Part of Cannabis and your health
Come Wednesday, you will be able to go into your local pot store (or online) and choose from a wide selection of dried cannabis products, oils and seeds.
The stores, whether government-run or licensed private retailers, have been circumspect about exactly what strains they will sell and at what price, but all will be revealed in a few days.
What we do know, however, is that there will be one glaring absence from that list of products on offer: Edibles.
There will be no THC-infused gummies, cookies, chocolate bars, energy drinks, beer and so on until October, 2019.
This will be a great disappointment to consumers, many of whom would prefer a smoke-free high.
The lack of edibles is also a frustration for those who use cannabis for medicinal purposes. While CBD-infused oils are already popular, there is a large appetite for sprays, powders and other ways of delivering the drug.
The lack of edibles on the legal Canadian market will also leave pot entrepreneurs champing at the bit because edibles are the fastest-growing part of the burgeoning cannabis market.
In parts of the United States where it’s legal, more than half the market is already non-smoked forms of cannabis.
The good news – if you want to put it that way – is that all manner of illegal edibles are readily available online.
Just as dispensaries – which are technically illegal – have operated openly for a number of years, there are dozens of online retailers openly selling a dizzying array of products.
You can buy everything from gummy bears containing 10 milligrams of THC a bear to breakfast cereal bars with a staggering 100 mg of THC, not to mention ganja-infused tinctures, syrups, even barbecue sauce.
From a public-health perspective, it would have made sense to legalize edible forms of cannabis before smokable forms because the health risks are lesser. (The harms of smoking come from combustion, not from the stimulants, whether nicotine or THC.)
But the real harm of cannabis has come from its criminalization: Having a record is a lot worse for one’s health than smoking weed.
Eliminating the risk and cost of criminal prosecution is the principal justification for legalization.
Practically, people get busted for smoking pot because they are given away by the smell. Very few people get arrested for chewing cannabis gummies.
So, legalizing dried cannabis and oils first makes sense.
The other reason for legalization is to undercut the black market. Yet, as legalization day approaches, the black market for edibles is booming.
That can be seen as legislative failure, but it’s more of a hiccup.
The government has made a conscious decision to legalize cannabis in stages. Preparing for legalization of smokable/vapable forms of cannabis has been a massive undertaking, with more twists and turns than anyone probably imagined.
At this point, the decision to hold off legalizing edibles, however maddening, looks prudent.
In jurisdictions that have legalized recreational cannabis, almost all the problems they encountered – medically and politically – were caused by edibles.
Colorado, for example, saw a huge spike in poisonings, including in children. Edibles tend to look like candy, so kids eat them if they are lying around.
Dosage is tricky: A brownie can contain 10 mg or 100 mg of THC and it will look and taste the same, but have dramatically different effects. Then there is the novelty factor – “Hey, I can get stoned eating a cookie!” – which tends to attract people who have never smoked cannabis, and who overdo it.
This is made worse by the fact that, when cannabis is consumed orally, there is a delayed onset of “symptoms.” A smoking high typically lasts about an hour, with the peak at 10 minutes after consumption. With edibles, it can take up to two hours to feel high, and it will last longer.
Clearly, a fair bit of education is also required before edibles hit the market officially.
Regulators also have a lot of work ahead of them in the year to come.
There are issues of quality control, dosage, portion sizes, packaging and, an almost endless number of potential products.
What we can learn from other jurisdictions is that childproof packaging is a must (just as it is for dried cannabis), and so is good labelling.
That takes time to get right.
In the meantime, consumers can bear in mind that it’s perfectly legal to make their own hash brownies and pot cookies.
Just be sure to take it one bite at a time.