A Word of Caution Before You Experiment with Those Marijuana Edibles

With cannabis legalization, edibles have hit the market. Are there any possible risks or dangers involved? We review here.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Edibles include brownies, cookies, and other sweets that contain marijuana. They get you high. However, the THC potency of edibles differs from smoking marijuana. This article seeks to inform you about risks of eating marijuana and the dangers to your physical and mental health. At the end, we invite your questions.

ESTIMATED READING TIME: Less than 10 minutes.


What Are Marijuana Edibles?

The short answer is that an edible is food infused with marijuana. Edibles come in many forms, including:

  • Baked goods
  • Beverages
  • Candies
  • Chocolates
  • Gummies
  • Lozenges

Edibles may be homemade or prepared commercially for dispensaries. In order to understand how edibles affect your physical and mental health, we must first understand how marijuana works.

Marijuana is a psychoactive drug that comes from cannabis plants. Generally, people smoke it to get high. The euphoric high is caused by marijuana’s active ingredient, Tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC). THC effects vary from person to person. Some people feel relaxed, happy, and less self-conscious while others feel sleepy, anxious, or uncoordinated. Part of the reason for difference in THC effect is related to your state of mental health.

In recent years, vaporizers and edibles have become more popular. But how does it work? How does oral ingestion of marijuana differ from smoking it?

How the Body Digests Edibles

The high caused by eating marijuana doesn’t come on the same way as when you smoke it. When you inhale smoked marijuana, THC is delivered quickly from your lungs, to your bloodstream, to your brain. The high comes on almost immediately and peaks 20-30 minutes later. However, when you eat it, it can take up to an hour to kick in. What does this metabolism look like?

Edibles introduce cannabinoids through the gastrointestinal tract. From the gut, THC is absorbed into the bloodstream and travels via the portal vein to the liver, where it undergoes first-pass metabolism. Here, liver enzymes hydroxylate THC to form 11-hydroxytetrahydrocannabinol (11-OH-THC), a potent psychoactive metabolite that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier

11-OH-THC is more potent than Δ9-THC and appears in blood in higher quantities when ingested than when inhaled.

In this way, edibles are thought to bring on stronger and longer-lasting drug effect comparable doses of smoked cannabis. Not everyone who smokes feels negative effects, marijuana has the strong potential to bring on a bad experience. Especially when the person who consumed isn’t in the proper mindset.

The short-term effects of marijuana can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Distortions of perception in sight, touch, time, sound, space
  • Increased heart rate
  • Loss of coordination
  • Problems with memory and/or learning
  • Trouble with thinking, and problem-solving

The long-term effects of using marijuana include:

  • Changes in the brain
  • Fertility issues
  • Immune system problems
  • Respiratory problems

The Dangers of Marijuana Edibles

When people take a marijuana edible, they might not know what’s about to hit them. This could, in turn, have psychoactive effects which can be highly uncomfortable. For example, there are instances where people who eat a marijuana experience high levels of anxiety. The reason this counteracts the normal idea that cannabis relieves anxious states is because high amounts of THC can trigger the onset of anxiety. THC stimulates certain regions of the brain which are responsible for fear.

Another mental risk involved in eating edibles is depression. It should be noted that most people don’t feel depression while high on cannabis, but rather, feel it after a long period of cannabis use. In general, people who use marijuana generally have higher symptoms of depression in comparison to those who don’t. This is the same for the mental health issue of schizophrenia.

These mental issues don’t pertain solely to eating edibles and can be seen within a person who only smokes cannabis. However, the reason they’re mentioned is because marijuana edibles are a different kind of beast. Generally, the high comes on much stronger in comparison to smoking it and it lasts longer. With that in mind, the mental health issues can become much more serious when THC is eaten.

Again, the effects always vary from individual to individual. But then there are situations such as Luke Goodman’s. Luke was a young college graduate who ate five times the recommended dose of marijuana edibles and shot himself. Though the cause of death was from a self-inflicted wound, the psychoactive effects of cannabis have been blamed for the decision he made.

The dangers involved in edibles are very similar to that of cannabis in general. Simply, they’re taken to a new, higher level.

Can You Overdose on an Edible?

Yes, you can overdose when eating a marijuana edible.

