Share on PinterestOverconsumption of cannabis can happen more easily when it’s used in edible form and it can have adverse effects on a person’s health, especially in youths and older adults. Getty Images
- Both young and older adults are at greater risk of overconsumption and accidental ingestion of cannabis edibles.
- Unlike inhaled cannabis, ingested cannabis must be digested first before being absorbed.
- This delay can lead inexperienced users to inadvertently overconsume because they might not feel the intended effects immediately.
Despite their appearance, cannabis edibles — sweet treats like gummies and chocolate bars infused with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive component of marijuana — can be risky for some users.
They may look just like candy, but these potent products definitely aren’t for kids. And that’s part of the problem.
In a new article appearing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers outlined the most prominent risks associated with cannabis edibles for different users and found that young people are among the most at-risk when it comes to overconsumption and accidental ingestion.
The other most at risk: older adults.
And for those two groups, there are some serious potential adverse health problems that can sometimes result in a trip to the emergency room or just a really, really bad day.
In places where marijuana is legal recreationally and there’s data available, cannabis edibles still remain just a small part of the overall industry. However, in some cases, as in Colorado, they’ve put a disproportionate number of people in the hospital.
There are specific reasons for that, some of which are owed to the difference in how the body processes cannabis based on how it’s consumed.
It’s well established that cannabis edibles take significantly longer than inhaled marijuana to enter the bloodstream.
Smoking results in a near instantaneous onset, whereas consuming cannabis commonly takes between 30 to 60 minutes. But that can vary depending on many different factors including the user’s metabolism and the contents of the edible itself.
“Overconsumption is a significant concern because of the delayed time to onset of its intended effects. Unlike inhaled cannabis, ingested cannabis must be digested first before being absorbed, and once it has been ingested, it’s on board, which means people might not feel effects immediately and hence inadvertently overconsume,” said Dr. Lawrence Loh, MPH, an author of the research and faculty member at the University of Toronto.
Other significant factors in determining how quickly an edible could kick in include: sex, weight, diet, and tolerance to cannabis.
The effects of marijuana edibles also last a lot longer than smoking, with peak THC blood levels occurring around 3 hours after consumption.
The latency of the high from edibles can frequently result in an all-too-common scenario for some users: eating the edible, not feeling the effects immediately, and then consuming more.
By the time the effects are felt, the user could be in over their head.
There’s the potential for cannabis-induced psychosis, which results in paranoia, confusion, and hallucinations.
Particularly in older adults, cannabis can also result in cardiac events.
Last year, the Canadian Journal of Cardiology published a case report on a 70-year-old man who had a heart attack after ingesting a cannabis lollipop.
Cannabis is known to affect the cardiovascular system and can cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.
Previous research has shown a higher risk of heart attack following the use of cannabis.
But overconsumption also presents specific risks for different age groups, as outlined in the new Canadian report.
For youths, the risks outlined include panic attacks, psychosis, and hyperemesis syndrome — a serious condition that results in uncontrollable vomiting.
There are also potential long-term effects from cannabis consumption beginning at a young age, including “impaired brain development and poor mental health.”
Older adults, the other at-risk group outlined in the report, may experience increased cognitive impairment, risk of falls, heart arrhythmia, and various drug interactions.
According to Loh, these two groups are at higher risk because, “[They] have different metabolic rates and pharmacokinetics than other groups and hence respond differently… For seniors, many may have other conditions that might place them at risk of…