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Aug 26, 2019

6 min. read

Why you need to be careful about consuming cannabis edibles.

As Canada continues to adjust to legal cannabis, another major change is on the way. Cannabis edibles—foods and drinks that contain THC, the active ingredient in marijuana—will soon be permitted for sale.

This was always the plan. Last year, the Cannabis Act sanctioned the sale and use of cannabis flowers and oils; it also established that edibles and "consumables" such as lotions would be allowed on store shelves in October 2019. (It's already legal for Canadians to make edibles at home.) But the widespread availability of pot treats promises to create new challenges.

Drivers beware.

Dried cannabis, the kind you smoke, has a near-instantaneous impact on a user's mental state. But edibles, such as gummies or brownies, take longer to have an effect. Your digestive track slowly absorbs the THC, so the time between eating a cannabis treat and feeling its effects can be an hour or more.

"You might eat a cannabis brownie and not feel anything, so you decide to go somewhere," says Douglas Beirness, senior research and policy analyst at the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction. "While you're driving, your cannabis level could start to rise—along with its impairing effects."

If you want to nibble on an edible, it's imperative to think ahead. "People need to be aware that edibles do have a different effect on you," says Teresa Di Felice, assistant vice-president, government and community relations at CAA Manitoba. "Just because you may not experience an immediate high doesn't give you license to get behind the wheel." Nor will you be a good judge of when your high has ultimately subsided. To be safe, always use a taxi service or designated driver.

Consumption concerns.

Edibles' delayed effects, combined with their appealing flavour, also increase the chance of overindulging and overdosing. Between 2014 and 2016, edibles accounted for about 11 percent of cannabis-related emergency room visits to UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. (Colorado legalized cannabis in 2012.) That may not seem like a lot, but considering edibles made up less than one percent of cannabis sales in the state, the hospitalization rate is quite high. Patients complained of severe intoxication, plus psychiatric and cardiovascular symptoms—all known effects of cannabis overuse.

Canadian regulations aim to limit compulsive consumption. A single package of store-bought cannabis edibles can have no more than 10 mg of THC—a low dose for most adults. Each serving must be individually wrapped, which may discourage users from ingesting more than they can handle. Manufacturers and retailers are also prohibited from making health claims about their products, mixing them with stimulating additives like caffeine, and packaging or promoting them in a way that could appeal to children.

Enforcement in effect.

Though edibles will likely change how users consume cannabis, the rules of the road remain the same: If you're impaired, don't drive. Manitoba's traffic laws make no distinction between edibles and other forms of cannabis. Anyone caught driving under the influence is subject to a three-day vehicle seizure and a 90-day licence suspension, among other penalties. Impaired drivers may also face federal Criminal Code penalties—from $1,000-plus fines to imprisonment.

"Whether it's drinking alcohol, smoking cannabis or eating it, the message is the same," Di Felice says. "They don't mix with driving."

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