July 30, 2021

Exposing the dangers of THC-infused edibles

With recreational and medicinal use legalization of marijuana in dozens of states, THC-infused edible products have surged, and are now part of a lucrative, multibillion-dollar marijuana industry. 


THC is short for tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of cannabis (i.e., marijuana). Marijuana edibles are food and beverage products that are infused with activating levels of THC, ingested to produce desired psychoactive euphoric effects. Not to be confused with CBD hemp oil (cannabidiol) infused products, another non-psychoactive ingredient of cannabis, all traditional marijuana products, including THC-infused edibles, remain illegal in South Carolina. 


While the intent of this article is not to debate the merits of legalization, the matter has been addressed, or is being considered, through voter referendum and legislative actions in a majority of states, including South Carolina. It suffices to say without any argument, however, that between legal dispensaries and the illicit black market, there is now an abundance of THC-infused edible products throughout the nation. 


In South Carolina, significant amounts of THC-infused edibles are being seized by law enforcement agencies on a regular basis. Via various shipment and transportation methods, these drugs predominantly come to South Carolina from states where marijuana was first deemed legal for medicinal or recreational use, namely California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Colorado.  


Smoking drugs is one of the fastest routes to transfer a mind-altering substance into the bloodstream through the lungs, and, because of its rapid onset of psychoactive effects, remains the most common method of marijuana use. Conversely, with THC edibles, this process can take much longer, sometimes even hours, because the drug is processed through the stomach and metabolized by liver enzymes before being transferred into the blood and ultimately the brain. A host of factors can affect the rate of speed of this

process, including one’s metabolism, weight, other contents in the stomach, and the amount of THC actually consumed. Additionally, for multiple reasons, once the effects of THC edibles do set in, they can be much stronger and longer lasting than traditional smoking of marijuana. 


Illicitly made THC-infused products are often designed and packaged to masquerade legitimate goods to avoid suspicion and detection by law enforcement. A simple search on the internet illustrates the prevalence of these items, and how they often resemble brand-named packaged foods that are traditionally marketed to children and younger generations, such as candy, sugary cereals and baked goods. It is this very packaging that can lead to accidental ingestion by unsuspecting young children. Moreover, while THC edibles often come with labels bearing ingredients and the amount of THC content, the actual levels of the drug can be different than alleged on the label, especially with illicitly made THC products, which is problematic for obvious reasons. 


With their increasing prevalence in the marketplace, young children are having more frequent accidental involvements with THC edibles, especially in the many states where they are now legal. Even with adult intentional users of the drug, inadvertent or over ingestion of THC-infused edibles is not uncommon, mainly because novice users of the products do not realize, or calculate, the correlation of THC content and delayed onset of effects. Often, because of the delayed onset, inexperienced users of THC edibles purposefully consume more product because they believe the initial consumption has failed to work. As the first dose begins to take effect, however, the subsequent ingestion of additional THC can result in significant adverse effects, such as extreme sedation, impaired cognitive and motor-skill ability, agitation, anxiety, paranoia, cardiac problems, vomiting and even psychotic episodes.


Even for adults who knowingly use THC-infused edibles, the dangers can be significant when consumed improperly.


The adverse effects of accidental ingestion or misuse of THC-infused edibles can be serious. Calls to poison control centers and emergency room visits have increased exponentially in those states where the edibles have become legalized. Predictably, as the pervasiveness of THC-laced edibles continues to expand in South Carolina, so too will the drug consumption dangers. As with other legal and illicit drugs, parents are urged to stay observant, vigilant and mindful about the hazards of THC-infused edibles.     


Doug Treasurer is a Daniel Island resident and intelligence analyst with the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program in Charleston. HIDTA provides assistance to federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States. Prior to serving with HIDTA, Treasurer had a full career as a special agent with the DEA.