As a longtime advocate for the personal freedom of intoxication for every adult, the idiotic actions of those within this culture sometimes forces me to shake my head. What the HELL are you thinking?!
But, before we get that far, let’s explore the origins of how I first learned of this phenomenon. Covered in the October 27th (2021) edition of the very informative Marijuana Moment email newsletter, the story covered a warning put out by the Auturnys Generals in several states. Parents were advised to watch for highly deceptive (and highly potent) cannabis edibles disguised as typical snack brands. Disguised may not be the right word here, but some of the products would certainly be very easy to mistake.
I’ll start by quoting the warning as published on the webpage of Arkansas AG Leslie Rutledge.
LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is warning the public about the dangers of cannabis edibles and hemp derivatives in packaging designed to look like well-known snack foods and candy. These products are unregulated, illegal, and may be extremely dangerous. As Halloween approaches, parents should be aware that these look-alike products are being offered for sale online.
“The unregulated look-alike products are dangerous and marketed to kids and young adults and when consumed by a child can have 120 times the potency of the maximum legal adult serving,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “If anyone sells these products to Arkansans I will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law. If you see these look-alike products for sale, report them to my office immediately.”
These products may contain high concentrations of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound found in cannabis, and if eaten by children, can lead to an accidental overdose. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the most common overdose incidents among children involve ingestion of edible cannabis foods, and such overdoses are on the rise. In the first nine months of 2020, 80 percent of calls related to marijuana edibles to the Poison Control Center were for pediatric exposure. In the first half of 2021 alone, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reports poison control hotline calls have received an estimated 2,622 calls for services related to young children ingesting cannabis products.
If a child were to eat the entire bag, he or she would be consuming 120 times the maximum legal adult serving. Individuals and companies responsible for putting these edibles within the reach of children should carefully reconsider whether they choose to continue to profit from illegal look-alike cannabis edibles sales. Sellers may be subject to legal action and substantial civil penalties under the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Like any other drug, adults should take strong precautions to ensure that children do not have access to any products containing cannabis. Products advertising cannabis should not be purchased online through direct shipment platforms. Parents are encouraged to speak with their children, including young adults, and provide age-appropriate guidance about the dangers look-alike products pose. Symptoms of THC overdose include respiratory distress, loss of coordination, lethargy, and loss of consciousness. If you suspect your child has eaten food containing high amounts of THC and become sick, call the Arkansas Poison Control Hotline at 1-800-222-1222. Consumers who encounter look-alike cannabis edible products are encouraged to file a consumer complaint with the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at (501) 682-2007 or OAG@Arkansasag.gov.
Assuming that this is accurate and not overhyped, I can certainly see why people would be worried.
I recently embraced Canadas legal Cannabis scene by trying out a small 10mg THC/CBD edible in its entirety. Though I thought the two 5mg THC experiences I had before (involving 2 low-dose cannabis beverages) had prepared me, I was certainly surprised at just how big of a difference there was in the experiences. It took 40 minutes to kick in, but god damn . . . respect the power of the edible!
Knowing that I was expecting and fully anticipating getting stoned and still got taken by surprise, I can’t even imagine what 600mg’s of no doubt pure THC distillate would do to someone unsuspecting. Let alone a child.
But like I said earlier, this is assuming this is not being overhyped as an issue. Is edible cannabis the new razer blade in the treats for panic-prone parents?
One of the first sources we run into is good ole Snopes.
We didn’t find a single case of a person purposefully giving children marijuana edibles on Halloween in an attempt to harm them.
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This warning — that parents should check their children’s Halloween candy because strangers may intentionally be trying to harm them with marijuana edibles disguised as Sour Patch Kids, Cheetos, and SweeTarts — has been repeated by parents and police stations across the country since at least 2010.
But is there any truth to these rumors, or is this just another Halloween urban legend? In this article, we’ll take a look at how these rumors started, and try to determine if children are really in danger of eating tainted candy on Halloween.
Decades of Rumors
The claim that kids are in danger of receiving marijuana-tainted candy on Halloween has been around as long as marijuana-infused candy has been around.
Throughout their history, marijuana edibles have largely been homemade concoctions, starting around 2000 B.C., when cannabis, deemed one of five sacred plants in The Veda, was mixed together with nuts and spices to make a drink called Bhang. Edibles first gained popularity in the United States in the 1960s, thanks in part to a “Haschich Fudge” recipe that was published in “The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book.”
