Palpitations, nausea, severe vomiting, and epileptic fits are just some of the many ailments patients at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital are experiencing when they enter the ER. However, these patients are all different ages, they all come from different ethnic backgrounds, and their blood tests results are perfectly normal, so what can be the cause of their sudden illness? Edible marijuana. According to a recent analysis, ER visits for cannabis consumption have tripled over the past 5 years. Ever since Colorado has legalized cannabis consumption, hospital visits for psychiatric evaluations and supposed “heart attacks” have been on the rise as well. So, how has cannabis changed from a friendly, social, meditative plant into a psychosis inducer?
Blame it on the lollipops. Dr. Al Bronstein, physician, and director of Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center attested to this claim stating, “What we’re seeing with edibles is that the effect is delayed for approximately 30 minutes, depending on the person. People get impatient for the effect and will take more, and then the symptoms are more pronounced than what they were expecting.” In other words, once that THC filled cookie or lollipop doesn’t offer the desired effect, some people get impatient and end up consuming more before they are even high. As a result, once the high does take effect, it can ultimately lead to symptoms of an overdose. Yes, an overdose. Though no research has shown that one can die from consuming too much THC, Dr. Al Bronstein characterized a marijuana overdose as a “loss of touch with reality causing an increase in anxiety, loss of coordination, delusional ailments, panic attacks, psychosis, and dysphoria”. Despite the controversy concerning chemically treated plant-based marijuana, Bronstein also noted that reactions to edibles are often more severe and critical.
And in Colorado, the popularity of edibles is all too apparent. According to dispensary sales tracker BDS Analytics, the prices of wholesale plant-based marijuana have decreased by nearly 40% in 2018 — while the sales of edibles have only increased. As a result of the decline in wholesale marijuana, quality has also gotten cheaper, causing more pot-heads to gravitate towards different methods of getting high. But the effects of this new high may not be as pleasurable as one might think. The Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center reports show that 8% of edible users had cardiovascular symptoms, including a rapid or irregular heartbeat after being treated for marijuana overdoses; by contrast, only 3% of pot smokers experienced heart- related symptoms.
With this in mind, several states including California, Nevada, and Oregon authorized edible packages to be labeled with a warning sign, and accurately specify the THC content. However, because of additional ingredients such as sugar, fat, and food coloring, calculating precise levels of THC in edibles has presented itself as a complicated task. Unlike these states which have estimated a safe consumption ranges between 2mg-10mg of THC, Colorado has yet to make any such authorizations as their marijuana market has not been federally recognized. The Center for Disease Control has also given edible regulation specific attention after the death of 19-year-old foreign exchange student, Levy Thamba Pongi, who was visiting Colorado. Levy Thamba Pongi died after eating a marijuana cookie which contained 60mg of THC. The student, unaware of his own reaction, had lost full coordination of body movement; reportedly, 3.5 hours after consuming the edible, Pongi fell from the 5th floor of his dormitory, subsequently leading to his death.
This was the first reported death in Colorado linked to edible consumption; Pongi’s autopsy reports indicated that his blood level was at 7.2 ng/ml after consuming the cannabis-infused cookie, although the state of Colorado constitutes any blood level above 5 ng/ml as impairment. Through this tragic incident, which occurred in March of 2014, the dangers of edibles have been publicized – but not recognized as a public policy.
Those opposed to edible consumption, such as Dr. Al Bronstein of Rocky Mountain of Poison and Drug Center proposed to make edible marijuana consumption into educational policy. “It’s akin to the education about alcohol— to drink responsibly,” he said. “People need to eat these edibles responsibly, and they have limited experience with these products. That’s the real problem. This s a drug. People need to be respectful of that”. But how can someone be respectful of moderation when they’re not even aware of the danger? The Children’s Hospital in Aurora, Colorado has also reported a spike in children being hospitalized for accidentally eating THC laced candy. Can moderation be taught if we continue to perceive marijuana as a harmless plant?
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