Casey Elliott: Edible marijuana is putting kids at risk

In states where marijuana has been legalized, revenues for edibles have skyrocketed. Edibles are food products that contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the substance in marijuana that produces psychological effects, or cannabidiol (CBD). As marijuana businesses profit from these sales, some states are considering the taxation of marijuana products to fill budget gaps.

However, most states have seen far less revenue from the taxation of marijuana products than legalization advocates would lead the public to believe, with California receiving less than half of the tax revenue initially projected.

Today, makers of edibles infuse varying quantities of THC into food products such as chocolate bars, beef jerky, soda, and more. With so much money to be made, even major corporations are entering the edibles marketplace. In 2018, Heineken launched “HiFi Hops,” a non-alcoholic beer infused with THC; last month, the inventor of "Jelly Belly" launched a line of CBD-infused jelly beans, which promptly sold out; and on Saturday (a noted holiday among marijuana consumers), a Carl’s Junior restaurant will serve the “CheeseBurger Delight,” featuring a CBD-infused sauce.

There has been limited research on the effects of CBD among children and adolescents or whether CBD usage normalizes the use of marijuana in general. Therefore, we must be cautious about what the acceptance of marijuana-infused products will have on our society’s understanding of safe marijuana consumption and regulation.

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The rise of edibles mimicking popular children’s candies and other frequently purchased family food products has resulted in a troubling increase in marijuana-related hospital visits for minors and adults alike, with legislatures in Colorado and California enacting laws to restrict marketing of edible products and prevent accidental ingestion by minors.

However, even with these new marketing restrictions, emergency room visits for minors caused by inhaling or ingesting marijuana continue to rise. In fact, a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that “edible products accounted for 10.7 percent of marijuana-attributable visits between 2014 and 2016 but represented only 0.32 percent of total marijuana sales in Colorado (in kilograms of tetrahydrocannabinol) during that period.”

Since legalization, marijuana-related traffic deaths have increased 151 percent in Colorado, killing drivers, passengers, pedestrians and bicyclists. Furthermore, 48 percent of pediatric marijuana intoxication cases reported to poison control centers in Colorado were attributed to the ingestion of edibles.

This double-whammy of decreased regulation of marijuana and increased marketing of marijuana-laced products is detrimental to public health and substance misuse prevention efforts, and it puts our kids and teens at risk.

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Science has taught us that the age of first use of any addictive substance -- whether it be marijuana, alcohol, tobacco or another drug -- increases the likelihood of that individual going on to develop a substance use disorder in his or her lifetime, as does exposure to caregiver substance misuse.

The United States is in the midst of an overdose epidemic that is killing more people in one year than car accidents and gun violence. It is imperative that we learn from our mistakes and the actions that could have been taken to prevent the current epidemic, such as investing in evidence-based prevention education, and implementing safeguards to prevent future epidemics.