Interestingly enough, the brand of chocolate that I tried was called Bhang. If you notice the packaging, there is almost no way to mistake this for a non-THC candy bar. Though not visible in the image, the resealable packaging is also fairly difficult to open once the seal is torn open. All of the legal products in Canada are well marked for what they are and the THC/CBD content contained therein.
Chowhound described Toklas’ recipe as a “raw granola bar made with black peppercorns, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, de-stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds, peanuts, and sativa cannabis, which is pulverized and combined with a cup of sugar dissolved in a large serving of butter.”
Edibles have come a long way since that raw granola bar, but when California became the first to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, the edible was still largely relegated to baked goods and tinctures that could be added to tea. In other words, products that couldn’t be mistaken for Halloween candy.
But by 2010, medical edibles (dubbed medibles) were being advertised in newspapers.
And as these first marijuana candies appeared, so did warnings that unscrupulous candy givers would be handing them out on Halloween in an attempt to harm children. In October 2010, after the Los Angeles Police Department confiscated various THC-infused candies and snacks from local dispensaries, and a few days before the city voted on legalizing marijuana (which did not pass at the time), the police issued a warning that these marijuana edibles could get mixed up in unsuspecting children’s Halloween candy.
We searched for cases of children accidentally eating marijuana edibles that were slipped into the Halloween candy for every year since 2010, and while we found multiple warnings during this timeframe, we didn’t find a single case of a person purposefully giving children marijuana edibles in an attempt to harm them.
“Children are not at risk for contaminated treats … For one thing, edible marijuana products are very expensive and this would be a very expensive prank.”
“My research stretches back to 1958 … I have been unable to find any evidence that any child has been killed or seriously injured by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating.”
The quote from professor Joel was my very first thought, to be honest. At least in Canada, the average price for A 10g chocolate serving (about the size of the average Halloween candy bar) is $4.99 EACH, with packages of 10 gummies and other candies averaging at about $7.99 each. For every 1 criminally offensive THC candy, you can get a package of 50 to 100 genuine Halloween candies.
And not look like a fucking idiot.
I guess we are dealing strictly in the realm of hyperbole once again.
Halloween candy has been the subject of dozens of rumors over the years. This rumor, in many ways, is simply a rehashed version of an urban legend that stretches back decades when parents feared that unsavory characters might slip poison into their holiday treats.
This urban legend reappears in a new form from time to time. In 2000, police worried that drug-laced suckers were being given to children, in 2015, rumors circulated that people were placing ecstasy-laced candy in Halloween bags, and in 2019, people feared heroin that was disguised as SweeTarts.
These urban legends can generally be traced back to a case in the 1970s when a father was convicted of murder after they added cyanide to Pixie Stix and then placing them with his son’s Halloween candy.
You can read more about some of the stories and hoaxes in our previous article, Poisoned Halloween Candy.
A Morsel of Truth?
During our research, we found only two cases that somewhat resembled this rumor, although neither case involved an ill-intentioned neighbor intentionally drugging a child.
In 2019, police in Nova Scotia reported that a parent had found a cannabis edible in their children’s candy. The police report does not provide any information about how the edible got into the candy or even whether or not the edible contained TCH (no testing on the product was done). The report also states that that this child was trick-or-treating in a group but no other child in this group received such a product. Lastly, the child never ate the candy.
In other words, there’s no evidence that this marijuana edible was intentionally placed in a child’s Halloween candy in an attempt to harm them. We reached out to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police but have not heard back. As far as we can tell, nobody was ever arrested over this incident.
In 2018, five children in Arizona were sickened after a 12-year-old accidentally brought marijuana gummies to school. While these drugs reportedly came from a family’s bowl of Halloween candy, this incident took place in February (four months after the holiday) and it’s not clear how the drugs got in the bowl.
An Increase in Accidental Poisonings
While we were unable to find a single instance of a stranger intentionally attempting to drug a child by handing out marijuana edibles on Halloween, there have been instances of children accidentally consuming marijuana edibles.
Julie Weber, the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ Board President and Managing Director of the Missouri Poison Center, told us that the “accessibility of these edible products” has lead to an increase in incidents of children mistakenly eating a marijuana edible. These incidents, however, are not isolated to Halloween.
“Incidents of children mistakenly ingesting marijuana edibles are increasing. Often, edible forms of marijuana can look like treats: baked goods, beverages, or candies. Young children may not know the difference between a candy gummy bear and a marijuana edible. It is the accessibility of these edible products in the home leading to the increase in exposure noted by the US poison centers. This increase in cases has been identified as more states legalize the use of both recreational and medical marijuana. The increased exposure cases are not isolated to Halloween.
