Fizzy drinks, chocolate truffles, ice cream—these aren’t your parents' pot brownies. In Colorado, where marijuana was legalized in 2012, the edibles market is bubbling up. In fact, one company recently installed equipment to fill up to 1,000 bottles per hour of THC-infused sodas.
While edibles are often seen as pot consumption for beginners, the stakes are high: Edibles made up 45% of the recreational market in 2014—the first year of recreational pot sales. They also made up the bulk of controversy. Emergency rooms are seeing more admissions from overconsumption of marijuana edibles. The treats may have even played a role in two suicides and a murder, and the state has already had to pass new legislation.
The nascent pot edible industry has also come under attack for marketing products to children. And for quality control: In a report released earlier this year, the state concluded that serving sizes were confusing—a single cookie, for example, could contain up to 10 servings of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Despite the problems, edibles are immensely popular: 5 million marijuana edibles—including brownies—were sold in 2014.
Self-described pot-trepreneur Anthony Franciosi, founder of Ant's Organic, says new legislation and new testing are helping standardize the food products. Manufacturers must now clearly mark a dose on a product. For example, if a chocolate bar has multiple servings, the bar could have lines on it indicating each 10mg dose—a standard set by the state. (The state of Washington has the same standard; Oregon still hasn’t legalized edibles for recreational use due to the complexity of regulating edibles.) An individual package may not contain more than 10 doses.
“Edibles are a great way to enjoy cannabis without drawbacks like odor and smoking in general,” Franciosi says. “You just have to treat them with respect.”
Because unlike smoking marijuana, THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, takes longer—up to 2 hours—to reach the blood stream, Franciosi says.
New marijuana users are more likely to try edibles first, Franciosi adds, and that’s where the problems start. (Just ask The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.)
For manufacturers the consistency problem starts with the raw cannabis. High-quality weed may contain 20% THC or higher, leading to edibles that had more kick than advertised. A 2014 Denver Post study found THC levels all over the place.
“They’ve gotten very strict at this point,” Franciosi says. “The people who are finding the most success are the manufacturers who have the most consistent quality and consistent potency.”
Under the new state law, which went into effect in February, manufacturers are now restricting that potency. Dosages must clearly be labeled and individual edible packages cannot contain more than 100mg of THC. Some edible makers are making products with 90 mg or less to limit risks.
Still, testing edibles isn’t an exact science, according to a March 2015 study, which found advertised THC levels inconsistent with the THC levels in the actual edible.
That’s why Franciosi recommends beginners start low and go slow. Whether you're trying ice cream, soda, or truffles (advice we can get behind, regardless), “Just eat one.”