A variety of soft chews cannabis edibles are displayed at the Ontario Cannabis Store in Toronto on Friday, January 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

Wait for ‘high’ before gobbling more cannabis edibles to avoid ER visit: doctors

Cannabis edibles such as cookies, chocolate and gummies are now available for sale

People who have never smoked marijuana could be most at risk of overdosing on cannabis-infused edibles that will soon be on store shelves across the country, warns a public health physician who says first-time users may keep noshing away while expecting a high, only to experience a racing heart, anxiety and panic attacks.

Dr. Lawrence Loh, adjunct professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, said overdose from overconsumption often means a trip to the emergency room for those who are unaware that feeling the mellow effects of pot from edibles can take several hours because of the time needed to digest and absorb food into the small intestine versus quickly inhaling the drug through the lungs.

Seniors are especially at risk because of a slower metabolism, Loh said of non-lethal overdose from edibles, which federal regulations limit to an individual serving size of a 10-milligram dose of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

However, someone who eats an entire package of cannabis-infused product could be taking in a whopping 100 milligrams of THC and putting themselves at risk, even though regulations require products to be individually wrapped in 10-milligram serving sizes.

“I think the big thing for anyone in the public, especially cannabis-naive individuals or people who have edibles around with children at home, is to first and foremost avoid overdosing,” Loh said.

“There’s psychotic reactions so people may lose touch with reality, sometimes in the form of hallucinations or delusions and also anxiety or panic attacks along with decreased judgment.”

Loh is co-author of a commentary published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on the health risks of cannabis edibles.

Short-term effects of edibles are not the only issue of concern, he said.

“There are still those longer term, chronic risks around edibles, particularly around addiction and also the risk of exacerbation of existing mental-health issues that we might be worried about in the longer run with cannabis edibles as well as any form of cannabis,” he said.

Regulations governing edibles, beverages, vapes and topical forms of cannabis came into effect last October, a year after Canada legalized fresh or dried bud, oil, plants and seeds.

Cannabis edibles such as cookies, chocolate and gummies were available for sale starting in December in all provinces except Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, where consumers can access them in mid-January.

In Ontario, for example, edibles will be available as of this week in stores, and then online in mid-January through the provincial distributor as a part of a slow rollout over the next few months.

A University of Colorado School of Medicine study published last March in the Annals of Internal Medicine says an increase in emergency-room visits related to edibles prompted health experts to issue warnings about cardiac and psychiatric issues in the state that began selling recreational marijuana in 2014. Packaging, potency and labelling restrictions on edibles did not come into effect until a year later before being tightened to require labels to prominently display the potency of psychoactive ingredients.

READ MORE: Quebec raising legal age for cannabis to 21, the strictest in the country

Loh said there’s a lack of data on edibles in general but consumers should also beware that illicit, unregulated products still exist and could be problematic because of issues such as mould.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction recommended last July that anyone who has never smoked or vaped cannabis should not consume more than 2.5 milligrams of THC in a product and wait to feel the effects before taking more.

Dr. Jeff Finkler, an emergency-room physician at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, said he sees plenty of patients, mostly females in their late teens and early 20s, who come in having panic attacks or anxiety from eating too much of a cannabis-infused food and sometimes mixing it with alcohol or other substances.

“The thing that people forget is that there’s a delayed response,” he said, adding users often think the recommended dosage couldn’t possibly pack a buzz. They are sometimes given a benzodiazepine to counteract the effects of an overdose before being sent home.

“Don’t cut off more than the actual dose just because it looks so small. You don’t want to eat the whole thing. That little thing’s got eight doses or 10 doses,” he said of a package.

“It’s not like smoking. When you start to feel weird you can stop inhaling. But when you ingest it, man, it’s on board.”

While 10 milligrams of THC is the recommended dosage, the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana in a food is hard to measure, he said.

“It requires very sophisticated analytical equipment and it’s even more complicated when they use chocolate because people think it enhances the viability of the THC but chocolate interferes with the measurement of the actual amount.”

“Start low, go slow, and wait. Be patient if you’re going to take the edibles.”

READ MORE: New cannabis products may not eat into black market, experts say

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VicPD confirms wolf sighting in James Bay

Police ask that children and pets be taken inside

VIDEO: Furry, four-legged donors make their way to doggy blood drive in Langford

WAVES and Canadian Animal Blood Bank host blood drive for dogs

Annual Salmon Carcass Transplant draws Saanich residents to Douglas Creek

More than 100 frozen salmon tossed into the creek as part of ecological restoration

Colwood hosts open house on future of Royal Bay community

Event takes place on Jan. 22 at Royal Bay Secondary from 6 to 8 p.m.

WATCH: Police warn car break-ins are on the rise in Greater Victoria

Residents can ‘take precautions to make their vehicle undesirable,’ says VicPD spokesperson

‘Presumptive case’ of coronavirus in Canada confirmed by Ontario doctors

Man in his 50s felt ill on his return to Canada from Wuhan, China

VIDEO: Drone footage shows extent of damage in Highway 4 rockslide

Tofino, Ucluelet still cut off from rest of the island, as crews work to repair roadway

People knowingly take fentanyl so make policy changes to reduce harm: B.C. study

Dr. Jane Buxton, an epidemiologist at the centre, says drug users need more resources,

‘My heart is going to bleed’: Bodies brought back to Canada following Iran plane crash

Remains of Sahar Haghjoo, 37, and her eight-year-old daughter, Elsa Jadidi, were identified last weekend

BCLC opens novelty bet on Harry and Meghan moving to the west coast

Meanwhile, real estate agency points to four possible homes for the family

Canada slips in global corruption ranking in aftermath of SNC-Lavalin scandal

The country obtained a score of 77, which places it at the top in the Americas

Wuhan bans cars, Hong Kong closes schools as coronavirus spreads

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said her government will raise its response level to emergency, highest one

Vernon woman suing McDonald’s for spilled coffee

Woman seeking nearly $10K, says employee failed to put lid on properly

Most Read