Marijuana edibles are becoming increasingly popular among teens and pose risks beyond those associated with traditional marijuana use. Candies, brownies, cakes, chocolate bars, beverages, tinctures and sprays containing high levels of THC are available in dispensaries around the nation. Even marijuana-infused coffee may soon be available in the state of Washington. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2014 Monitoring the Future survey, 40 percent of twelfth graders residing in states that legalized medical marijuana reported consuming edibles within the last year. Twenty-six percent of twelfth graders in states without medical marijuana legalization reported the same. This reinforces the notion that legalization of marijuana (recreationally and/or medically) in various states has increased the availability of edibles, which has proven dangerous to teens and young adults nationwide.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical in marijuana that produces physical and psychological effects on the user. The chemical attaches to cannabinoid receptors in the areas of the brain responsible for thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination and time perception. One of the reasons edibles are so dangerous is because the amount of THC in edibles varies greatly and is significantly larger than the amount an individual takes in from smoking marijuana. A new law in Colorado states that a single serving of any marijuana edible for recreational use cannot exceed 10 milligrams of THC; however, there can be up to 10 servings per package. So, while smoking delivers approximately 5 milligrams of THC per inhalation, a bag of marijuana candies can hold up to 100 milligrams of THC. This contributes to the amount of recent overdoses resulting from edible consumption.
Another reason THC overdose is landing teens in emergency rooms, such as the high school student in Boulder, Colorado who was hospitalized after knowingly consuming a marijuana-laced cookie, is that it can take up to an hour to feel the effects of edibles. In the interim, it seems normal to the individual to eat more candies or take another bite of the brownie, leading many users to consume dangerously high levels of the THC during the waiting period before the effects kick in. Marijuana smokers are used to feeling its effects almost immediately, in which case it is much easier to self-monitor dosage and determine when he or she has had enough. However, when ingested, an individual’s metabolism, weight and fitness all come into play, meaning the same edible can affect two people in entirely different ways. When introduced into the liver, THC converts into 11-hydroxy-THC, a chemical even more potent than its traditional form. As with other drugs consumed orally, the amount of food in an individual’s system also affects how his or her body reacts to edibles.
Symptoms of THC overdose include feelings of overwhelming dizziness, hallucinations and stomach sickness. Kari Franson, Ph.D., elaborates, “The most common presenting symptoms to the ER are anxiety and panic attacks and acute psychotic episodes, [including] confusion, disorientation, delusions, hallucinations [and] depersonalization. Physically, people have tachycardia, impaired motor ability [and] ataxia.” A New York Times writer experimented with edibles for a piece she was writing to cover the rise in marijuana edible use in Colorado and ended up in bed “curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours.” She “became convinced that [she] had died and no one was telling [her].”
Marijuana edibles seem safer to children and teens than smoking, yet they pose much greater short and long-term risks. Regardless of medical or recreational marijuana laws in any given state, it is illegal to sell or provide edibles to minors. However, this does not prevent them from obtaining and experimenting with gummy bears and pound cakes laced with alarming amounts of THC.
If your teenager is struggling with marijuana abuse, whether through edibles or other means, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in treating adolescents and teenagers struggling with substance abuse, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer