BREAKING: FDA Issues Warning About Cannabis Candy
“It is difficult for anyone, especially children, to distinguish an edible product from food when the packaging is almost identical to common everyday products. That’s just an accident waiting to happen.” (Dr. Diane Calello, MD, Executive and Medical Director, New Jersey Poison Control Center)
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning to all consumers about edible products containing THC that resemble other commonly-consumed foods such as candy, cookies, and breakfast cereals.
Many of these marijuana-laced products are purposefully designed to mimic the look of well-known brand names, with packaging, pictures, logos, and even names that are sometimes identical to the real thing. These copycat edibles can easily be mistaken for popular snacks that appeal to children.
According to the warning, there were over 100 reports of adverse reactions to marijuana-infused edibles received by the FDA between January 2021 and April 2022. Of special concern, these incidents involved both adults and children.
Cannabis Candies: Coming for Kids
“…We find this whole situation distressing—edible marijuana products in packages that resemble popular brands of candy.” (Twin Rivers Unified School District)
The problem of children having access to and consuming edible marijuana products is widespread enough to be frightening. Just a glance at the news shows why the FDA felt the need to alert the general public.
Just a few weeks ago, a fourth-grade student at a Sacramento elementary school brought cannabis edibles that looked like candy to school. They then shared the “candy” with several of their friends. The edibles were packaged to closely resemble a bag of Skittles.
Sadly, this was not an isolated incident.
Two days earlier, two fifth-grade students in Livonia, Michigan, were hospitalized after eating marijuana-infused gummies at school.
The mother of one of the students, Krysta Hall, made a post on Facebook that read, “Today I sent my baby to school with nothing wrong with him…2 hrs later I was getting a call that my son was given a marijuana gummy and that 911 had been called & the paramedics was on the way!!” I instantly went into panic mode because my baby is 11 yrs old!!!”
Last month, a New Mexico elementary student brought THC-infused candies to school and shared them with at least 14 classmates. Officials say these edibles “mimicked a colorful sour gummy roll.”Also last month, a 10-year-old Ohio girl brought 50-milligram THC gummy tablets to school and gave some to her friends. She found them at home in a kitchen cabinet and thought they were leftover Easter candy.
How Big is the Problem of Cannabis Candy and Snacks?
“These products have become more accessible and available as the majority of states have access to legal medical and/or recreational marijuana. Edible cannabis products can be very appealing to children due to the appearance and taste of the product. There has been a large increase in cases since 2016.” (Kaitlyn Brown, Clinical Managing Director, American Association of Poison Control Centers) It’s happening EVERYWHERE. Eerily-similar reports are coming in from across the country. Almost every state has multiple stories of someone – most often a child – put in danger because of cannabis candies and other marijuana edibles:
Importantly, there are places with few or no incidents.
- Delaware – Recreational marijuana is illegal in Delaware. Governor John Carney is strongly against legalization and vetoed marijuana legalization just last week.
- Idaho – Marijuana is illegal in Idaho.
- Iowa – THC-infused edibles are prohibited in Iowa.
- Kansas – Marijuana, and products containing THC are illegal in Kansas.
- Kentucky — Only non-psychoactive medical CBD oil is legal in Kentucky.
- Minnesota – No Data. Cannabis-infused edibles will become available in August of this year.
- Montana – No Data. Adult-use sales just became legal on January 1, 2022.
- Nebraska – Marijuana is fully illegal in Nebraska.
A recurring theme seems that the increased legalization of marijuana has not ushered in a new wave of personal freedom or brought a wonderful new medicine to the masses.
Rather, it has only added another drug problem to a nation already battling a still-worsening opioid epidemic.
Marijuana Poisonings in America By The Numbers
“These are not safe products for adults, much less children.” (William Tong, Attorney General)
According to data from the Poison Control Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, between 2014 and 2019:
- Acute THC Intoxication cases involving children under the age of 6 skyrocketed five-fold.
- There was a three-fold spike in the total number of marijuana poisoning cases treated at CHOP.
- Every case of THC intoxication involving a child under the age of 12 involved marijuana edibles.
Specific to 2021:
- The youngest of THC poisoning treated at CHOP was just one year old.
- The median age was 8.
- 57% of victims were under the age of 6.
