Pubdate: Sat, 19 Apr 2014
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Press
Author: Sadie Gurman, Associated Press


New Concerns Arise About Industry, Marijuana Edibles

DENVER (AP) - A college student eats more than the recommended dose 
of a marijuana-laced cookie and jumps to his death from a hotel 
balcony. A husband with no history of violence is accused of shooting 
his wife in the head, possibly after eating pot-infused candy.

The two recent deaths have stoked concerns about Colorado's 
recreational marijuana industry and the effects of the drug, 
especially since cookies, candy and other pot edibles can be 
exponentially more potent than a joint.

"We're seeing hallucinations; they become sick to their stomachs, 
they throw up, they become dizzy and very anxious," said Al 
Bronstein, medical director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center.

Studies are mixed about whether there is any link between marijuana 
and violence. Still, pot legalization opponents said the deaths are a 
sign of future dangers.

Twenty-six people have reported poisonings from marijuana edibles 
this year, when the center started tracking such exposures. Six were 
children who swallowed innocent-looking edibles, most of which were 
in plain sight.

Five of those kids were sent to emergency rooms, and two to hospitals 
for intensive care, Dr. Bronstein said. Children were nauseous and 
sleepy, and doctors worried about their respiratory systems shutting down.

Supporters of the pot law and some experts counter that alcohol 
causes far more problems among users, and the issues with pot can be 
largely addressed through better regulations.

The deaths occurred as Colorado lawmakers are scrambling to create 
safety regulations for the largely unmonitored marijuana snacks. On 
Thursday, the Legislature advanced a package of bills that would 
lower the amount of THC that could be permitted in a serving of food 
and require more extensive warning labels.

"It really is time for regulators, and the industry, to look at how 
do we move forward more responsibly with edible products," said Brian 
Vicente, who helped lead the state's legalization campaign.

An autopsy report listed marijuana intoxication as a significant 
contributing factor in the death in March of 19-year-old Levy Thamba 
Pongi. Authorities said Pongi, who traveled from Wyoming to Denver 
with friends to try marijuana, ate six times more than the amount 
recommended by a seller. In the moments before his death, he spoke 
erratically and threw things around his hotel room. Toxicologists 
later found that the cookie Pongi ate contained as much THC - 
marijuana's intoxicating chemical - as six high-quality joints.

Less is known about Richard Kirk, 47, who was charged in Denver with 
shooting his 44-year-old wife to death Monday while she was on the 
phone with a 911 dispatcher. Police said his wife reported that her 
husband had consumed marijuana-laced candy, but no information has 
been released about potency. The public defender's office has 
declined comment on the allegations against Mr. Kirk.

"Sadly, we're going to start to understand over time all of the 
damage and all of the problems associated with marijuana," said 
Thornton police Sgt. Jim Gerhardt, speaking in his capacity as a 
board member of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association. "It's 
going to dispel the myth that there's no downside, that there's no 
side effect, to this drug. It's sad that people are going to have to 
be convinced with the blood of Coloradans."

State lawmakers last year required edible pot to be sold in "serving 
sizes" of 10 milligrams of THC. Lawmakers also charged marijuana 
regulators with setting potency-testing guidelines to ensure that 
consumers know how much pot they're eating. The guidelines are slated 
to be unveiled next month.

For now, the industry is trying to educate consumers about the 
strength of pot-infused foods and warning them to wait as long as an 
hour to feel any effects before eating more. Still, complaints from 
visitors and first-time users have been rampant.

"One of the problems is people become very impatient," Dr. Bronstein 
said. "They eat a brownie or a chocolate chip cookie, and they get no 
effect. So then they stack the doses, and all the sudden they get an 
extreme effect that they weren't expecting."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom