Minnesota Approves Edibles For Medical Cannabis Program

Regulators with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) announced on Wednesday that cannabis edibles would be available in the state beginning next year, giving medical cannabis patients a new alternative to access their medicine of choice. The agency declined, however, to add anxiety disorder as a qualifying condition for the state’s medical cannabis program.

Under a plan announced by Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm, cannabis edibles in the form of gummies and chews will be an approved delivery method for the state’s medical cannabis program beginning on August 1, 2022.

“Expanding delivery methods to gummies and chews will mean more options for patients who cannot tolerate current available forms of medical cannabis,” Malcolm said on Wednesday in a press release from the agency.

When it launched in 2015, Minnesota’s medical marijuana program was one of the nation’s strictest, with limits placed on the qualifying medical conditions and types of approved cannabis products. More qualifying conditions and approved product types have been added since its inception, with current permitted delivery forms including pills, vapor oil, liquids, topicals, powdered mixtures and orally dissolvable products, such as lozenges. Cannabis flower should be available to patients next year.

The health department noted that a rulemaking process to govern the packaging, labeling, safety messaging and testing of medical cannabis edibles will begin next month.

Regulators Approve Edibles, But Decline To Add Anxiety As Qualifying Condition

The state health department also announced on Wednesday that regulators had declined to add anxiety as a qualifying condition under the state’s medical cannabis program. Noting that petitioners have requested that anxiety disorder or panic disorder be added as a qualifying condition every year since 2016, the MDH said it was declining the proposal again “due to a lack of scientific evidence to support effectiveness as well as concerns expressed by health care practitioners.” 

“We received many comments from health care practitioners treating patients with anxiety disorder, and they urged us to not approve it as a qualifying medical condition,” said Malcolm. “We recognize that not everyone has equal access to therapy—which is considered the front-line treatment—but ultimately we concluded that the risk of additional harms to patients outweighed perceived benefits.”

Minnesota’s medical cannabis program had nine approved qualifying conditions when it began, a list that has grown to 17 over the last six years. Qualifying conditions include glaucoma; HIV/AIDS; Tourette syndrome; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease; seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy; severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis (MS); intractable pain; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism spectrum disorder; obstructive sleep apnea; Alzheimer’s disease; chronic pain; sickle cell disease; and chronic motor or vocal tic disorder.

Individuals with cancer or a terminal illness with a probable life expectancy of less than one year may also qualify if their condition or its treatment produces one or more symptoms including severe or chronic pain; nausea or severe vomiting; or severe wasting (cachexia).

Cannabis Flower To Be Available Next Year

Cannabis flower is also on track to be made available to Minnesota medical cannabis patients beginning next year. Under a omnibus health and human services bill passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz in May, dried cannabis flower must be made available to patients by March 1, 2022.

The change was made at the urging of cannabis advocates, who argued that the currently permitted processed forms of medical cannabis are more costly for patients. Opponents maintained that allowing smokable forms of cannabis would lead to the legalization of recreational marijuana, but state Sen. Michelle Benson said that was not the intent of the bill.

“It is not our goal to make this a path to legalization,” Benson said earlier this year. “It’s a goal to make this available to people with a medical need who cannot afford it. So, we hope we’ve reached the right balance.”

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Big Candy Companies Taking on Cannabis Edibles Brands In Court

Although flower still reigns king in the world of cannabis, edibles are quickly catching pace as one of the most in-demand products on the market today, making up roughly 23% of total sales in 2020. This statistic holds true in both legal and illegal areas. As a matter of fact, in my own experience I have found that edibles are even more popular in states with strict cannabis regulations, where variety and more modern products like concentrates are much harder to find.

Edibles are a fun and discreet way to use cannabis, but when the packaging for products that are extremely high in THC begins to closely resemble that of store-brand candies, to the point that adults AND children are mistaking them on a regular basis, then we have a serious problem. Not only is it a concerning safety issue, but what about trademark violations? A number of big-name candy producers, like Wrigley and Hershey, are suing cannabis companies over these look-alike treats.  


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“Deeply Disturbed”

The fight against consumer cannabis products has found an unlikely proponent in the candy industry. Despite being condemned by wellness advocates as a leading cause of diabetes and heart disease, a growing number of household brands like Mars Inc., Wrigley Jr. Company, Hershey, Mondelez International, and Ferrara Candy Company are suing to protect their brands – as well as our children, they argue.

