Marijuana Edibles: The Problem With These THC Treats

David McNew/Getty Images
David McNew/Getty Images

Life is like a box of hash-infused chocolates — you never know what you’re gonna get.

Seriously, it appears that there is a real problem with marijuana edibles. You actually don’t know what you’re going to get, specifically when it comes to THC levels.

THC, which is the psychoactive chemical compound that creates the “high” when marijuana is smoked or consumed, is the ingredient that users are after — especially medical marijuana patients who are seeking to treat a variety of symptoms. THC helps alleviate all kinds of ailments, including nausea and pain, which is what makes medical-grade marijuana so popular for people suffering from chronic conditions or even diseases like cancer.

As medical marijuana markets have gone largely unregulated in many parts of the country, one of the side effects has been that there is no standard for how much THC is actually present in many marijuana-infused products. When it comes to marijuana edibles, or medibles, as they are often called, users are often taking a leap of faith in terms of how big of a dose they will be getting. That means they could be forking over money for a particularly weak medible — or one that will completely overpower them, leaving a sensation that lasts far longer or is more intense than they wanted.

That can be very problematic, especially for people who rely on medibles to be able to get through their day, or even do their job.

Even though in many cases, THC content is supposed to be stamped right on the medible packaging, that information is often wrong, at least according to this chart from Quartz.


The data being displayed here is from The Journal of The American Medical Association, which released a study that “analyzed the dose accuracy of labels from edible medical cannabis products dispensed in 3 U.S. cities.” The results, seen above, should be worrisome to those who use medibles to treat their conditions.

“An estimated 16% to 26% of patients using medical cannabis consume edible products,” JAMA says, and “even though oral consumption lacks the harmful by-products of smoking, difficult dose titration can result in overdosing or underdosing, highlighting the importance of accurate product labeling.”

The findings that many medibles are grossly mislabeled doesn’t really help the industry gain more trust with the public at large, particularly at a time when state governments are trying to figure out how to properly regulate them in both medical and recreational markets. This also isn’t the first time medibles have been through some tough scrutiny either, as Maureen Dowd wrote about a rather awful experience she had in an op-ed for The New York Times — scaring the pants off of many readers.

Of course, there was plenty of criticism about that column, and justifiably so.

Edible marijuana has also been blamed for people’s deaths, and there are lawsuits out there that claim these products are leading to marijuana “overdoses”. Experts have fired back against that claim, instead saying that it’s not the THC, but rather people’s behavior under its influence, which is causing problems.

“You don’t overdose from cannabis the same way as heroin,” Rutgers University psychiatry professor Petros Levounis told Vice, in a report from earlier this year. “It’s not directly dangerous. But it can get you psychotic. You can get crazy. You can get so paranoid, you can end up doing crazy stuff.”

But it’s still another knock against edible marijuana in the press, and the findings of this study are going to further complicate the industry’s claim for legitimacy. The truth is, marijuana-infused foods are hard to actually put your finger on, in terms of how they will affect one person from the next, anyway. As The Cannabist explains, there are a lot of factors that play into an edible’s effectiveness, and there’s more to do with it than just THC content.

For one, each person’s body ingests and processes things differently from the next. There are different results from different foods as well, and what types and quality of marijuana actually going into an edible can lead to vastly different outcomes. In short, it’s a lot more complicated than simply sparking up some Blue Dream.

But keeping this in mind, consumers are probably best-off being wary of marijuana edibles. In this case, you quite literally don’t know what you’re going to get.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger

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