. Methods Report (RTI Press).
  2. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2019). Drug Alert: Marijuana Edibles.
  3. Vandrey, R., Raber, J.C., Raber, M.E, Douglass, B., Miller, C., Bonn-Miller, M.O. (2015). Cannabinoid Dose and Label Accuracy in Edible Medical Cannabis Products. Journal of the American Medical Association, 313(24), 2491-2493.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Marijuana: How Can It Affect Your Health?
  5. Grotenhermen, F. (2003). Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of cannabinoids. Clinical Pharmacokinetics, 42(4), 327-60.
  6. Children’s Hospital Colorado. (2019). Acute Marijuana Intoxication.
  7. Volkow, N.D., & Baler, R. (2019). Emergency Department Visits From Edible Versus Inhalable Cannabis. Annals of Internal Medicine, 170(8), 569-570.
  8. Science News. (2016). Edibles are tied to more severe health issues than smoking marijuana.
  9. Cao, D., Srisuma, S., Bronstein, A.C., & Hoyte, C.O. (2016). Characterization of edible marijuana product exposures reported to United States poison centers. Clinical Toxicology, 54(9), 840-846.
  10. CBS Denver. (2015). Marijuana Edibles Blamed For Keystone Death.
  11. Denver Post. (2014). Man who plunged from Denver balcony ate 6x recommended amount of pot cookie.
  12. Denver Post. (2017). Richard Kirk sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2014 Observatory Park slaying of his wife.
  13. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Is marijuana addictive?
  14. Lopez-Quintero, C., Pérez de los Cobos, J., Hasin, D.S., Okuda, M., Wang, S., Grant, B.F., & Blanco, C. (2011). Probability and predictors of transition from first use to dependence on nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine: results of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 115(1-2), 120-130.
Last Updated on December 23, 2019
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