Not only have marijuana sales (both legal and medical) significantly increased over the past few years, but the industry shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, it is growing at a record setting pace. In 2015 the legal pot industry in the US reached $5.0 billion in sales. In 2016, North American marijuana sales grew 34% from the prior year, by topping $6.7 billion in sales. If this wasn't impressive enough, ArcView Market Research puts these numbers into perspective by noting that “the only consumer industry categories [they've] seen reach $5 billion in annual spending and then post anything like 25% compound annual growth in the next 5 years are cable television (19%) in the 1990's and broadband internet (29%) in the 2000's."
With the newly legal US market for marijuana booming, all kinds of new products and devices have been introduced to consumers. Vaporizers, topicals, tinctures, marijuana infused beef jerky - you name it! While flowers still lead the industry in terms of sales, the real story has been the tremendous rise in sales of alternative forms of cannabis ingestion like wax, hash oils, and edibles taking up a larger percentage of the market. However, with this increase in popularity has come an increasing amount of scrutiny - for edibles in particular - concerning labeling and the accuracy of the advertised potency of THC and CBD levels.
So why edibles? For most, it’s preferred as a more discrete method than smoking traditional flowers. Some prefer to consume their cannabis in the form of food because they believe that traditional smoking is harsh on the lungs. Others don’t like smelling like marijuana. And there’s a group of people that prefer the delayed high that comes with taking edibles as opposed to the more immediate effects of smoking or vaporizing. With edibles especially, the plethora of products available is astounding. Think of any food and you can be sure that a company either sells it or has tried to infuse cannabis into it. From chips, gold fish, and chocolate bars, to ice cream, soda, and even barbecue sauce, you can find anything you want. Perhaps this endless supply of options has contributed to the rise in sales of edibles. In Colorado, edibles generated $17m in sales at the top of 2014 while they raked in $53m by the fall of 2016. In Washington state, edible sales have increased 121% over the past year.
While edibles provide a way to get high without smelling like weed and irritating the lungs, there exists a risk that is all too commonly known by cannabis connoisseurs: Edibles are simply unpredictable. Unlike smoking, where with each hit you can monitor your high, edibles can take up to an hour or longer to take full effect and the dosing never seems to be consistent. Of course, with homemade edibles there is always that degree of uncertainty when it comes to how much THC is in each brownie, cookie, etc. Has all the THC been distributed evenly? Is this one edible going to transport me to another dimension, or am I going to have to eat a few to get high? These are common, and very relevant questions when it comes to edible consumption. While with one batch eating one cookie might not be enough to get you sufficiently high, other times that one cookie could put you in a state of extreme discomfort. One would think that with established edible companies - whose products don labels that detail THC content and are available for purchase at medical dispensaries and recreational retailers - this problem would be solved. These labels, in theory, should allow the customer to determine, for example, that a 10mg edible gets them sufficiently high without making them uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case.
There have been countless reports of people complaining about the inconsistency of the advertised doses on edible products. Are these companies really falsely labeling their products? Well, the County of Los Angeles recently put out information on the accuracy of edible labeling. They say that the lack of industry standards, monitoring systems, and regulation from the FDA have indeed resulted in inconsistent and inaccurate labeling such that the THC level on the label may not reflect the true strength of the product. In fact, the strength of edibles can vary from batch to batch as even professional distributors have difficulty providing the correct dosages. An analysis of 75 edible marijuana products in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles published in the Journal of American Medical Association, found that only 17% of the products accurately described their levels of THC. In fact 60% had less THC than their package advertised while 23% had more than advertised. And, it’s not just the THC content that the companies are getting wrong, but also the CBD levels as well. Out of the 75 products tested 44 had detectable levels of CBD, but only 13 disclosed CBD, and out of those 13, 9 had less CBD than labeled and 4 had more CBD than labeled.
With edibles increasing in popularity for both novices and cannabis connoisseurs alike - and with legalization becoming a reality in many states - it’s important that we regulate this industry properly and keep industry standards high for the sake of recreational customers, medical patients, and the reputation of the industry itself. As consumers, we all have the expectation that the products we are buying are accurately describing the makeup of their ingredients. How do we hold these companies accountable for false advertising? How do we regulate testing sites to make sure the analysis results are uniform? Should there be stricter limits on how much THC and CBD should be in edibles? All of these questions need to be answered before we can truly trust the packaging labels for edible marijuana products.