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What are cannabis edibles and are they dangerous?

“My brother has been ordering edibles online. He and his mates use them regularly. What are they and are they dangerous?”

A cannabis edible is a food product that contains one or more of the chemical compounds found in cannabis (known as cannabinoids), including THC, the major psychoactive component of the plant, i.e., it gets you ‘stoned’. In the past edibles were more likely to be homemade, the most popular of these being brownies (often referred to as ‘hash brownies’). Since cannabis was legalised in some parts of the US, edibles are now mass produced and commercially available. They come in many different forms and often bought online, with some of the most popular being lollies (such as gummy bears), chocolates and cookies.

Most people are aware of the harms associated with smoking and one of the ‘benefits’ of edibles is that consuming the drug orally removes that risk. Cannabis smokers, however, experience an almost immediate effect and can moderate their dose accordingly. When you eat an edible it takes far longer (food is absorbed into the bloodstream through the liver and it can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours to feel the full effects) and because of this delay users can end up eating more of the product believing that it isn’t working. This can lead to a range of problems and there have been reports of people becoming very sick after eating high levels of THC. Whilst a trip to an emergency department for cannabis is uncommon, if it happens it is often due to someone having eaten it.

Unfortunately, cannabis use, no matter how the drug is used, can be highly problematic for some people. Studies have found that cannabis can negatively impact mental health, most particularly for those who have a family history of conditions such as bipolar and schizophrenia. Cannabis does not cause these conditions but it can act like a key and ‘unlock’ them in those that are susceptible and bring on the first episode or make an episode of psychosis worse.

Like any drug, cannabis is not risk-free, regardless of what form it comes in. Edibles remove the dangers associated with smoking cannabis but there are other potential harms associated with their use.

First published: May 2020

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