People don’t die from taking marijuana or its active ingredient, THC. However, an overdose doesn’t necessarily require a fatal consequence. According to Medline Plus, the definition of a drug overdose is when you take too much of a drug with the outcome of serious, harmful symptoms. Therefore, technically you can overdose from a marijuana edible.

But what exactly is a cannabis overdose?

When you either smoke too much marijuana or ingest too much of an edible, the following symptoms may arise:

  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Ataxia/Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Possible crying
  • Sensations of dying
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

Furthermore, overdosing on marijuana can result in you having a psychotic reaction – a state of mind where you lose sense of reality and possibly become paranoid. Through these symptoms, there a larger potential for people to injure themselves as marijuana affects:

  • Coordination
  • Judgment
  • Perception

Luckily, as long as the person overdosing doesn’t inflict injury upon themselves, marijuana overdoses don’t cause permanent disability or death. But that’s not to say these consequences don’t remain a possibility. When someone overdoses on marijuana, they may feel the following symptoms:

  • Disorientation
  • Fast heart rate
  • Hallucinations
  • Pupil dilation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Temporary paranoia, fear, and anxiety
  • Uncontrollable shaking or feeling cold
  • Vomiting and/or nausea

If you or someone you love experiences a marijuana overdose, it’s important to go the emergency room or call 911 as soon as possible. Psycho-emotional issues can compel someone into doing something which can result in undesired consequence.

Lack of Regulation – Even in Legal States

One of the biggest issues with eating marijuana is that there’s little regulation involved in determining what’s “too much”. Part of the problem is everyone reacts to THC differently, especially when ingested through the stomach. For example, a skinnier person will require less of an edible in order to get the same dose as someone who weighs more. Admittedly, cannabis businesses encourage new-time marijuana users to start at a lower dose and go slow with how much they intake. However, dose specific reactions are unpredictable.

Even in legal states, distributors are not entirely sure how to label marijuana dosages. Legalization is still very new. Therefore, without federal regulations, states must determine management of product labeling themselves. And what we’re noticing is different states have created different regulations.

Edibles on School Campuses

Another problem we’re seeing is that marijuana and edibles have found more accessibility on school campuses. Additionally, more and more teens using weed. Part of the reason is, with legalization, cannabis has become much more accessible in general. Therefore, kids and teenagers are finding a way to obtain it and share it with their classmates. Another reason is that perceptions of harm have decreased. The National Institute of Health’s (NIH) 2017 Monitoring the Future survey shows that marijuana is more popular than traditional cigarettes or even pain killers.

While overall stigma around marijuana has decreased (and this can be good for medical purposes), when it comes to curious-minded young people, we’re telling them that cannabis is okay. We’re saying, in fact, that eating cannabis can be medically good for you! With that kind of outlook, teenagers are beginning to view marijuana as an alcoholic views drinking – as a means of self-medicating.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has a Monitoring the Future survey in which they observe drug trends amongst the youth. The survey reported these statistics:

  • About 1 in every 16 high schooler seniors use weed daily.
  • Daily marijuana smoking has surpassed daily cigarette smoking for all teens.
  • Only half of 10th and 12th graders perceive risks in smoking marijuana as they did 20 years ago.

Harm Reduction Tips

In order to avoid edible overdose, there are a few considerations to take into account. Factors such as:

  •  Eating habits
  •  Gender
  •  Metabolism
  •  Weight

…contribute to how soon and for how long you will feel intoxicated following oral ingestion. However, the lack of consistency in how much THC is present in edibles and the delayed intoxication can lead to consumption of higher than intended amounts of the drug.

For this reason, ALWAYS LOOK FOR THE PRECISE AMOUNTS AND RELATIVE CONCENTRATIONS OF THC AND CANNIBIDIOL IN EDIBLES. Further, do not eat more edibles than suggested for your gender, weight, and metabolism.

Also know that labels may be inaccurate and formulas may be inconsistent. So, to be absolutely certain of what you’re about to eat….you may need to send a sample to a lab. At the least, seek more information from the person who’s selling you the edible.

Be sure that you wait long enough for effects to onset. Avoid increasing doses or eating more until at least a couple of hours after your first bite. This way, you can reduce risk of compounded effects, including overdose and temporary psychosis.

Finally, never eat a marijuana edible and then drive. More harm reduction tips here:

Are Marijuana Edibles Addictive?

