The San Francisco Department of Public Health has established some of America's first pot brownie and even milkshake regulations in response to the growing sector of the medical cannabis industry. Edible baked goods, as well as ice cream, lollipops, chewing gum, and even olive oil tinged with THC, have become a smash hit in California's dispensaries. But such edibles can lead to frightening experiences and even emergency room visits when they are accidentally ingested or improperly prepared. Anecdotal stories and news headlines abound of grandmas, children, and pets accidentally eating some unmarked baked goods and experiencing cannabis' sometimes harrowing effects.
The city's new medical cannabis regulations call for labeling the amount of marijuana on each individually marked, opaquely wrapped cookie or rice krispie treat, and keeping pets and children out of any kitchen where they're being made. No treats should resemble any type of candy. And no dispensary can make hot or cold foods like milkshakes or ice cream without a special permit from the Public Health Department, which has designed coursework and an exam for permitees.
San Francisco's Green Cross delivery dispensary operator Kevin Reed has implemented the guidelines and says they're necessary to prevent accidental exposure to the psychoactive herb. "There are a million different advantages to edible products, but then you have people who turn around and put Snickers labels on it, and an average kid can't tell the different between a Snickers bar and a pot Snicker bars," he said. "There's still this Wild West mentality."
Reed's grandmother accidentally got into a plate of pot cookies at his apartment four years ago and demanded to see an emergency room doctor when the effects came on. "The first one was good, so thirty to forty minutes she had another. She wasn't from here and didn't have any education. When I came in, she said she ate these two cookies and said she was feeling kind of funny. Her blood pressure was up, her heart was pumping. She got paranoid and asked to be taken to the emergency room.
She even accused Reed of wanting to take her insurance money and inheritance. "I would definitely recommend that patients consider cookies just like their medication, like their Vicodin," he said. "It should all be locked up. If it's not labeled, you don't want to be that one explaining to Mom why her heart is beating that fast."
According to David Byrnes with California's Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, the state does not track cannabis-specific emergency room visits so there's no way to quantify a rise related to the billion-dollar state industry.
Regarding animals, however, local vets say accidental cannabis ingestion is fairly common. Dr. Chris Johnson, doctor of veterinary medicine and intern at San Francisco Veterinary Specialists, says accidental ingestion isn't really an issue in Oklahoma, where he's from. In San Francisco, however, pot trumps other common poisonings like Tylenol, insecticides, antifreeze, and blood-pressure medication. "Of the top five sources of poisoning, I would have to say certainly marijuana is at the top," he said. "I would have to say chocolate is at the top but those two go hand in hand."
Johnson said animals present symptoms of stress when they've been dosed, but, as with humans, it's never killed anyone. Pot makes animals uncomfortable, and the course of treatment involves fluids and observation.
"Most of the time they're really jittery and they're kind of hyperactive. They're very sensitive to different stimuli like noise and light," he said. "We may or may not give things like Valium to kind of help and just relax them."
A San Francisco resident and edible cannabis consumer who wished to remain anonymous said he accidentally left out a plate of pot brownies overnight and awoke in the early morning to his beloved dog vomiting and staggering down the hallway. The experience was terrifying. "We thought he was having stroke," he said.
Rushed to a veterinary ER, the canine presented low blood pressure, high pulse, and was kept overnight, costing his owner a couple hundred dollars. "He ended up being fine, but it was spooky."
David Goldman, a spokesperson for medical pot group Americans for Safe Access, said the drug is rather harmless, but people should exercise some basic common sense. "Most people after they come down from brownies they feel fine, they're hungry and okay," he said. "I think the real onus is on parents and guardians of children to cook and keep edibles in a safe place. It's just common sense."
Even experienced users need to pay attention to dosage, Goldman added, who also sits on San Francisco's Medical Cannabis Task Force. Back in January, Kinman Chan, a thirty-year-old man from San Francisco, claimed he was high on a double dose of medical pot cookies when he screamed, dropped his pants, and attacked crew members on a cross-country flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, forcing its diversion to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Seeds & Stems
Last week the NAACP threw its unconditional support to what is now Prop. 19, the Tax and Control Cannabis Act. ... Grammy Award-winning musician Ziggy Marley is the author of new comic book Marijuanaman. The first issue hits shelves April 20, 2011, and will be published by Berkeley-based Image Comics. In the meantime, Marley will make an appearance at Comic-Con International on Saturday, July 24.