One of the many, er, highlights of this new era of considerable reform regarding marijuana laws in the United States has been the creative new ways one can ingest. Peanut butter and puffed rice truffles, green light hard candy gems, extra virgin olive oil, elderberry syrup — all enhanced with cannabis — are just a few of the products available at one specific company, Om Edibles and Medicinals.
Om is a California-based, all female collective that’s been finding new ways to get folks feeling good since 2006. They strive to develop products where cannabis combines with super foods and other “healing products.”
“I feel like cannabis has been put in the wrong section during this prohibition time,” said Maya, the collective’s creator. “It was put in a category with unhealthy things, when it really belongs in the healing herb category. I try to combine as many different, healthy powerful ingredients as I can to create a harmony. I feel like cannabis is so much more effective when you do that.”
Maya explained that at Om, they are extremely careful about their products’ THC content – which dictates how high someone can get from consuming.
“Cannabis is so much more complicated than a pharmaceutical where you have a quantitative value and you can make it perfect in your beaker,” she said.
Varying factors — anything from what kind of summer the cannabis was grown in, where the cannabis was grown, and what products the plants are fed — can change a marijuana plant’s THC content (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana).
Most serious edible makers get their products tested frequently, Maya insisted. But it’s not always so simple to gauge the THC concentration in every product or its effect.
“Even if you do the same thing every time, it can basically be impossible (to get the same results),” Maya said. “So on our packaging we say approximately and it’s our best estimation. And we are very close every time. But to get it to an exact number is a challenge. And that’s why we always say start with a little bit.”
If you’re after a certain high, “You can always eat more,” Maya says, “because what happens is that people may think an edible may be stronger if they take it on an empty stomach but the truth is if you have a fat, sugar or alcohol in your belly, it reacts in your stomach and really breaks down the THC further. You get a lot more altered.”
This is at the core of what Ron Kammerzell – senior director of enforcement at the Colorado Department and Revenue and one of the brains behind rolling out legalized weed in the state – called the “biggest challenge” of the first year of Colorado’s high times, according to an interview with Al Jazeera America.
Just because your state legalizes various forms of weed ingestion doesn’t mean its residents are going to study up on what the difference is. Although Kammerzell says that Colorado basically modeled the retail sale of edibles after medical marijuana (what Maya sells at Om in California), he admits that the state did not take into consideration that most people who consume weed for medical reasons have largely studied up on how things might go down. Conversely, those who are less familiar with marijuana and cannabis products not even realize they’re eating more than a “regular” cookie or lollipop, and that can have disastrous consequences.
Last summer, Jordan Coombs was with his wife and two young children at the Denver County Fair when he accidentally ate a bunch of samples of weed-laced chocolates. The local LivWell marijuana company had handed them out, and Coombs said he had no idea they were more than your average chocolate.
“I wouldn’t have eaten a bunch of chocolate with pot in it with my four and two-year-olds with me,” Coombs told a local CBS affiliate last August. “That’s not my idea of a good time.”
But within an hour, Coombs said he “started having convulsions and freaking out” and immediately asked his wife to be taken to the hospital. When his wife said she wasn’t sure where the closest hospital was, a paranoid Coombs “accused her of trying to kill him.”
Coombs did eventually find his way to a hospital and was treated for overdosing on THC. And he allegedly wasn’t alone. When Coombs filed an ongoing lawsuit against LivWell, six other plaintiffs joined him saying they too were given pot chocolate without being properly informed of where it would take them.
Beyond that incident, there have been much more serious and tragic consequences from edible consumption – even among people who knew they were consuming weed products.
Last March, college student Levy Thamba was visiting Denver when he died after jumping from the balcony of a hotel room. Authorties later discovered that Thamba had consumed a marijuana cookie that had more than six servings of THC, and began “exhibiting hostile behavior.” His friends tried to calm him down, but that proved unsuccessful when Thamba reportedly “jumped out of bed, went outside the hotel room, and jumped over the balcony railing.”
A spokesperson for the Denver coroner’s office told The Denver Post that she believes this is the first time it has listed “marijuana intoxication from an edible product” as a significant contributing factor to a death.
A month after Thamba’s death, another tragic event occurred. A Denver husband shot and killed his wife after he took too many edibles and started to hallucinate. She called 911, but help arrived too late.
Colorado’s solution to these initial major warning signs was to enact a series of emergency rules that clearly should have been in place from the get-go. Basically, the rules make it clear that each serving of edible marijuana projects must only have 10 milligrams of THC, and that all products must be “easily divided into obvious servings.”
The new rules initially annoyed manufacturers of edible products, not because the opposed the attempt at safety, but because they had to go back and change their product lines, which in some cases cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Tripp Keber, the head of Dixie Elixirs & Edibles, said the new rules cost the company upwards of $350,000. But obviously he kept things in perspective.
“Of course, there’s a knee-jerk reaction, which is just, ‘Rats!,’” he told Al Jazeera America. “But the fact of the matter is that, like most people in this industry, we want to do better. And so that $350,000 – if we can save one or 100 lives, obviously there’s a [return on investment] there.” Obviously.
(featured image via Ben Raynal)