The Rise of Edible Marijuana Products

How common are edible marijuana products?

The legalization of marijuana has become a popular topic of discussion for Canadians, as the federal government has said that changes are coming to the legal status of marijuana in Canada.

With all the buzz surrounding our marijuana legalization, head shops and retailers have opened ahead of new laws. However, dried, cured marijuana flowers — the typical substance bought, sold and smoked on the street — is not the only product one can get at these shops.

Edible marijuana products — brownies, cookies, candies, infused beverages and so on — are becoming more and more popular as a way to get high. These products look a lot like their marijuana-free counterparts, making them hard spot, so people are choosing them if they want a more subtle way to get high. But because these products look just like any other brownie, candy or chocolate bar, they can be eaten by children and adults without them knowing about their contents or possible effects.

How common are edible marijuana products?

Between January 2013 and December 2015, there were 430 cases of human exposure to marijuana brownies, candies, cookies, beverages or other foods reported to the National Poison Data System (NPDS) in the United States. The number of calls reported increased over time throughout the study, and the majority of the reported cases, not surprisingly, came from states with decriminalized marijuana laws (i.e., Colorado and Washington).

Are there harms associated with consuming edible marijuana products?

Of all the cases reported to the NPDS, the most common age-groups were those less than five years old, and those between 13 and 19 years old! Edible marijuana products pose real danger to these children; marijuana interferes with normal brain development and children under the age of five and between 13 and 19 years old are undergoing rapid and extensive brain development.

For more information on the effects of marijuana on brain development, check out The Effects of Cannabis Use during Adolescence, a report published by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

The good news is that no one has died as a results of being exposed to edible marijuana products. The main symptoms reported to the NPDS were drowsiness, tachycardia (fancy way of saying a very fast heart beat), agitation and irritability, and confusion.

While most of the clinical effects associated with exposure to edible marijuana products were minor, the increasing numbers of exposure over time is of major concern. These data are from American sources, and most exposures happened in states that have already relaxed their laws around marijuana consumption. Will the same trends happen in the provinces and territories if marijuana is legalized in Canada?

For more information, see Characterization of edible marijuana product exposures reported to United States poison centers.