The lawsuit was file in May against a handful of companies that are selling high-THC edibles packaged to look like Skittles, Starbursts, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Nerds Ropes, Lifesavers, and the list goes on. Although the bulk of the lawsuit is centered around intellectual property rights, there is also mention of the growing number of people, especially children, who are accidentally consuming these products believing they are regular candies.

A spokeswoman for Mars Inc. mentioned that the company is “deeply disturbed” by these products what is going on.

On the left, real Lifesavers brand candy. On the right, Medicated look-alike brand

According to recent data from Poison Control Centers around the country, this is a growing trend. For example, in Washington state there were 122 cases of THC exposure in children under 5 within the first 9 months of 2020. In Colorado, 163 calls of this nature were made to poison control. During the course of the lawsuit, brands like Stoner Patch Dummies, the Worlds Dankest Gushers, Gasheads Xtremes Sourfuls, Trips Ahoy, Buttafingazzz and Caribo Happy Cola were discovered.

“The situation has become more and more egregious,” said Christopher Gindlesperger, a spokesman for the National Confectioners Association, a trade organization in D.C. with 350 members, including Mars Inc., Hershey’s, Ferrara and Mondelez. “The cannabis companies cannot and should not be allowed to tarnish existing brands at will. It creates consumer confusion.”

These lawsuits are not the first and certainly will not be the last. So far, they have all been settled out of court with cannabis companies agreeing to change their packaging or completely stopping the production and sale of these products altogether.

Complete Discretion

Cannabis edibles are popular for a few different reasons, but one thing in particular I have noticed is that there doesn’t seem to be the same stigma attached to consuming edibles as there is with actually smoking weed, quite possibly because of how discreet they are. Years ago, the best you could find was some brownies and cookies with a rather unrefined flavor, meaning that you could always taste the cannabis in them because they were often made with whole plant matter.

Now that you can find a huge variety of luxury food items infused with extracted cannabis compounds, it is much easier to equate consuming edibles with drinking fine wine; whereas smoking weed still has a reputation for being the preferred consumption method for the less progressive (old-fashioned) stoners among us. Edibles, vapes, concentrates, and other newer market products often have higher levels of cannabinoids and terpenes and less harmful contaminants than what you would find on the street.

In that same vein, the high-end packaging and sheer variation of infused food products that you can find only adds to the discretion of consuming cannabis this way. It’s much more simple to medicate when you can pull out some fancy chocolates, beef jerky, chips, or sandwich spreads that are rich in cannabinoids. You can travel with them and utilize nearly anywhere.

On the left, real Sour Patch brand candy. On the right, Stoney Patch look-alike brand

“Edibles are easy. They’re portable. You don’t have to find a space to step aside and smoke,” said Sean Arnold, a founder of Terradigm Consulting, a company that advises cannabis companies on licensing, infrastructure and product development.

“The accessibility of edibles and the discretion they afford has made them the fastest-growing category in cannabis,” according to Surfside, a cannabis data-analytics company in New York. Surfside estimates that during the last three months, edibles have outpaced the growth of the rest of the cannabis market by 29 percent.

One of the downsides to all this discretion is who can take advantage of it. A couple decades ago, if a teen wanted to get stoned, they had to find a place where no one could see them, hear them, OR smell their marijuana smoke – the latter being quite challenging at times… especially if you’re smoking some fire. It’s so much easier for an adolescent to get by with some infused candies that are packaged to look like all the major brands as opposed to fumbling around with a joint, bowl, blunt, or other type of smokable. This of course brings into question the safety and accessibility of edibles for teens and younger children, which seems to have been overlooked from the start.

No Regulations in Some Markets

Mr. Wykowski said that “transgressions that may have escaped the notice of large corporations like Mars or Hershey’s in the past are on their radar today because cannabis is big business now.” He teaches a course on cannabis law at University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, and one of the topics focuses on how to navigate laws surrounding look-alike products.

“Five or 10 years ago when cannabis was starting to take off, it was a joke to have something like Cap’n Punch, a cereal that’s infused,” Mr. Wykowski said. “But the industry has matured, and the people who know what they’re doing no longer engage in that kind of conduct.”

On top, real Nerds Ropes brand candy. On the bottom, medicated look-alike brand

But again, all these regulations only apply to legal markets. In states where cannabis is still illegal, there’s absolutely no way to monitor the products that are reaching consumers. Sometimes there will be some obvious indicators like using the word “kandy” instead of candy, or little pot leaves placed indiscriminately on the packaging, however, these cues are only obvious to adults. A child would absolutely overlook all these differentiators and, if the packaging is easy to get into, they will definitely eat those products.

