Chowing Down

If you drink, you learn pretty quickly where your tolerance points are. You know what a blood alcohol level is (although I wish the math behind that was being taught in school, or at least college) and you probably understand, more or less, that 12% alcohol booze will have a different effect than 6%. Or 40%. We even have conventions in serving size that tend to even out the math – most large beer glasses are roughly equal to smaller wine glasses or much smaller shot glasses. Not a perfect system, but it helps drinkers keep track.

But when it comes to edible marijuana products – and we’re anticipating future legalization here, but this also applies to consumables available on the medical market – similar conventions don’t yet exist. The testing industry – and there is a nascent one evolving – certainly has measurements. But how well will they be understood by potential consumers? And how consistent will they be? If you get a cake somewhere and it has more chocolate than the baker intended, you probably won’t even notice. But if the concentration of cannabis in a medible is off, it’s a different story.

The good news is that while an extreme alcohol overdose can kill you, a cannabis overdose is, at worst, likely to create a “bad experience.” The bad news is it will take time and a lot of education – for producers, and more challengingly, for consumers – before the effects of different edibles are easily and clearly communicated.

Pretty much any product that involves fat, butter or sugar can be infused with cannabis (see companion article). Not just brownies — soups, stew, chili, cookies, hot chocolate, mac & cheese and of course, pot pies – almost any food can be created with a cannabis kick.

In Colorado, our national leader on these issues, edibles must be packaged in servings that contain 10 milligrams of THC. Like the shot-beer-wine set up, this might result in a large brownie or a small sucking candy, but it is a consistent dose. Colorado also requires warning labels about waiting for the effects (the effects of edibles take longer than smoking – generally an hour or two to set in, and they generally last longer). But the challenge faced there and in future legalizing states is to make sure these ideas are understood by consumers and treated responsibly. Over the last two years, these regulations have been adjusted a few times to make them clearer.

Right now in RI compassion centers and compassionate care arrangements, edibles are identified by the number of milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and number of milligrams of cannabidiol (CBD) per serving (and packages indicate how many servings per package). It’s good, comprehensive information for informed consumers, which those with medical cards ought to be. And it’s presented in environments where caregivers are available to answer questions and give guidance. Regulatory bills currently being considered in RI focus on raw cannabis and propose addressing edibles later, in future legislation. What general consumer labeling might look like here is still an open question.

According to The Denver Post, nearly 5 million edibles were sold in the state in 2014, and the form seems to be growing in popularity, so packaging and labeling concerns are sure to become a part of the RI legalization conversation soon.