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Cannabis edible products

Update January 2023: HSE issue risk communication on the adulteration of cannabis jellies with synthetic cannabinoids

The HSE advise the public that there is a high level of risk associated with THC edibles currently being sold in Ireland, as they may not THC but instead contain a synthetic cannabinoid.For people who use cannabis, we remind them of the current risk of synthetic cannabinoid exposure and encourage people not to be afraid or hesitate to get medical help if someone has an unexpected reaction or becomes physically or mentally unwell following use.

What are cannabis edible products?

Cannabis can be taken in different ways by smoking, eating or drinking in herbal tea. It can also come as oil.

Cannabis ‘edibles’ are food products infused with cannabis. Edibles come in many forms—including cakes, sweets, ’gummy bears’, 'cannabis gummies' chocolates and lozenges. They have many different names that include 'Space cakes', 'Gummies', 'THC sweets' 'Edibles', 'THC Lean'.

Food products containing cannabis have been available internationally in locations such as the Netherlands solad as cakes in coffee shops or in situations where a cannabis consumer independently prepares cannabis for cooking.

More recently, food products containing cannabis extract have emerged as products sold as part of the legalised market in Northern America and are not legalised in an Irish context.

The digestion of cannabis may be chosen by those who don’t want to smoke and consume tobacco. But with edible products, it is harder to know how a person will react as they can take a long time to kick in increasing the risks of unwanted effects or overconsumption.

The amount of THC in edible products can vary across a single product and across batches made at different times, making it difficult a person to estimate how much THC they consume and how they react.Any edible products seized in Ireland have not been subjected to quantitative analysis, meaning we are unsure of the amount of THC contained in products and if the packaging correctly shows the dose/strength. We are aware that risky substances known as synthetic cannabinoids have been found in some edible products seized in Ireland.

Are there risks?

Each person will react differently to a substance. People may have a different experience if they use cannabis edibles compared to smoking cannabis. You can never be fully sure how you will react and there are always some form of risk or unwanted effects.

The effects a person experiences will depend on a number of factors, such as personal factors, their mind-set and mental health, their metabolism, their past experiences or tolerance to cannabis, the situation in which the substance is consumed (where they are and who they are with), if they have eaten, the potency of the product, how much is consumed and if the product contains unknown substances.

The overall experience from edibles may differ to smoking cannabis. This is as a result of how the body responds to this form of consumption through ingestion. While smoking cannabis avoids what is known as ‘first pass metabolism’ (being broke down by the liver), ingestion (eating) enables the liver to breakdown cannabis into a number of metabolites, some of which are psychoactive.When eaten, THC converts 100% to the compound 11-hydroxy-THC compared to only 20% which is formed after smoking cannabis. What this means is that eating can cause more potent effects compared to smoking.

The effects take a while to kick in. A person will not feel the effects immediately from edibles like smoking cannabis. In some cases it could take over two hours before the peak effects are felt. This could lead to people taking more and causing unpredicted effects.

Effects can last longer, over a number of hours compared to inhalation. As a rough guide, it can take around 30-90 minutes to feel effects and over 2 hours to feel the peak effects.

It is harder for a person to know an accurate dose or gauge how they will react compared to inhaling. People may easily consume too much THC without knowing until the effects are felt some time later.
We can't be sure of the potency of products or if they contain other substances. We are aware of synthetic cannabinoids appearing in some edibles in Ireland.

We are aware of a small number of hospitalisations as a result of cannabis edible consumption in Ireland.Although taking too much may not be fatal, taking too many edibles can cause paranoia, anxiety, vomiting, nausea, delusions or hallucinations which can be frightening, mentally difficult or lead to accidental injury.

Get more information about cannabis edibles in our factsheet here



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