What are the dangers of using cannabis products?

With the advances made in recent years regarding the legal consumption of cannabis in several countries, public health measures must be taken, while certain rules must be reminded to the public. This is particularly the case in Canada, which has just legalized the marketing of edible cannabis products, whose THC and other cannabinoid concentrations can be variable. As such, doctors have recently issued warnings for certain classes of the population.

" Although edibles are generally seen as a safer and more desirable alternative to smoked or vaporized cannabis, doctors and the public should be aware of several risks associated with the use of edible cannabis,  " write Jasleen Grewal and Lawrence Loh, neurobiologists at the University of Toronto, in an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

Edible cannabis products take an average of four hours longer to produce noticeable effects compared to inhaled cannabis, which can increase the risk of overuse. With effects that can last up to 8 hours, edibles can also lead to a longer period of impairment compared to inhaled cannabis.

While federal regulations have standardized the presentation of prescribing information, the authors warn that "individuals' responses to different products may vary and overdose may always occur, as individuals not used to cannabis are particularly at risk".

Edible cannabis products: populations at risk and vigilance of doctors

Children and pets are particularly at risk, as many edible products look like candy and other mouth-watering foods and drinks. Other vulnerable groups include the elderly and the young. It should be noted that a recent Canadian report found that young people believe that edible cannabis products have positive effects on sleep, mood and anxiety, which in reality sometimes goes to against what is scientifically observed.

Cannabis contains several substances, called cannabinoids, whose physiological effects can vary. Credit: KalapaClinic

"Doctors should regularly interview patients who ask questions about cannabis about their use or intended use of edible cannabis products, so that they can advise these patients on the safety of children, the potential for accidental overuse and the delayed effects, as well as the potential for interaction with other substances such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, sleeping pills and opioids" warn the authors.

Doctors should also discourage the use of illegal or homemade cannabis. Risks from these products include the spread of foodborne illness, overdose due to the varying THC content of the products, poisoning from pesticide residues and the potential for unexpected effects, as illicit products may be contaminated with other drugs, such as narcotic drugs.

Population-wide monitoring and assessment of the effects of legalized edible products will ensure that regulations are better able to protect children, young people, the elderly and other age groups from the effects on health related to the consumption of edible cannabis products.


Health considerations of the legalization of cannabis edibles

Jasleen K. Grewal and Lawrence C. Loh

CMAJ January 06, 2020 192 (1) E1-E2;

 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.191217

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