By Dr. Roneet Lev
Buying snack foods and beverages is a common occurrence. We routinely review the package label of all the ingredients, as well as the serving size and calorie content. We trust that the products we buy are made in a safe, clean environment.
Yet, for marijuana infused food products, no set standards exist. Currently, the food and beverage products containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot, have absolutely no oversight, and there is no way a consumer can know how potent the snack item is or if it contains an allergen. Users of these products really have no idea what they are smoking or eating and this unknown can be deadly.
Last October, five Crawford High School youth were taken to the hospital for eating brownies containing marijuana. The principal took the time to write a letter to parents stating, “Unfortunately, drugs come in different forms and formats, and there is also the concern about allergens.”
Allergens are just one concern of many when it comes to edible pot. While all drugs and over-the-counter medications are regulated, medicinal marijuana products are not. Marijuana food and snack product packaging is often youth-friendly, resembles other popular snacks, and difficult to discern that the product does indeed contain marijuana.
Edible marijuana enters the body more slowly and often leads to over consumption by people seeking the effects of marijuana. Edible marijuana also produces longer and more unpredictable effects or ‘highs’ than smoking does. Documented side effects of eating marijuana include hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety, heart palpitations and even death.
In Colorado edible sales make up 45 percent of the recreational market, yet standards for edibles were not even considered until people started getting hurt.
In 2014, the first year in which marijuana retailers began selling recreational pot, calls to the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center for marijuana exposure increased over 70 percent from 2013 and nearly 150 percent from 2012. Additionally, 45 of the 151 calls received in 2014 involved children aged eight or younger, and many of the calls involved edible products. Tragically, a college student jumped to his death after ingesting an edible that contained roughly as much pot as six high-quality joints. Markets in other States where marijuana has been legalized have advertised products containing as much as 60 percent THC.
California is just now coming up with standards for “medicinal” marijuana through its new packaged legislation called the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. For 20 years, California has allowed qualified patients to use marijuana, including edibles, for medical purposes, yet we are just now coming up with guidelines. Where are the consumer protections? The food industry and pharmaceutical industry must follow strict industry guidelines. Why does marijuana get a pass? If people want to call marijuana “medicinal” and enter the food market, then it should follow identical procedures that are in place for other medications and food. How many more emergency room visits, psychiatric hospitalizations, and deaths must occur before our state acts more responsibly?
Roneet Lev is the director of operations of the Scripps Mercy Hospital emergency department. She has been practicing medicine at the hospital since 1993, was board certified in emergency medicine in 1995 and recertified in 2005. For more information regarding youth marijuana use in San Diego County visit mpisdcounty.net.