Trying new marijuana products and edibles is associated with unexpected highs

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Marijuana has been legal for adult recreational use in Colorado since 2014, but the verdict is still out on benefits and harms. Will legalization reduce opioid abuse and marijuana-related arrests? Will it increase use among youth and incidence of impaired driving?

A new study by RTI International suggests that unexpected highs are a consequence of using new marijuana products and edibles — products that have flooded the marijuana market since legalization of recreational marijuana use.

The study, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, found that in the context of legalization, many marijuana users will try new marijuana products and use edibles, and that doing so markedly increases the odds of experiencing an unexpected high.

The research shows that most people who experienced an unexpected high slept it off, and others engaged in protective behaviors such as deciding not to drive or changing or cancelling plans. However, respondents also reported having unintended sex as a result of the unexpected high, and some ended up in the hospital, clinic or emergency room.

“Marijuana users who reported using new marijuana products or edibles were at greater risk of experiencing an unexpected high, regardless of their age, gender, education, mental health status, or amount of marijuana consumed in the past month,” said Jane Allen, study author and research public health analyst at RTI.

Researchers surveyed 634 adults in Colorado in the first year that marijuana was legal for adult recreational use. More than 70 percent of respondents reported having tried a new marijuana product, and about half reported using edibles.

“States that have legalized marijuana for recreational use are thinking about how they can prevent negative public health outcomes,” Allen said. “One way we can help them do that is to study consumer perceptions of marijuana, including product packaging, required warning labels, and consumption advice so states can refine how they communicate marijuana information to the public. Effective communication should help to reduce unexpected highs.”

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Materials provided by RTI International. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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