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Eating marijuana is riskier than smoking it

David McNew / Getty Images News

Colorado officials are seriously worried about edible marijuana products.

Lawmakers in the state, where pot was legalized in 2012, have rushed to impose clearer labeling standards on edibles and limits on how much marijuana food can contain. The latest regulations, which went into effect last week, bar edibles that contain more than 100 milligrams of THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana.

The new standards are largely in response to two deadly incidents that gained attention from national media outlets.

In one incident, a 19-year-old man jumped to his death from a Denver hotel balcony. Later reports revealed that Levy Thamba, the young man involved, had consumed six times the recommended amount of a marijuana cookie.

In another instance, Richard Kirk allegedly shot and killed his wife. Police suspect Kirk consumed pot-laced candy and prescription medication before the shooting.

But why would marijuana edibles be to blame? After all, marijuana is normally perceived as safe compared to other legal drugs like alcohol and nicotine.

Smoking and eating marijuana can be very different

The problem, marijuana advocates and experts explain, is how pot is ingested when it's eaten. When marijuana is smoked or vaporized, the effects are felt within minutes as the THC is absorbed into the lungs. Absorbing marijuana through the stomach, on the other hand, can take hours, especially if the marijuana is ingested after a full meal. That makes it harder to control the dose.

So if an unknowing consumer notices the effects aren't kicking in immediately, he or she might try eating more marijuana-laced goods to force the effect. But the ingestion can't be sped up this way; it's almost always going to take 30 minutes to a few hours. So when the high finally kicks in, it might build into an overwhelming feeling, even an overdose, due to all the edibles frivolously consumed to speed up the effect.

Elan Nelson, with the Medicine Man marijuana dispensary in Denver, says the public needs to be better educated about the risks. She says everyone should at most start with Colorado's designated serving size for pot (10 milligrams) before trying to consume more.

"We need to make sure there's public education and knowledge and get that out there," she says.

Marijuana businesses support more education and transparency

Steve Horwitz, owner of Ganja Gourmet in Denver, speaks to the risks of marijuana edibles from a personal perspective. In the past, he's fainted and experienced hot and cold flashes after eating too much marijuana.

"If you eat too much marijuana, it goes from being a fun, great experience to being unpleasant," Horwitz explains.

Horwitz, however, doubts that marijuana can be blamed for someone shooting his wife. As he explains it, eating too much pot can make people mellow, tired, nauseous, hot, cold, and anxious. But it can't, he says, make someone murderous.

Still, Horwitz acknowledges more regulations and education efforts might be necessary. He says businesses should educate their customers if they aren't already.

"Marijuana edibles are a wonderful thing," he claims. "But when you try [marijuana], treat it with respect."

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