- 63% involved edibles, including almost every case involving a child under 12.
- 59% of the patients were hospitalized.
- 11% were put in intensive care.
And that’s just one major city. The national numbers are even more alarming. For example, over the past 15 years, there has been a 13-fold increase in the number of cases involving children under the age of 6.
- Between 2016 and 2020, the number of emergency calls to poison control centers for kids under 12 who had eaten marijuana edibles climbed 1600%.
- In 2020, over 70% of calls made to American poison control centers involved children younger than 5.
- So far in 2022, there have already been more than 2000 calls.
- While most poison center calls can safely be handled at home, 88% of THC poisonings require medical treatment.
Because 911 calls aren’t tracked, it’s worth mentioning that these numbers from poison control centers probably only represent a fraction of the actual number of cannabis-related emergencies.Dr. Sharon Levy, the Director of the Adolescent Substance Use and Addiction Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, says, “That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Not everyone will call Poison Control to report an exposure.”
Why Is This Happening?
Children often can’t tell the difference between a food product laced with THC and one without. Edibles laced with THC, and intended for adult consumption and dosages, have a greater clinical impact on children based on their smaller size due to the child’s larger “volume of distribution.” (Dr. Mark Waltzman, MD, Chair of Pediatrics, South Shore Hospital)
There is a disturbing trend among some less-than-ethical edible manufacturers and distributors – putting their products in packages with pictures and logos that are almost identical to other popular snack foods. A child looking for a treat ends up ingesting hundreds of milligrams of THC and suffering the severe side effects of a marijuana overdose.
The list of copycat products is both growing and ever-changing. So far, there are marijuana edibles that resemble:
That’s just to name a very few, and it doesn’t even include generic gummies, chocolate bars, or baked goods like pot brownies.
One major concern is the amount of THC a child could potentially ingest. The guesstimate recommended starter dose for new adult users is 10 mg. But if a child eats an entire snack-sized bag of what they think is their favorite candy, they could be taking in 500 mg or more of THC in one sitting.
Legitimate Snack Makers are Outraged
“Children are increasingly threatened by the unscrupulous use of famous brand logos, characters, trademarks, and trade dress on THC-laced edible products… the use of these famous marks, clearly without approval of the brand owners, on food products has created serious health and safety risks for consumers, particularly children, who cannot tell the difference between these brands’ true products and copycat THC products…” (The Consumer Brands Association)
In late April, major food and beverage companies like Kellogg, General Mills, Pepsi, and several others sent a joint letter to Congress, asking the government to step in and do more to stop the explosive proliferation of cannabis-infused copycat products that misleadingly mimic their famous brands.
The companies say that the deceptive packaging found on some marijuana edibles creates a public safety risk, especially for young children.
Specifically, the Consumer Brands Association wants Congress to close a loophole that allows copycat companies to operate with impunity in a gray area. The letter reads: “As the market for marijuana edibles grows, so will the risk of unintentional exposures, particularly for kids…”.
Are Cannabis Edibles Dangerous?
“The most negative drug experiences I’ve ever had in my life are from weed edibles.” (Seth Rogan)
THC-infused candies, snacks, and baked goods present a very high potential for overdose, for several reasons.
First, there is a delay in the onset of effects. Smoking marijuana produces a high within minutes, but someone who eats it may not feel anything for up to three hours. This is because food enters the bloodstream through the liver.
An inexperienced or impatient user who usually smokes marijuana might mistakenly think the drug isn’t working or that they haven’t taken enough and will end up taking more, often to the point of overdose.
Second, the ingested dosage might be much, much higher than a smoked dosage. An inexperienced smoker can get high from 10mg of THC, and even a chronic heavy user with a tolerance will start feeling the effects at around 80 mg. Compare that with the 50-mg cannabis gummies eaten by the Ohio girl and her friends. After just a few pieces of “Easter candy”, those children had more THC in their system than full-grown regular pot smokers.
Third, THC affects the brain differently depending on the method of use. After passing through the stomach and liver, THC metabolizes into 11-hydroxy-THC, which has a very high affinity for the brain’s cannabinoid receptors. This means that dose-for-dose, eating marijuana triggers stronger effects than smoking it.