Given the panic-prone nature of the American public (and how real incidents tend to inspire tall tales in the cultural zeitgeist in the ensuing months, years and decades), none of this is really surprising. Nor would the fact the an uptick of THC poisonings no doubt caused by idiots not being careful with their potent edibles play right into the fear that is often prominent in American culture.
I can’t even rightfully say American Culture since I remember my parents checking our candies for things like razor blades and tampered packaging. I even remember things like fruits and baked goods being automatically trashed since they couldn’t be trusted.
An amusing assumption to think of now since it’s a lot harder to hide tamper attempts on an orange, Apple or Banana than it is to glue or rubber cement a candy bar wrapper shut.
But, such is the strength of this stuff. It spread far and wide even before social media connected every corner of the world.
One misconception that stems from this rumor is that marijuana edibles are indistinguishable from regular candy. But that’s not the case.
While states set their own laws in regards to how to sell and package marijuana products, generally speaking, legally purchased marijuana products are required to have labeling that identifies their THC content and also must be packaged in child resistant packaging.
Leafly, a marijuana news website, writes: “Proper cannabis labeling and packaging is a crucial component to staying in compliance with state guidelines. Cannabis companies must ensure that their packages are tamper-proof, child-proof, and within accordance of their local laws.”
Which is perfectly logical.
Are Strangers Giving Marijuana Edibles to Kids on Halloween?
We have not been able to find a single incident of a child eating a marijuana edible that they were given by a nefarious stranger on Halloween. While marijuana edibles can truly resemble candy, and while there have been cases of children mistakenly eating marijuana edibles, these cases typically involve parents or other family members who left their stashes within the reach of children, and not random strangers who are out to do their children harm.
Or, in Halloween parlance, the danger is coming from inside the house.
So, we can move this one to the unlikely category and call it a day. If this is of enough concern to inspire fear inside of you, make sure that the potent contents of both your medicine cabinet and your liquor cabinet are getting as much attention as this largely non-existent threat.
Despite coming to this conclusion, I do still wonder about the faux-snack treats that we were warned of by various AG’s in the US. Is this also hyperbole?
Since this topic also came up on The Daily Show with Trever Noah recently (I saw the clip on Snapchat yesterday), it makes me very curious, since the show didn’t look all that in-depth into the phenomenon. It was an absurdity of our day-to-day reality, and the show used it as such.
Which makes me wonder:
1.) Who is manufacturing these faux-branded THC treats?
2.) Why the hell are they not being sued into the ground by Kraft, Mondelez, Pepsi-co and every other multi-national corporation of which they are blatantly infringing patents in the worst way possible?
The answer surprises me. Knowing what I do about counterfeit overseas manufacturing and 3ed shifts, I figured this was yet another case of overseas manufactured goods sneaking in via the online retail market. Not unlike the endless game of whack-a-mole that government regulators worldwide must engage in to keep up with the constant flux of synthetic cannabinoids and other compounds.
While the packaging does indeed seem to originate from overseas manufacturing sources, the factories appear to be only making the packages. They instead appear to be sold online to dealers within places like the US, of whom pack their own presumably homemade edibles inside. Another possibility is the addition of THC compounds to real (otherwise THC-free products) like candies and chips. Why else would many of these packages mimic real products if not for this purpose?
If you’ve bought or been offered black market edibles over the past year, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Medicated Nerds Rope or Stoney Patch Kids. If you haven’t heard of them, check the local news stations and federal health warnings. From California to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Minnesota, and everywhere in between, law enforcement has seized thousands upon thousands of identically labeled Nerds Rope and Stoney Patch edibles. So how are dealers in every corner of the U.S. getting the same product, and how do they look so much like real Nerds Ropes and Sour Patch Kids?
The answer goes back to those same bootleg packaging sellers who make thousands of fake BackPackBoyz mylar bags. Instead of popular weed brands, though, these bags are marked with fake Nerds Rope or Sour Patch Kids candy graphics and labeled with arbitrarily high THC quantities—as high as 400 milligrams. With those ready-to-seal bags easily available online, all dealers need to do is unwrap bulk quantities of real Nerds Rope or Sour Patch candies, spray them with cheap THC distillate, and repackage them in the pre-labeled edible bags. In most cases, the THC distillate is the same illicit pot product that is used in the counterfeit vape cartridges that sparked a health crisis last year.
1.) While I did know about all the commotion surrounding vapes, I didn’t realize that many of them were counterfeit. Though the problem appears to have intensified last year, the issue of counterfeit vapes appears to have been prevalent long before. The only way of avoiding such counterfeits appears to be purchasing from only reputable sources.
