Friday, April 18, 2014

The Marijuana Legalization Experiment: How Safe Are Edibles?

Yesterday, I spoke to Brandon Rittiman on 9News about two recent deaths in the Denver area that are related to marijuana edibles. In one case, a college student allegedly ate a cookie and then panicked and fell from a balcony to his death. In another case, a 47 year-old man allegedly shot and killed his wife after eating a small edible candy. His wife was on the phone with 911 at the time, saying she thought he was hallucinating.

In the story, I am quoted as saying we will look back at this time 15-20 years from now and be shocked that edibles were ever legal.

Needless to say, I caught some grief from pro-legalization folks because of that statement. I can understand why--marijuana has been illegal for a long time and numerous people have argued it is safer than many other legal substances. Now that it is legal, it must feel terrible to hear stories of people doing stupid, dangerous things while high.

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To put my comment in some context, here is my thinking:

1. Edibles are small. One piece of candy is approximately the size of, well, a piece of candy. The cookies are normally sized cookies.

2. Many edibles are supposed to be more than one serving, with each serving containing 10mg of THC, the psychoactive substance in cannabis.

3. In the case of the student who fell to his death, the cookie he ate (mind you, this cookie is about the size of an Oreo) had 65mg of THC in it. Can you imagine cutting an Oreo into 6.5 equal pieces?

4. In the case of the man who killed his wife, he ate a piece of candy about the size of a Halloween-sized Tootsie Roll. It had 101mg of THC in it.

5. It can take up to two hours for an individual to start to feel intoxicated after consuming an edible.

6. It is common to hear of new cannabis users who eat a small portion of an edible, don't feel anything, and then eat the remainder of the product a few minutes later. This is was happened with the student who died, according to witnesses.

7. Cannabis strains that are selected for intoxication (as opposed to those used as pain relievers) are bred to maximize the amount of THC in the product and minimize the amount of CBD.

8. Despite what many will claim, there are strong links between excessive marijuana consumption and acute psychosis.

9. CBD acts as a natural antipsychotic, so when it is missing from an edible that has a high THC level, the effects of the THC can be magnified.

10. Kids like candy.

It is important to point out that the vast majority of the time, marijuana does not cause psychosis. It does not cause suicide. It does not cause homicide. And, it is also important to point out that there are many other legal psychoactive substances that are dangerous (alcohol and cigarettes immediately come to mind). Finally, there is no question that the nation's drug/alcohol laws are, at best, hypocritical at times.

Also, I hope the marijuana experiment works. It is legal in Colorado now, and it looks like it is here to stay. There may even be some positive benefits to society, such as cutting down on black market drug-related violence.

But, research points to the notion that highly potent edibles are dangerous. They have the potential to be abused, sometimes accidentally. And, their accidental abuse potential increases amongst new users, who are not aware of how potent they are. These are the very users who are most at risk for cannabis-induced psychosis and acting out in a dangerous manner while overly intoxicated. When THC is mixed with prescription medications, which may have been the case with the man who killed his wife in Colorado, the danger level can increase significantly.

Even worse, kids are at high risk for accidental ingestion.

It is my opinion that the risks associated with high-potency edibles are not something the public will be willing to accept, and because of that, I don't think they will be on the market much longer. Something else might replace them, such as edibles that only have 10mg of THC per food unit. But, we will look back at the beginning of the marijuana legalization experiment and be shocked that edibles, in their current form, were ever legal.

SPECIAL NOTE: A few days after it was reported that the Colorado man who killed his wife had eaten an edible, the shop that sold him the product pulled all of their edibles off the shelves.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.


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