Pubdate: Wed, 14 Jan 2015
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts
Column: ChemTales

Is Edible Cannabis Too Strong for Safety, or Much Weaker Than Advertised?


The scariest things to eat in America today seem to be cookies and 
chocolate bars. Fourteen children between the ages of 3 and 7 were 
admitted to the emergency room in Colorado last year after eating 
marijuana-laced goodies.

Just over a dozen hospital visits isn't as threatening as an Ebola 
epidemic, but it's almost double the eight stoned kids who showed up 
at the ER in 2012. It was also more than enough for anti-legalization 
coalition Smart Approaches to Marijuana to sound the alarm. "We need 
to stop many of these products from being sold," SAM chairman Kevin 
Sabet, a former Obama drug policy bureaucrat, told Reuters.

In the Bay Area, local radio news leader KCBS jumped on the story. In 
San Mateo County, where cannabis dispensaries are banned, cops were 
quick to confirm that this "phenomena is hitting our emergency 
rooms." San Mateo Police Chief Sue Manheimer did not present any data 
to back this up, but the available anecdotes were enough to convince 
her that "clearly [edibles] are not done in the auspices of public health."

Reefer madness has a new name. And it is edibles.

It was a rough 2014 for edible marijuana, the preferred method of 
medicating for many seniors and other people who don't have the 
option to smoke weed (and the only method most "respectable" 
physicians will accept).

Authorities linked edibles to two deaths last year: a college student 
who jumped off a hotel balcony after eating a cookie, and a man who 
shot and killed his wife after eating THC-infused candy (it was later 
revealed that the couple had been fighting for weeks; in court, the 
man's attorney used his weed intake as a defense, saying it had 
rendered him incapable of pulling the trigger). However, the biggest 
splash came when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd published her 
account of an unseemly encounter with a cannabis chocolate bar. 
Unimpressed with the initial effects, Dowd made a rookie mistake: She 
ate too much, too quickly. In the ensuing all-night ordeal, Dowd 
thought "I had died and no one was telling me."

Edibles are no joke. They can bend the minds of the cannabis plant's 
most devoted fans. Only a handful of people, alive or dead, can outdo 
Snoop Dogg in a smoke session. Willie Nelson is one of them. "That's 
the only motherfucker that ever smoked me out where I had to say, 
'Time out,'" the rapper told San Francisco's own Berner during a 2013 
episode of Snoop's blunted-out Web series GGN. "He's a real player." 
And Nelson cannot handle edibles. "I don't enjoy the high that the 
body gets," he told Dowd last year, describing the feeling after he 
ate a plate of pot cookies for the hell of it as if "the flesh was 
falling off my bones."

The only man in the world who has out-smoked Snoop Dogg thinks 
edibles are too much. No wonder Dowd lost her mind.

Edibles are a problem for local cannabis connoisseurs, too, but for a 
very different reason: They're not strong enough. Specifically, 
they're not as strong as advertised. All of the top-shelf cookies, 
candies, and other treats entered in the San Francisco Patients 
Choice Cup in November tested well below their advertised THC content 
in lab results. For example, noted brand Bhang's triple-strength 
chocolate bars, advertised at 180 milligrams of THC - roughly the 
same amount of psychoactive punch in an entire gram of 
dispensary-bought bud - clocked in at "only" 127.2 milligrams.

The root cause of the edible problem, cops and prohibitionists say, 
is that they are unregulated. This is partially true. No government 
agency inspects edibles for quality or potency. The same is true with 
everything else sold in dispensaries, though nearly every cannabis 
store has its medicine lab--checked for potency and contaminants, a 
rare instance in which market forces led to regulation.

But there are some rules. Under San Francisco law, edibles must be 
sold in opaque packaging in order to discourage children from 
confusing a store--bought cannabis cookie for a Chips Ahoy. An 
edible's packaging must be clearly marked "medicine" and must have 
warning labels telling kids to stay away. In other words, in San 
Francisco at least, packaging and labels for edibles receive more 
scrutiny than the psychoactive drugs inside.

But the most important number here is zero. That's how many people 
have died from cannabis consumption in recorded history. Meanwhile, 
300 people died of a drug overdose last year in California. And if 
recent trends hold steady, another 300 will die this year, the 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. This deadly trend 
warranted only a brief write-up in the Chronicle, because the drug in 
question is alcohol.

More than 2,200 people visited the San Francisco General Hospital 
emergency room for acute alcohol toxicity or for alcohol withdrawal, 
hospital spokeswoman Rachael Kagan said. Alcohol is the second-most 
cited reason for an ER visit in the city, she said.

Cannabis doesn't even make the list.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom