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The Problem of Mislabeled Edible Marijuana Products

Last Updated on November 21, 2016 by Inspire Malibu

Twenty-three states across the country have legalized medicinal marijuana. Four states, plus the District of Columbia, now permit the sale and consumption of the drug for recreational purposes. As citizens and their state governments continue to charge ahead of the federal government where pot is concerned, critics point out that the mislabeling of edible marijuana products is an outright danger to users.

Mislabeled Edible Marijuana

Researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine conducted a study to see how accurately medicinal edible marijuana products are labeled. The labels on the packaging are supposed to list how much delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is contained the products. THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, is what gives users a high after they’ve ingested the drug.

Their report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s June 2015 issue, concluded that the majority of labeling on medicinal edible marijuana products is incorrect.

Research Results About Marijuana Mislabeling

  • 17 percent of the products had accurate labels
  • 60 percent of the sampled products contained less THC than listed on packaging
  • 23 percent of medicinal edibles contained higher levels of THC than the packaging listed

Marijuana is still considered by the federal government to be a schedule I drug, meaning there is no accepted medical use for the drug and that it has a high likelihood for abuse. Because of this stance, there is no federal oversight of pot-laced edibles being sold in states across the country. While state governments are busy trying to collect tax revenues on the sale of these products, very few resources aimed at protecting consumers are in place.

“The states that have medical marijuana laws,” says Dr. Ryan Vandrey, lead author on the Johns Hopkins report, “need to account for the quality and testing of medical marijuana products sold to their residents.” A “let the buyer beware” attitude towards medicinal weed is not right, he added.

Though the study’s reach, sampling products from Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, is considered small, it’s believed that these results are consistent across states where medical marijuana is legal. Buyers of edible products that contained less THC than labeled are not getting what they paid for, but the opposite situation is even more dangerous.

Patients ingesting products that contain far more THC than is listed are at the risk of unintentionally overdosing. In regard to overdose, Vandrey notes, “It can be a miserable experience, and through the edible route of administration, that miserable experience can last many hours.”

What are the Side Effects of Marijuana Overdose?

  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Acute psychosis in extreme cases

It’s estimated that there are approximately 2.5 million medicinal marijuana patients in the United States. Of course, this statistic does not speak to people using edible marijuana products for recreational purposes, or for that matter, abusing the drug illegally without a prescription. What healthcare officials do know is that there has been a spike in emergency room visits in states, like Colorado, where edible marijuana products have been legalized.

Eating THC laced pastries, candies, soups or sauces can be particularly tricky to the uneducated. The initial onset of the drug’s effect isn’t immediate, as it is for example when users smoke it. Because of this, individuals will take more of the edible thinking that it’s not working. This can easily lead to overdose, or at the very least, an extremely unpleasant experience. There is also cause for concern when marijuana edibles appear to be normal treats that children and teens are attracted to.

The market for medicinal and recreational marijuana continues to evolve. In the absence of federal oversight, states will need to pay greater attention to regulating the content of THC in these products, and users, at least for now, must not trust the labels.


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