Marijuana use in teens has been declining somewhat in recent years. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, data from 2018 indicates that 12.5% of 12 to 17 year-olds reported marijuana use at least once in the past year, and 6.7% reported marijuana use in the past month.

There has been some concern that the legalization of recreational marijuana may translate to increased use of marijuana among teenagers. With new ways to consume marijuana becoming more common, parents have reason to be concerned that their teenagers are using marijuana right under their noses. Marijuana edibles are not new, but an astonishing variety of edibles have become available in recent years.

What Are Edibles?

Edibles refer to any edible food or drink that contains marijuana or any of its active ingredients, most often THC or CBD. Edibles are often broken down into four categories.

  • The four categories of edibles:

    1. Sativa only: Sativa strains of marijuana are known for a high that may promote creativity or provide the user with energy.
    2. Indica only: Indica strains are known for their sedating effects.
    3. Hybrids: Hybrid edibles include both Sativa and indica.
    4. CBD only: CBD is a component of marijuana that can relieve pain or anxiety without providing the psychoactive high that is associated with THC.

Types of Marijuana Edibles

  • Some common types of edibles:

    • 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 very 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.

Many 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 have an unpleasant experience.

When recreational marijuana was first legalized, there were rarely informational labels on edibles. Now every edible sold is required to include the total amount of THC (or CBD) included in the edible, as well as the amount of THC/CBD in each serving and the number of servings in the edible. In Oregon, one serving of THC is considered to be 5 mg, but in Colorado, California and Washington one serving is 10 mg of THC.

Importantly, homemade edibles can have highly variable amounts of marijuana. Consuming homemade marijuana edibles should be done with caution.

Dangers of Edible Drugs

For people who have never used marijuana, the biggest danger associated with edibles is eating too much, too quickly. Medical professionals in the marijuana industry suggest that a marijuana novice start with small amounts before consuming more. Unlike smoking marijuana, which has a relatively fast onset, eating THC has a very delayed onset. This effect can cause someone to consume much more marijuana than they are ready for.

The reason why edibles have different effects than smoking marijuana stems from how THC is metabolized. When marijuana is eaten, more THC makes it to the liver, where it is broken down into a number of byproducts, including 11-hydroxy-THC, which may be more psychoactive than THC itself.

  • Risk of Overdose:

    It is worth noting that there are no verified marijuana overdose deaths, either by eating or smoking marijuana. While over-consuming edibles can set someone up for an uncomfortable few hours, unless they have consumed other drugs or alcohol there is very little immediate danger. This cannot be said for alcohol or common prescription drugs like opioids and benzodiazepines, which are associated with hundreds of thousands of annual deaths, profoundly debilitating physical and psychological addiction and lifelong struggles with substance use disorders that are incredibly challenging to manage.

  • Effects on the Brain & Body:

    There are a number of known effects of smoking marijuana on the teenage brain, but data on how edibles affect teenage brain growth and development remains an area of active research. Unfortunately, marijuana research in the United States is incredibly difficult to pursue due to astonishingly restrictive federal regulations that have prevented evidence-based approaches to marijuana policy and regulation for decades.

    Studies done in other countries have published a substantial body of data showing that marijuana is associated with a far lower risk of immediate and long-term harm than alcohol, tobacco, opioids, cocaine, amphetamine-type stimulants (e.g., Ritalin) and benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax). In addition, research from American laboratories (as rare as it may be) supports that marijuana is the least toxic drug, legal or otherwise.

  • Drug Mixing Risks:

    Consuming marijuana edibles in combination with other drugs, particularly alcohol, is a bad idea. THC increases the already dangerous effects of alcohol and can increase the likelihood that someone will participate in risky behaviors like drunk driving or binge drinking.

    It is important that teenagers and parents be aware of the very real risks associated with marijuana use. Regular marijuana use among teenagers is associated with worse academic and athletic performance, and college students who regularly smoke marijuana perform more poorly academically and socially than non-marijuana users. Research on whether edibles have similar effects remain ongoing.

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