Two deaths have raised concerns about Colorado’s recently legalised recreational marijuana industry.
This concern is heightened by data suggesting cookies, sweets and other of the drug’s edibles can be exponentially more potent than a joint.
In one case, a college student ate more than the recommended dose of a marijuana-laced cookie and jumped to his death from a hotel balcony. In the other, a husband with no history of violence is accused of shooting his wife in the head, possibly after eating pot-infused lollies.
“We’re seeing hallucinations. They become sick to their stomachs, they throw up, they become dizzy and very anxious,” said Al Bronstein, medical director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center.
Colorado is one of the first two US states to legalise the recreational use of marijuana and authorities across the country are watching carefully for what happens next.
Studies are mixed about whether there is any link between marijuana and violence. Still, pot legalisation opponents said the deaths are a sign of future dangers.
Twenty-six people have reported poisonings from marijuana edibles this year, when the centre started tracking such exposures. Six were children who swallowed innocent-looking edibles, most of which were in plain sight.
Five of those kids were sent to emergency rooms and two to hospitals for intensive care, Bronstein said.
Supporters of the state’s marijuana law and some experts counter that alcohol causes far more problems among users and the issues with pot can be largely addressed through better regulations.
“It really is time for regulators, and the industry, to look at how do we move forward more responsibly with edible products,” said Brian Vicente, who helped lead the state’s legalisation campaign.
An autopsy report listed marijuana intoxication as a significant contributing factor in the death of 19-year-old Levy Thamba Pongi.
Authorities said Pongi, who travelled from Wyoming with friends to try marijuana, ate six times more than the amount recommended by a seller. In the moments before his death, he spoke erratically and threw things around his hotel room.
Toxicologists later found that the cookie Pongi ate contained as much THC – marijuana’s intoxicating chemical – as six high-quality joints.
Less is known about Richard Kirk, 47, who was charged in Denver with shooting his 44-year-old wife to death while she was on the phone to an emergency dispatcher.
State lawmakers last year required edible pot to be sold in serving sizes of 10 milligrams of THC. Lawmakers also charged marijuana regulators with setting potency-testing guidelines to ensure consumers know how much pot they’re eating. The guidelines are scheduled to be unveiled next month.
For now, the industry is trying to educate consumers about the strength of pot-infused foods and warning them to wait up to an hour to feel any effects before eating more. Still, complaints from visitors and first-time users have been rampant.
“One of the problems is people become very impatient,” Bronstein said. “They eat a brownie or a chocolate chip cookie and they get no effect, so then they stack the doses and all the sudden, they get an extreme effect that they weren’t expecting.”