Although cannabis edibles are commonly viewed as a safer and more desirable alternative to smoked or vaped cannabis, physicians and the public should be aware of several risks related to the use of cannabis edibles.

Cannabis edibles present specific risks of overconsumption and accidental ingestion, especially among cannabis-naive individuals and children, and additional risks for youth and senior populations with regard to mental well-being and cognitive functioning.

Experts warn there could be unexpected health risks linked with edible cannabis-based products, such as inadvertent overdose, because it takes much longer for edible cannabis to take effect, and unexpected potency in the elderly.

It can take hours for the cannabis high to hit if the drug is taken in an edible form rather than inhaled, so there might be a temptation to take more in the meantime, which could lead to an overdose.

The onset of psychoactive effects from cannabis edibles can be delayed by up to 4 hours after consumption, and the effects can last for more than 8 hours overall, which lengthens the duration of impaired judgment and coordination experienced in comparison to inhaled cannabis.

Children (and pets) are at risk of accidental ingestion and overconsumption of cannabis because many edibles resemble candy or other food and drink.

People aged 65 years and older report the lowest rate of cannabis use overall, but use in this group has reportedly increased after legalization (in Canada), mirroring a trend in the United States in which older adults increasingly report cannabis use to manage symptoms of chronic conditions amid changing social norms.

Among older adults, cannabis consumption — including use of edibles — has been linked to greater cognitive impairment and a heightened risk of hypotension-related falls, arrhythmia and drug interactions.

“What we really want the public to know is that legal doesn’t mean safe,” said study coauthor Dr. Lawrence Loh, an adjunct professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

“People need to know that how they react will depend on the manner cannabis is consumed, the amount that is consumed and the person’s own metabolism and biokinetics. That’s why we advise they be cautious when using edibles.”

Physicians should openly discuss patients’ use of cannabis, including edibles, to enable counselling on safe consumption and driving.

For more information
Health considerations of the legalization of cannabis edibles


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