Yes, marijuana and edibles can be addictive. In this case, however, addiction depends more on the person rather than the drug. Most people who smoke marijuana don’t become addicted. According to NIDA, from 9-17% of users become psychologically dependent on this drug. Still, you may wonder, how does one become addicted to cannabis?

Well, there are a couple of factors to consider. The first is the age in which the person first consumed marijuana. When someone tries cannabis at a young age (their teenage years), their risks of developing an addiction increase. Another factor is if someone uses marijuana daily, they’re much more likely to develop an addiction than those who don’t use daily. On the other hand, people who smoke casually (not on a daily basis) are less likely to experience any of the symptoms which come with a marijuana addiction.

Signs of an addiction include:

  • Anxiety, paranoia, and fear
  • Consistent coughing (may have mucus)
  • Distorted perception
  • Difficulty thinking and problem solving
  • Dry mouth
  • Impaired coordination
  • Loss of control
  • Poor memory
  • Problems with memory
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Red (bloodshot) eyes
  • Slow reaction time

With these symptoms in mind, it’s important to remember that – just like any other addiction, marijuana comes with its own set of withdrawal symptoms:

  • Chills
  • Cravings
  • Headaches
  • Increased feelings of depression
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of focus
  • Mood changes
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Stomach problems
  • Sweating (including cold sweats)

So, what can you do if you think you’ve got a problem?

Treatment for a Problem

If you or someone you know is addicted to marijuana, it’s important they seek out treatment. Marijuana addiction can lead to the following negative effects if it’s left untreated:

  • The inability to cut down or quit using marijuana.
  • Spending lots of time thinking, seeking out, and using marijuana.
  • Reduced participation in what previously interested activities.
  • Choosing interests only when they involve getting high.
  • Problems with everyday responsibilities..
  • Using for the sake of escaping and coping with life stressors.
  • The dependence of marijuana to be creative.

Upon entering treatment, you can expect the following:

1. A medical assessment in which doctors will test you and ask you questions as a means of collecting information of your current condition.

2. A medical detox in which you’ll withdrawal from marijuana. This usually takes about a week, however, since marijuana doesn’t affect the body nearly as much as other substances (such as cocaine and heroin), a medical detox might not be necessary. After the medical assessment, you’ll know how difficult your withdrawals may be.

3. Psychotherapies are recommended to treat underlying issues that are buried. You’ll learn how to handle everyday emotions and life stressors without marijuana being a factor. Furthermore, you’ll be educated in techniques which can reduce cannabis cravings. These therapies can come in a variety of forms including:

◦ Family therapy
◦ Group Therapy
◦ Individual Counseling

4. Pharmacotherapy (medication) is sometimes used to help ease withdrawal symptoms and reducing cravings. Again, since marijuana isn’t as physically addictive as other drugs, you might not need any medication. You should talk to your doctor if you think you’ll need medical assistance.

5. Educational sessions in which you’ll be informed on the dangers of marijuana addiction and how to prevent relapse.

6. Aftercare services which will provide you with support as a means of maintain sobriety.

It’s important you seek out medical supervision while going through the treatment process as it’ll guarantee the success of you quitting marijuana. Since marijuana isn’t as dangerous in addiction as other drugs, you can safely withdrawal and get sober yourself. However, many find it of greater help to enter a reputable treatment facility and learn how to change their lives for the sake of sobriety. And at the least, you’ll benefit from working with a psychologist, counselor, or therapist. Guidance in addressing thought patterns can help you change behaviors.

Where to Find Help

The first person you’ll want to consult is your doctor or physician. S/He will be able to offer a brief assessment of possible addiction. Your family doctors or general physician can also give you the best references to treatment within your area.

Second, you can call us for help. The telephone number listed on this page will connect you to a helpline answered by American Addiction Centers (AAC). The helpline is offered at no cost and with no obligation to enter treatment. We’ll discuss your treatment options with you, which can include rehab. So, if you are ready to get, pick up the phone and give us a call.

Here’s a checklist of places to find help:

Finally, look out for support groups in your local are. The people involved in these will help you along the recovery process and make sure you stay in sobriety. Marijuana Anonymous holds meetings around the U.S. Check their directory for listings in your city and state.

Your Questions

If you have any questions pertaining to marijuana edibles or marijuana addiction, we invite you to ask them below. If you have any advice to those struggling with addiction or curious about marijuana edibles, we’d also love to hear from you. We try to reply to each comment in a prompt and personal manner.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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