Marijuana Myths: How to Overcome Concerns about Edibles

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a report last week on the potential dangers of edible marijuana products as part of a regular series on new developments and trends regarding accidental fatalities.

The CDC reviewed a March, 2014 report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) about the accidental death of a 19-year-old man who consumed a marijuana cookie given to him by a friend.

The edible product had a label indicating the ingredients contained 65 mg of THC, also specifying that this was the main ingredient in marijuana and that the cookies contained 6.5 servings. The sales clerk had also indicated that the cookie should be broken up into six parts and that only one part should be consumed.

The decedent was described in the police report as “marijuana-naïve, with no known history of alcohol abuse, illicit drug use, or mental illness.” He ate one piece of the cookie. When no effects were felt after 30 minutes, he ate the rest of the cookie. After about two hours, he was speaking erratically and was acting hostile.

About a half hour after that he jumped off of a fourth floor balcony, causing his death.

The toxicology report indicated that the deceased has a blood level of 7.2 ng/mg of THC. In Colorado, the level for determining driving while intoxicated is 5.0 ng/mL.

The CDC is alerting public health authorities about the potential dangers related to overdoses involving edible marijuana products. Specifically, the CDC report emphasizes “a need for improved public health messaging to reduce the risk of overconsumption of THC.” The CDC takes note that the decedent “was advised against eating multiple servings at one time” and instead ate a total of six servings.

The concerns with edibles are related to the relatively slow onset of effects, usually one to two hours after ingestion compared to a peak effect of 5 to 10 minutes with smoked marijuana.

Colorado has labeling requirements for edibles, and the store in this case was in compliance with state law. The Denver Police tested all 67 remaining cookies of the same brand in the store, and all were found to be in compliance with state limits.

While this incident occurred in 2014 and was widely reported, this recent article from the CDC is devoting more attention to issues regarding the sale and use of edible marijuana products.

According to the CDC, “Because of the delayed effects of THC-infused edibles, multiple servings might be consumed in close succession before experiencing the “high” from the initial serving, as reportedly occurred in this case. Consuming a large dose of THC can result in a higher THC concentration, greater intoxication, and an increased risk for adverse psychological effects.”

One of the key aspects of this case, as noted by the CDC, is that “the police report did not indicate whether the sales clerk provided specific instructions for how long to wait between ingesting each serving.”

The edible industry has and will continue to take steps to ensure the safe use of its products. Marijuana users must also take conscious and deliberate efforts to educate and guide new users about safety and responsible use. The old maxim “less is more” takes on a renewed and important meaning with respect to the use of edible cannabis products.

In this case, several precautions were taken to prevent such an overdose from taking place. Despite the best efforts of society, industry, and individuals, people often do foolish things that result in personal harm and/or death. There are even television shows dedicated to documenting the various poor decisions people have made producing personal injuries—often viewed for their entertainment value as well as their cautionary tales.

Nonetheless, with marijuana legalization at such a crucial stage in this country, it is important for marijuana users and community leaders to emphasize and reinforce principles of safe and responsible use of all cannabis products.

New users should only take one dose of a marijuana edible product. Users should be aware that it may take several hours to feel the peak effects of edibles. This may seem like common sense to experienced marijuana users—but the key word here is experience.

Under legalization, a lot of Americans will be trying marijuana for the first time. Make sure they have a positive experience by teaching them about safe and responsible use.

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