As more states legalize (or decriminalize) the use of marijuana, the variety and sheer number of edible cannabis options increases, too. This is relatively new territory, however, and there is little regulation or oversight in the production of edible products containing cannabis. None of these products are eligible for FDA approval since the federal government still considers marijuana a controlled substance. This means that manufacturers and consumers of edible cannabis products must cover this murky, untrodden ground with some degree of caution.
Edible marijuana products are used by different people for different reasons. In some cases, they are produced for the casual user to consume recreationally. In other cases, these products are produced solely for medicinal purposes by patients seeking pain remediation.
Since there is no smoke, medicinal edibles are especially useful for individuals with respiratory issues. They also allow patients to access their medication in places where a smokable form would not be permitted either by policy or by law. Moreover, edible forms of cannabis deliver a more consistent medical effect than smokable forms. This can mean that dosing throughout the day is not required for many sufferers.
Whether medicinal or recreational, cannabis must be infused into fats or alcohols for the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to be released and easily used by the consumer of edible marijuana products. Most often, this is done by adding it to butters or oils. These are then used to create any number of edible products, including candies, gummies, lozenges, chocolate bars, baked goods, and beverages. Many manufacturers also add flavors such as lemon, chocolate, mint, cinnamon, or butterscotch, to make their offering more enjoyable.
As for the type of cannabis used, manufacturers draw on different strains for different desired outcomes. Often, sativas are used in products intended to aid in pain relief, and indicas are often used in products intended to help fight insomnia. Marijuana strains can be employed separately or in concert; there are numerous combinations used by different manufacturers for myriad intended results.
In the United States, edible products containing cannabis can currently be legally—by state laws, not federal—purchased in Colorado, the state of Washington, Alaska, and Oregon. Those products must only be sold, though, within the state that they were manufactured in. If a manufacturer of cannabis edibles was to cross state lines, they would be in violation of the federal Interstate Commerce Act and thus potentially subject to prosecution and penalty.
Presumably, these four states will soon be joined by Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, and Vermont. As more states begin to allow the production, sale, possession, etc. of these types of products, it will likely lead to more edible cannabis items in the marketplace, as well as additional legislation and oversight by health officials to enforce them.
While some may question the need for government to be involved in personal choice issues, few would argue that it is a legitimate role of government to protect children and minors from making uninformed decisions.
In all states allowing the purchase of products containing THC for medicinal use or otherwise, it is unlawful for persons under the age of 21 to do so. However, only the states of Washington and Colorado have laws relating to the marketing of edible cannabis products towards minors. In these two states, manufacturers may not target their advertising towards young people (think along the lines of Joe Camel), and any product containing cannabis needs to be packaged in child-resistant containers.
Some manufacturers have already faced penalties for packaging their products to appear like popular non-cannabis products (the Hershey Corporation recently won a lawsuit against a manufacturer that packaged its THC-containing chocolate bar to appear like the quintessential, eponymous candy bar).
Trademark issues aside, this poses a risk to children—and adults—with the over-consumption of edible cannabis products. A single serving of cannabis chocolate may be the same size and contain the same calories as a single serving of non-cannabis chocolate, but that does not mean it necessarily contains a single “serving” of THC. It’s easy to eat too much, which can lead to over-intoxication.
This is especially relevant because THC is more extensively metabolized when ingested orally. In other words, users absorb a much larger amount of THC when they eat cannabis than if they smoked the same amount.
Of course, at this early stage, there is no official standard when it comes to THC serving size. The state of Colorado determined 10 milligrams of THC should be considered a serving, regardless of the amount of non-cannabinoid ingredients in an edible product. A 2004 journal article, however, cites 16.3 milligrams as the maximum amount of THC per serving for medicinal cannabis.
Back in 1997, a study proposed that the maximum dosage of THC when used to treat pain and nausea symptoms is five milligrams per square meter of body surface area. The same study suggested that patients needing appetite stimulation should consume 2.5 milligrams twice daily.
Regardless where one stands on the issue of edible marijuana products, there are sure to be more: more products, more opportunities, more studies, and probably many more lawsuits and prosecutions before the market eradicates these variables and decides on a set of regulations to rule the post-prohibition era of marijuana.