Be careful out there.
2.) So it is just real food products getting tampered with.
Since eating edibles doesn’t affect the lungs, it is unlikely tainted distillate edibles will result in another health crisis, but the facade of professional packaging hides product of uncertain and widely varying potency and potentially unsafe manufacturing and handling techniques. The knockoff edible market is so big that Nerds Rope parent company Ferrara Candy Company has made public statements distancing itself from and rebuking the popular black market product. At the end of the day, there is nothing stopping dealers from repackaging plain candy in edible-labeled bags without any THC added at all.
The article that I opened this post with (along with the many local news stories covering it) used the word unregulated many times in describing this industry. And this is certainly the case. But it strikes me that the answer to this problem (or at least a good part of it) is starring all of these people right in the face.
Though I am not sure how prevalent (if at all) this sort of thing is in Canada, it strikes me that it would be less so just on account of the legal status of Cannabis on a national level. There are no provinces and territories in which cannabis remains illegal. As such, few (if any) places exist wherein it makes any sense to risk purchasing this questionable stuff over easily available legal varieties. After all, you can pay for legal cannabis by credit card and have it delivered to your house!
In the US, I can’t help thinking that this is going to be a problem until cannabis is fully legalized at the federal level. Though there will no doubt still be individual States that turn their back on such a ruling by disallowing dispensaries by way of local and regional plebiscites, this won’t stop mail order or otherwise out of state purchased cannabis. After all, federal law is the law of the land.
This should happen anyway so that the US cannabis industry can meaningfully access the national and international banking system. It’s ridiculous that legitimate businesses still don’t have the same banking access afforded to a newly opened liquor store or pharmacy.
This is not to say that bringing the cannabis industry above board once and for all will totally eliminate the black market. After all, even in a nation that has arguably become the worldwide gold standard for legalization (Canada), the implementation still has its problems.
One of them is that the legislation has all the hallmarks of a law passed by people that don’t understand cannabis. That is to say, THC is still treated very differently than pretty much any other drug available to lawfully purchase.
In Canada, the limits are thus:
The possession limits in the Cannabis Act are based on dried cannabis. Equivalents were developed for other cannabis products to identify what their possession limit would be.
One (1) gram of dried cannabis is equal to:
- 5 grams of fresh cannabis
- 15 grams of edible product
- 70 grams of liquid product
- 0.25 grams of concentrates (solid or liquid)
- 1 cannabis plant seed
This means, for example, that an adult 18 years of age or older, can legally possess 150 grams of fresh cannabis.
While a quick read of this by most people (including me in the past) would not reveal any problems, I found myself running into this limit recently. Not in terms of fresh cannabis or edibles, instead in terms of liquid products. I recently purchased 5 cans of low-dose liquid products and 10g’s of chocolate. Though I wanted to purchase 7 cans of liquid product, I was limited to the 5 in that order. The issue I faced was in how the liquids are measured.
While a daily purchase limit of 30 grams per day may not strike most people as problematic (and I found it pretty funny to be hitting the limit as a beginner experimenting in low dosages), the absurdity comes in the context in relation to other easily available drugs.
We will start with caffeine. Anyone (even a minor) can walk into almost any convenience store or supermarket and purchase a 4 or 6 pack of highly caffeinated canned energy drinks without issue.
Moving on to alcohol, 6, 12 and 24 packs are the standard packaging sizes for beer (with no limit on the number one can purchase) at one time. Spirits can range in size from 300ml and under to 1.5L and higher (again, without any purchase limits). To use a personal anecdote from my life, I was able to purchase a 24 pack of Rockstar Vodka along with 24 cans of beer in preparation for a birthday party when I was 18. The only thing asked of me was my ID and my debit card.
Whether or not one ever should find themselves running into the 30-gram daily cannabis purchase limit is arguably beside the point of why said limit exists in the first place. Since cannabis legalization is new ground for everyone involved, however, we can hope that this is just the beginning. The product of a justice system and society still hesitant to a substance that was demonized for the better part of all of our lives.
But, it’s time to bring this to a close.
Canada – Lifting (or at least, raising) the arbitrary cannabis purchase limits can only help to eliminate their bottleneck factor in terms of bringing long-time black market users over to the legal side. Another way to help achieve this would be to relax the arbitrary caps on potency.
United States – Start by legalizing cannabis (thus rendering the creation of faux-edibles and the purchase of synthetic cannabis as largely obsolete). After that, join Canada in sorting out the rest of the specifics.