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Cannabis Study: Edibles Linked To More ER Visits Than Smoking

Craig F. Walker/Denver Post via Getty Images

A budtender prepares an edible sale for a customer at LivWell Broadway in Denver.

Pot brownies, gummy bears and other cannabis edibles may look harmless, but that might not be the case.  


Although edibles aren’t as popular as smoking marijuana, they account for a relatively large percentage of cannabis-related emergency room visits. 


These findings were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in March.

Dr. Andrew Monte is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, Denver. He conducted research on the edibles and emergency room visits.

Dr. Monte and his team looked at 10,000 medical records that mentioned cannabis. Of those, 2,500 fit the study's criteria for cannabis use.

Monte said patients who went to the emergency room because of adverse effects from edible cannabis products had several different complaints.

“The first and foremost were acute psychiatric events and those were panic attacks, anxiety and psychosis,” he said.

Other complaints included cardiovascular problems like a fast heart rate and some patients had heart attacks, although those were relatively few of those incidents.

The psychotic effects eventually wore off but Monte said there haven't been any long-term studies on the impact of those episodes.

Monte said edibles create more of a problem because of how slowly they work on the body and how long it takes for them to metabolize.  

“I do think that actually smoking cannabis leads to people getting high right away, so in some respects they self-titrate and so may they stop and the symptoms don’t last as long as when people eat cannabis edible products,” he said.

Because of their slow action and long-lasting effects, Monte doesn't believe edibles should be sold for recreational use. He thinks they are suitable for medical use because someone using it for that purpose would consume them once or twice a day.

However, Monte did have some advice for people who do want to use edibles recreationally.

 “If you’ve never used this before, start with a low dose," he said, something in the five to 10-milligram range, to begin with, knowing it will take 30 minutes to take effect and won't peak for two to three hours.

“You want to see what these effects are going to be and if you have an adverse drug event you feel anxious, you have a hallucination, then you want to allow time so that you’re not taking more and more and that episode can be much more severe by stacking doses in between the initial ingestion," he said.

Monte said it is unlikely that edibles will be pulled from dispensary shelves — at least in Colorado — anytime soon.

“People need to understand what the possibilities are and understand how to use things safely,” he said.

Andrew Monte, associate professor of medicine, University of Colorado, Denver

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.