With many states in the U.S. legalizing not only medical marijuana but recreational marijuana as well, the country has recently taken a more accepting stance on marijuana use. However, there are also health concerns that become more apparent as states adopt less rigid attitudes towards the legality of marijuana. One example is the growing number of visits to the emergency room because of marijuana use and in particular, the use of edibles.
The edible market is growing quickly. According to data cited by Forbes, in California, $180 million of cannabis-infused food and drink were purchased in 2017. That was 10% of the state’s total marijuana sales, and by February 2018, that number was 18%.
Hospital Visits Linked to Edibles
Often dubbed simply as “edibles,” marijuana is increasingly added to different types of candies and foods. In states like Colorado, where recreational cannabis use is legal, you can purchase these items from a store as you would anything else. Yes, you have to be a certain age, but the process is similar to purchasing alcohol.
Colorado legalized the use of marijuana recreationally in 2012. Since then, doctors in cities like Denver say they’ve seen a trend. Many of the people visiting emergency rooms because of symptoms or complaints related to cannabis are ingesting the drug rather than smoking it.
According to Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, there is increasing evidence that demonstrates medical complications from edibles.
From 2012 to 2016, of the 2,567 visits related to marijuana at the University of Colorado’s Denver hospital, around 9% involved edibles. While that may seem like a small number, these cases involved more serious psychiatric-related symptoms. For example, 18% of people using edibles had symptoms like psychosis and anxiety, compared to 11% of people smoking cannabis.
Edibles were also linked to heart issues. Approximately 8% of people diagnosed as having cardiac symptoms, including heart attacks, had consumed edibles compared to only 3.1% of people who smoked marijuana. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily show causation, and it doesn’t mean that using edibles is leading to the conditions, but it should give people pause before taking edibles.
Why Do These Effects Potentially Occur with Edibles?
Doctors and researchers believe different factors may play a role in recent increases inedible-related visits to emergency rooms. First, the effect of edibles is delayed for around 30 minutes after they’re used, and for some people may even be longer. This delay can sometimes mislead people to believe that the cannabis isn’t working, so they’ll use more. Increased amounts of ingestion can lead to more severe symptoms.
Some of these cases may even lead to marijuana overdose. Symptoms of a marijuana overdose can include anxiety, delusions, panic attacks, psychosis and dysphoria.
The slower effects of edibles contrast with what happens when you smoke marijuana. When you smoke it, it moves quickly from your lungs to your brain, and you feel high in a matter of minutes. With edibles, the THC has to go through the gut first, before bloodstream absorption.
Another possible issue with edibles stems from the fact that there aren’t standard dosage guidelines since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. There are state-based recommendations, but there’s fairly minimal oversight into the production of edibles.
If you’re struggling with marijuana use or someone you love is, reach out to The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake to learn more about treatment options.
Denver Public Health. “Facts About Marijuana Edibles and Your Health.” Accessed June 21, 2019.
Lamb, Catherine. “Cannabis Edibles Market is Riding High—For Now.” The Spoon, April 12, 2018. Accessed June 21, 2019.
Rehm, Jeremy. “Edibles are tied to more severe health issues than smoking marijuana.” ScienceNews, March 25, 2019. Accessed June 21, 2019.