Marijuana Edibles: States Bite Off More Than They Can Chew

Colorado is not fully protecting its kids from pot, say experts

by Carleen Wild | Updated 20 Dec 2016 at 7:39 AM

Just a tiny amount of a marijuana edible may put someone over a level considered “safe.” Check out this news story:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper continues to warn his counterparts in other pro-marijuana states that there are problems — especially with edibles. He's talked repeatedly about the topic over the past year but he specifically addressed his fellow governors this past week in California at a Western Governor's Association conference.

"We didn't regulate edibles strongly enough at first," Hickenlooper said, as the Los Angeles Times reported.

Hickenlooper was never a supporter of recreational marijuana in Colorado, but he said his state has seen a rise in the number of children hospitalized from eating marijuana products.

Many products have been marketed to look just like regular candy and food — which means children have ingested them unknowingly and without thinking they're a big deal. But the edibles have landed a growing number of kids in the hospital — and even in treatment for early addiction and mental health issues.

Related: 'This is Not Your Father's Marijuana'

Will new regulations requiring better labeling make a difference? Colorado has yet to see. Ensuring candy is properly identified at a glance is now a requirement. The state has also banned any edibles that are animal-shaped or fruit-shaped. In addition, Hickenlooper has asked the state for $9.7 million in marijuana taxes to launch a new public awareness campaign aimed at teens and children. The money would be given to school districts to hire 105 health professionals statewide to focus on substance abuse prevention and intervention programs.

It cannot come fast enough for some.

"Edibles should be the primary focus of his warning because of the highly variable nature in which they are metabolized from one individual to the next," said Christine Miller, Ph.D., a neuroscientist who studies the impact of marijuana on mental health. "The outcome can be extremely dangerous, with no ability to predict in advance who will be severely affected."

Miller has a book coming out on the topic and told LifeZette that unlike with the smoked product, THC that is ingested in edible form goes through "first pass metabolism" by the liver. That organ generates "a suite of products that depend on everything from an individual's genetics to what that person has had to eat on that particular day." One of the products, 11-hydroxy-THC, is actually more potent in its psychiatric effects than is THC itself, said Miller.

The FDA has never approved a drug to be marketed in a food product.

An additional problem is that the amount consumed may be affected by how hungry the user is. The Food and Drug Administration has never approved a drug to be marketed in a food product — this represents an unscientific and untenable state of affairs. What should states that have permitted medical and/or recreational marijuana use do, either through legislative action or ballot initiative? Gov. Hickenlooper "should recommend that they ban edibles based on their public health risk, rather than waiting for the FDA to act (and they will, eventually)," added Miller.

Her biggest concerns for users are the negative mental health outcomes — including psychosis and suicidal intent. "We stand to lose a generation to this drug," she said. "About 5 percent of the weekly to daily users [of the high-strength product] can expect to develop chronic psychosis, and again, you cannot predict who is going to be at risk. Lesser impacts that are often preludes to the more serious outcomes include anxiety, depression and panic," said Miller.

Those who doubt the science, she said, can find out a lot about these symptoms from nonscientists by visiting marijuana users boards and doing searches on the words paranoid, panic, anxious, or depressed.

Related: How Much Do You Know About Marijuana Wax?

"Since Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana with Amendment 64 in 2012, Colorado's youth have served as guinea pigs in a risky experiment," a group known as Smart Colorado, a Colorado-based nonprofit, posted on its website. "The results have been sobering."

The organization has pulled together what it says are "lessons learned" — resources for other states looking for guidance as they get set to loosen restrictions on pot and implement their own new marijuana laws.

Colorado also announced plans last week to spend $2.35 million to research the effects of marijuana, with most of the money aiding in two studies analyzing the impact marijuana has on driving, the Denver Post reported.

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