Or think about someone who eats a whole bag of marijuana edibles because they “don’t feel anything yet”. That could mean ingesting hundreds of milligrams of THC.
Fourth, the duration of the effects of edible cannabis is far longer than that of smoked marijuana. Whereas a person who smokes weed will feel the effects for a couple of hours, someone who has eaten a THC snack can remain impaired up to eight hours.
How scary are marijuana snacks?
Despite his public image, even Snoop Dogg stays away from edibles because “…they ain’t got no off switch.” Yet we continue to make them even more readily accessible.
What are the Side-Effects of Marijuana Overdose?
“Despite their ordinary appearance, a single cannabis cookie or candy bar can contain several times the recommended adult dose of THC. Anyone who eats one of these products – especially a child – can experience overdose effects…” (Dr. Brian Johnson, MD, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Injury, Violence, and Poisoning Prevention)
Although children are especially at risk because of their small size and lack of tolerance, it must be stressed that ANYONE who consumes several of these high-dose marijuana edibles will likely suffer a marijuana overdose.
Is Legalization to Blame?
“Any time a state goes to some form of enhanced cannabis access, whether they make medical marijuana legal or they legalize it for recreational use, those states experience an increase in edible exposures in kids. And that’s from the poison control centers in Colorado, in Washington, in Oregon. Every state that’s made it legal has seen this increase.” (Dr. Diane Calello)
To answer that question, all we have to do is look at the numbers.
In 2010 – before any state legalized recreational marijuana – there were only 19 cases of child THC poisonings. In 2020, there were 554.
Even worse, about 400 of those cases involved children less than 5 years old.
Data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers shows that whenever a state allows the sale of recreational marijuana, there is a sharp corresponding spike in the number of pediatric Emergency Room visits with children who have ingested cannabis edibles.
Massachusetts: When the state legalized pot in late 2018, there were just 52 cases of pediatric THC poisoning. By 2020, that number had jumped to 257.
New Jersey made marijuana legal in November 2020, and by April 2021, 85 children had been seen in the ER after consuming edibles. 55 of those children were under 5 years old.
Colorado approved recreational marijuana in November 2012, the first state to do so. That year, the state only saw 110 total exposures, with just 50 of them involving minors. By 2018, those numbers had risen to 266 total marijuana poisonings, with 147 involving minors.
- 43% of those cases involved edibles.
Of specific concern, toxic marijuana exposures in children under the age of 6 shot up 77% between 2016 and 2018.
The Challenges and Dangers of Cannabis Candy Edibles
David Abel, a reporter for the Boston Globe who accidentally overdosed after unknowingly eating a cannabis cookie describes his experience:
“My heart racing, nearly every part of my body twitching, and my brain exploding with an inner fireworks show that felt like being zapped by electrodes while trapped on an accelerating roller coaster, I kept coming back to this one thought: How was it possible that I survived a year-long pandemic, and this was how I was going to die?”
“There was nothing pleasant about the experience. I wasn’t comfortably numb or euphoric. It was what I imagine a psychotic break with reality might feel like, or descriptions I’ve read of bad acid trips…No child should experience what I did.”
It’s a paradox. In most US states, marijuana is legal in some capacity, and these copycat edible makers are currently free to engage in what they might call “creative advertising.”
Marijuana is illegal at the federal level, as it should be given the public and mental health concerns it creates, and there’s little the FDA is actually doing at this moment. In other words, it’s a free-for-all until new laws are put in place.
There’s no place for such dangerous products to be sold in our country. The FDA recalls Blue Bonnet ice cream when only a or a if few people get sick so the FDA and our state and federal officials need to ban and recall all these products and stop harming our kids.
That really is the heart of the matter. To keep dangerous edible products out of the hands of children and unsuspecting adults, governments at every level – local, state, and federal – need to enact and enforce stronger, more uniform laws that limit the availability of such dangerous products.
Because it has been proven that whenever it becomes easier for adults to legally purchase cannabis, poisonings go up – especially among children – it’s clear that we need less access to marijuana products.
Edible Marijuana Overdoses May Be Linked to Two Self-Inflicted Deaths – Promises Behavioral HealthWashington to ‘reevaluate’ marijuana edibles, crack down on products that might appeal to kids | The Seattle Times