Health And Wellness Society and Culture

Four ways to stay safe with cannabis edibles this Halloween

They may look like candy, but edibles aren’t for young trick-or-treaters. Here’s a grab bag of expert tips to keep in mind.

  • October 31, 2023
  • By Bev Betkowski

It’s Halloween, and candy will be the star attraction. For adults, cannabis edibles might be part of that mix. But with little trick-or-treaters also in the house, here’s a grab bag of what to keep in mind about edibles and safety.

Store edibles away from children.

Packaging for edibles — which range from sweet treats like brownies and gummies to canned drinks — is regulated but can still be confusing to small children, with some companies mimicking colourful candy or cookie packages, notes professor Geraint Osborne, a cannabis researcher at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus.

He recommends keeping edibles clearly labelled in secure containers and locked away from other foods.

“They shouldn’t be in the kitchen cupboard next to the peanut butter or other snacks where they could be easily confused with other things youngsters are used to eating.”

Prevention is the best cure for any accidental ingestion, adds Andrew Dixon, an emergency pediatrician and professor in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. “It’s more important to keep it from happening in the first place,” he says, noting several U.S. studies show that almost double the amount of children have been exposed to cannabis than before it was legalized, making secure storage even more vital.

Osborne suggests practising “know instead of no” with older children and teens by encouraging them to read the package labelling, which should be clearly printed with the words “cannabis” and “18+ legal age,” and should list health warnings, the active substances — THC or CBD — and any other ingredients.

Know what to do if a child ingests a cannabis goody.

Youngsters under age 10 who eat that gummy bear or brownie should probably pay a visit to the emergency room, Dixon advises. “Due to their smaller size, even a single dose could cause a significant issue for a young child.”

Serious cases of drug poisoning can’t be treated, but supportive care could include IV fluids and breathing aids.

Older kids and teens who accidentally consume a single edible can better handle the high and can likely be watched at home, unless they develop serious symptoms like vomiting or confusion.

“It’s reasonable to keep an eye on them to see how they do,” says Dixon, adding that the effect of the drug usually peaks at three or four hours after ingestion, with symptoms lingering up to 12 hours. While the effect wears off, make the child comfortable in a low-noise environment to avoid agitation.

Other signs of cannabis poisoning that could warrant medical attention include lethargy, decreased levels of consciousness and respiration, and in rare cases, seizures.

The Alberta Poison Control Centre can also offer expert advice if a child ingests cannabis, Dixon notes.

For adults who use cannabis and experience symptoms that are unusual for their normal experience, or if family members notice they are unresponsive or lethargic, a visit to the ER could also be warranted, he adds.

Use common sense when using cannabis.

As with alcohol or other drugs, cannabis has the potential to be used irresponsibly, Osborne notes.

“Moderation is key, along with knowing what you are using, which is why it’s important to buy from licensed cannabis outlets. Use common sense — don’t drive or operate heavy machinery, and make sure it doesn’t interfere with maintaining your family, work and volunteer responsibilities.” 

When consuming edibles, new users should “start low and go slow,” Osborne adds. “Edibles take longer to work than when inhaling, depending on a person’s metabolism.”

Keep a balanced perspective.

It’s important to avoid alarmist reactions around pot use, says Osborne.

Understanding, for example, that no one has died from a cannabis overdose, or “greenout,” allows for more nuanced and balanced conversations around use, he says.

“Cannabis was only legalized after nearly a century of fighting against a sensationalistic view that the drug causes insanity and leads people to commit violent crime. So understanding that it’s relatively benign compared to other legal and illegal drugs avoids knee-jerk reactions and allows us to have conversations that are important to education and regulation for harm reduction,” Osborne says, noting that cannabis regulations on edibles are still evolving as the government attempts to balance health and safety concerns with countering the unregulated illegal market.

Recognizing stigma and avoiding stereotypes about cannabis use are also important to bringing the topic into the open, he adds.

“If the point of legalization is for people to buy cannabis legally, they have to be comfortable going to a store. If there’s a stigma attached to doing that, they’ll rely on secretive black market cannabis, when the goal is to use safe, legal sources that can contribute to the economy.

“And if someone is developing a dependency issue, they should be able to feel comfortable in seeking help without feeling judged.”