With cannabis, a spoonful of sugar actually does help the medicine go down. Whether to treat chronic pain, get a good night’s sleep or relieve the side effects of cancer treatments, older adults are increasingly embracing cannabis-infused candies as a natural, non-pharmaceutical self-care option.
Cannabis chocolates, gummies and lozenges currently represent a $1.8 billion market, according to the Brightfield Group, a leading cannabis market research firm. Among U.S. adults over age 45 who consume cannabis candies, 59% are using them to treat chronic pain and 19% to alleviate nausea.
Why Cannabis Candies?
For many older adults, smoking cannabis is simply not an option, either because they cannot tolerate inhaling smoke or because smoking is prohibited in their place of residence. Measuring out drops of cannabis tincture can also require more dexterity than one may have at hand. Yet eating half a gummy or sucking on a mint is an easy and convenient way to take one’s cannabis medicine, particularly where discretion is advised.
But before trying any cannabis-infused sweet, a healthy dose of caution is in order. And knowing what constitutes a healthy dose is key to achieving a successful self-care regimen.
THC and CBD
Adults who possess a medical marijuana permit (in most states) or reside in (or are visiting) a state where adult-use cannabis is legal, can purchase edibles containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the psychoactive compound in cannabis. Besides causing the “high,” THC is important for pain relief, sleep, stimulating appetite and other therapeutic functions. From a medicinal perspective, THC is especially effective when combined with cannabidiol (CBD), another important, but non-intoxicating, compound found in cannabis.
Since the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp (cannabis testing at less than 0.3% THC), hemp-derived CBD-only candies are now available in most states at retail outlets and through the internet. The Brightfield Group finds that, unlike the younger people who prefer THC in their candies, more than one-third of older adult cannabis candy consumers regularly use a CBD-only product.
Start Low and Go Slow
Many cannabis candies are created with the cannabis-savvy consumer in mind; people who can comfortably tolerate high doses of THC. But for the cannabis naïve and most adults, very small micro-doses of THC are sufficient to meet their symptomatic needs without causing intoxication. For most older adults, a safe, low-starting dose can range between 1 mg and 5 mg of THC, optimally balanced with some amount of CBD, which moderates the effects of the THC.
Dr. Benjamin Caplan, a cannabis physician who works with older adults in Chestnut Hill, Mass., cautions newcomers to cannabis medicines that they should expect a period of exploration to find the right formulation that works for them.
“A candy may contain just the right dosage of THC to ease a severe headache, but may cause an undesirable level of intoxication. Adding supplemental CBD, however, may tone down the psychoactivity to a more acceptable level.”
Unlike smoking cannabis, which is felt almost immediately, the effects of cannabis candies and other edibles have a delayed onset — sometimes up to an hour or more. Caplan explains that while people like how long the effects of edibles last, the delayed onset can be misleading.
“Too many people are impatient for the start of a pleasant effect, and take additional edibles, incorrectly mistaking the delay for a lack of strength or expecting that more of the edible will elicit a response, sooner,” Caplan says.
The standard advice is to wait two hours after consuming a cannabis edible before considering another portion. And with any product containing THC, particularly candies, they should always be stored out of reach of children.
It is virtually impossible to fatally overdose from ingesting too much cannabis. However, the side-effects from too much THC (anxiety, rapid heartbeat and in extreme cases, severe vomiting) can be extremely unpleasant, although they generally pass in a matter of hours. Still, the recent case of a 70-year-old man with a heart condition who had a heart attack after consuming a high-THC dosed lollipop is a rare but important cautionary tale.
Read the Edible Label
Cannabis candy products recommended for sleep, pain and anxiety will generally contain a combination of THC and CBD in varying ratios. Cannabis specialist Dr. Laurie Vollen, of Albany, Calif., advises her patients not to focus on the ratio of CBD to THC, but on the actual dosage of THC in an individual serving. Even if there is one part THC to 16 parts CBD, for example, that one part THC may be more than desired.
At this point, while cannabis is still a federally illegal, Schedule 1 controlled substance, yet legal in certain states, there is no single standard for cannibis edible product testing and labeling. And while products containing THC sold in licensed dispensaries must be tested for contaminants and labeled with their THC and CBD levels, at least one study has found that this information is not always accurate.
With CBD-only products in general, including tinctures, oils, lotions and others, the high demand and lack of standardized testing means that fraudulent products abound. A random testing of CBD products purchased online found that less than a third were accurately labeled. This puts the burden of due diligence on the consumer.
Pros and Cons of Cannabis Candies
Vollen is very cautious about recommending edibles to her older patients. “They [the candies] are unreliable in their time of onset and (how long they last), making them extremely difficult to control,” she says. “And they add unnecessary calories.
“Edibles are absorbed through the gastric system and eventually metabolized by the liver,” Vollen adds. “The effects from eating cannabis are delayed — sometimes up to two hours — and are more sedating, more psychoactive and longer lasting than from inhalation or oral-mucosal absorption.”
But under certain circumstances, Vollen finds edibles can be advantageous. For example, for those experiencing chronic pain or difficulty sleeping through the night, the fact that the medicinal effects last longer than other types of cannabis products is a welcome benefit.
Low-Dose Cannabis Candies
As the edibles industry evolves and manufacturers increasingly recognize the needs of older adults, more low-dose formulations are entering the market.
Kiva Confections in Colorado produces low-dose chocolate bars, mints and even chocolate-covered blueberries, with 2.5 mg of THC per berry. According to the company, “Microdosed cannabis products are the perfect entry point for seniors, who are more interested in the subtle, relaxing properties of cannabis than a strong psychoactive experience. Seniors are realizing that cannabis isn’t the harmful drug they were told it was, that in fact, it is a safe and effective treatment for a range of health conditions.”
The company 1906 recently introduced a line of chocolates, with the names Love, Chill, Go, Midnight and Bliss, and respective formulations alleged to enhance different mental states: sex, relaxation, energy, sleep and socializing. They contain 5 mg of THC per serving.
Gummies are the traditional cannabis candy and Valhalla, a California artisanal manufacturer, produces a Tropical Twist version with 10 mg of CBD and 5 THC which some older adults swear by for sleep. Another well-known retailer of CBD-candies is Lord Jones, which makes CBD-infused gumdrops.
About Brownies, Cookies and Other Baked Goods
The cannabinoids in cannabis are easily infused into butter, which can be used for baking confections. Yet baked goods can be very difficult to microdose. Homemade cannabis brownies are a wild card; even one bite can be uncomfortably intoxicating.
By Abbie Rosner
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