Edible marijuana is processed differently in the body than smoked marijuana, sometimes leading to overconsumption and dangerous side effects.
While consuming marijuana in the form of a candy or cookie may seem harmless, many users’ experience has shown the opposite. Although marijuana itself has rarely been linked to serious side effects, the same is not true for marijuana edibles. Experts think this may be due to the different way your body processes marijuana edibles, leading to a more potent and longer-lasting high.
What Are Edibles?
Edibles refer to any edible food or drink containing marijuana or any of its active ingredients, most often tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Generally, the edible product is infused with cannabis extract. Marijuana is heated in an oil-based liquid to obtain the extract.
Compared to other ways of consuming marijuana, edibles are known for producing a delayed high. Further, they may be more discreetly consumed than marijuana from a blunt, vape pen or bong. Edibles are often broken down into four categories:
- Sativa only: Sativa strains of marijuana contain both THC and CBD and are known for a high that makes the user feel more energetic or creative.
- Indica only: Indica strains contain both THC and CBD and are known for their sedating effects.
- Hybrids: Hybrid edibles include both Sativa and Indica and contain both THC and CBD.
- CBD only: CBD is a component of marijuana that can relieve pain or anxiety without providing the psychoactive high associated with THC.
Types of Marijuana Edibles
There has been some concern that the legalization of recreational marijuana may translate to increased use of marijuana in new forms. Marijuana edibles are not new, but a variety of edibles have become available in recent years. Some common types of edibles include:
- Marijuana baked goods: Marijuana brownies and marijuana cookies are among the most common baked goods, but nearly any baked item can have marijuana.
- Marijuana chocolate and candies: Chocolates, truffles and hard candies, including lollipops, can have marijuana in them.
- Marijuana and CBD gummies: Marijuana gummies are popular, as are gummies with CBD.
- Infused beverages: Cannabis-infused drinks have become popular in recent years. Soda, coffee drinks, juice, sports drinks and flavored or unflavored water can all have marijuana infused into them.
- Other types of edibles: Ice cream, breath mints and even beef jerky can contain marijuana.
Notably, some marijuana edibles have several servings in them. For example, one bar of marijuana chocolate may have multiple 10 mg servings. If someone has a low marijuana tolerance and eats an entire bar of chocolate, they may experience unpleasant side effects, like:
- Fast heartbeat
- Facial flushing
- Dry mouth
Importantly, homemade edibles can have highly variable amounts of marijuana and can easily lead to a marijuana overdose.
11 Dangers of Edibles
It is easy to underestimate the dangers of edibles, especially when people are not familiar with edible marijuana products. Given the increasing legality of marijuana edibles, it is important to be aware of the risks to use them safely.
1. Delayed Onset
Unlike smoking marijuana, which has a relatively fast onset, eating marijuana products leads to a high with a delayed onset. This effect can cause someone to consume much more marijuana than they are ready for. When an expected high is slow to appear, a person may take more than they should, erroneously thinking that they need a higher dose. Taking too much marijuana at once has led to overdose.
2. Longer-Lasting Effects
Because of the way edible marijuana is metabolized in the body, it becomes water-soluble, meaning that it can last longer and may have more pronounced effects. This was the case with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who experienced an unintentional overconsumption with unpleasant and long-lasting side effects. She wrote an op-ed about her experience.
3. Enhanced Negative Side Effects
Extensive data is available documenting the increased side effects edible marijuana has compared to smoked marijuana. The reason for this discrepancy stems from how THC is metabolized. When marijuana is eaten, more THC makes it to the liver. The liver breaks it down into several byproducts, including 11-hydroxy-THC, which may be more psychoactive than THC itself.
4. Variable Potency
Particularly when black market marijuana is used for homemade edible products, marijuana’s potency can vary widely. This may lead to unpredictable side effects, especially if the person consuming the edible is not used to marijuana.
5. Inconsistent Regulations
Labeling requirements for marijuana edibles vary widely by state, leading to inconsistencies in how edibles are packaged and sold. Further, those attempting to make their own homemade edibles may accidentally overindulge due to the inconsistent potency of marijuana products. It is difficult to ensure a uniform consistency of marijuana throughout a product.
6. Easy to Confuse with Regular Food and Candy
A marijuana edible may look and taste very similar to products without marijuana, so it can be easy for a person to unintentionally be exposed to marijuana. If pets and children accidentally consume marijuana-laced edibles, it can be dangerous.
7. Unintentional Overconsumption
For people who have never used marijuana, the biggest danger associated with edibles is eating too much, too quickly. In Colorado, where marijuana edibles are easily available to residents over the age of 21, there have already been numerous medical events related to marijuana edibles. Two Denver residents died after eating marijuana-laced products, and hundreds of others have gone to the ER in need of treatment after ingesting too much. Why? Because it’s easy to take too much. Most people are used to eating a cookie or two without a thought: but a serving of a marijuana-laced cookie may be as little as one-sixth of the cookie. For this reason, the uninitiated may easily eat too much attempting to get high.
8. Harm to Self or Others
While under the influence, users can become violent or unaware. They may hurt themselves or hurt others while in this state, behaviors they may never have engaged in while sober. One man allegedly shot his wife while she was on the phone with 911 after she told the operator that he had ingested some marijuana-laced candies.
9. Unknown Effects on the Brain & Body
Many known side effects of smoking marijuana exist, including the possibility of long-term lung damage and changes in mood. However, few studies exist on how edibles may impact brain growth and development, especially in adolescents and teens. Unfortunately, marijuana research in the United States is difficult to pursue due to federal regulations.
10. Drug Mixing Risks
Consuming marijuana edibles in combination with other drugs, particularly alcohol, is a bad idea. THC may worsen the effects of alcohol, increasing the likelihood that someone will participate in risky behaviors like drunk driving or binge drinking.
Because it’s easy to eat too much and comes in a palatable and easy-to-use form, regular use of edible marijuana may follow. Marijuana addiction can quickly become a problem for the user, with all the social and mental health issues that characterize the disease.
Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drugs of Abuse.” 2020. Accessed December 9, 2020.
Weber Packaging. “Cannabis Labeling Requirements By State.” June 2018. Accessed December 9, 2020.
Barrus, Daniel G.; Capogrossi, Kristen L.; Cates, Sheryl C.; et al. “Tasty THC: Promises and Challenges of Cannabis Edibles.” Methods Rep RTI Press, November 2016. Accessed December 9, 2020.
Dowd, Maureen. “Don’t Harsh Our Mellow, Dude.” New York Times, June 3, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2020.
Farah, Troy. “Why Do Edibles Give You A Different High Than Smoking?” Vice, February 2018. Accessed December 9, 2020.
KUSA. “Colo. to revisit edible marijuana rules after deaths.” USA Today, April 29, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2020.
CBS. “Man who ate pot candy must stand trial in wife’s killing.” August 25, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2020.
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