This is also a burden for the legitimate candy makers, whose brands can easily be tarnished by people not wanting to have anything could be misconstrued with cannabis edibles in their homes. According to New York-based trademark and brand attorney Nancy J. Mertzel, copywrite laws are in place to protect three main aspects of a candy – appearance, name, and packaging.

“Take Hershey’s Kisses, for example,” says Ms. Mertzel. “You have the name Kisses, which is a trademark, the shape of the candy itself, which is both a trademark and trade dress, and the packaging, which is protected by copyright.” Ms. Mertzel is representing Wrigley brand in the suit. “I certainly understand Wrigley’s concerns about having its intellectual property used by a third party, and those concerns are exacerbated when it’s for a product that children really shouldn’t be getting,” Ms. Mertzel added.

Child-Proofing Cannabis

For most people, keeping intoxicating substances out of children’s hands is the primary concern when it comes to regulating cannabis edibles. According to Andrew Brisbo, the executive director of the Marijuana Regulatory Agency in Michigan, “When we look at accidental consumption, edibles are a primary issue, a young person won’t accidentally smoke a marijuana cigarette.”

When people get too intoxicated on cannabis edibles, it can usually be narrowed down to one of two reasons: overconsumption or accidental consumption (or a combination of the two). Overconsumption can happen because of the slow onset of effects felt from edibles. They can take up to one hour to kick in, and some people either aren’t aware of this or they become impatient, they eat more, and then get hit with way more of a high than they expected.

“Accidental consumption can affect anyone,” says Dr. Gillian Schauer, a public health and policy consultant who specializes in cannabis legislation. “But it has primarily impacted children because they can confuse cannabis edible products with other edible products, because most edibles look like candy or cookies or cake.”

I have personally seen numerous products that look almost exactly like store-bought candies. To the untrained eye of a child (or even to the unobservant eye of an adult), it would be impossible to notice a difference. Edibles often have much higher concentrations of THC than flower, and marijuana ingested via the digestive tract can have stronger and prolonged effects. To make matters worse, children face complications because of their size and weight. Many young children who consume marijuana edibles require hospital admission due to the severity of their symptoms.

Final Thoughts

There are two main takeaways here as far as what the candy company claims to be fighting against. First and foremost, protecting their brands and their pockets. If people are scared to keep candy products in the house for fear of them being mixed up with cannabis edibles, then the big brands start losing money. Number two, to make these lawsuits more memorable and more apt to hold up in court, they are piggy backing of the poison control statistics that indicate children have a higher likelihood of being accidentally exposed to cannabis via edible products. Let’s be honest here, candy companies don’t care about our children’s health and well-being; if they did, they wouldn’t be promoting these chemical products filled with preservatives, dyes, and corn syrup. They care about their bottom line, so any cannabis businesses selling look-alike edible products need to be on high alert.

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Why Cannabis Edibles Don’t Work For Some People

Cannabis edibles are trending big time. Not only do they offer many advantages that smoking simply does not, such as added discretion and no carcinogens, but for most users, they also provide a much more potent and long-lasting high. Unfortunately for some people, edibles just don’t work… at all.

This can leave a consumer with many questions. Are the edibles bad or is there anther reason why they’re ineffective? Can someone be immune to cannabis edibles? Surprisingly, yes, this is possible; and it relates to the complex way in which our bodies absorb and metabolize cannabinoids.

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The difference between edibles and other consumption methods

Let’s start with the basics… why do cannabis edibles affect our bodies so differently than smoking or vaping? Just like anything else that goes through our digestive systems, cannabis edibles need to metabolize before the effects can be felt. It’s not an instant sensation like the aforementioned alternatives would be and it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours to kick in, but the effects last much longer.

Food and supplements need to be processed by the liver, meaning more of the cannabinoid will be filtered out of your system because of the slower absorption time. There are also some individual factors that impact the onset and intensity of the effects, such as the specific cannabinoid consumed or a person’s metabolism.

Take THC for example; whether you’re consuming Delta 8 or Delta 9, the body processes all tetrahydrocannabinols the same, by converting them to a metabolite known as 11-hydroxy-THC. This process is known as first-pass metabolism. According to neuroscientist and medical cannabis adviser, Dr. Adie Rae, “The liver is responsible for this transformation, and specifically, the drug-metabolizing enzyme known as cytochrome P2C9 or CYP2C9. Even when you smoke, your liver still sees some delta-9 and turns it into 11-hydroxy-THC, but you get way more 11-OH when you eat cannabis.”  

When it comes to other cannabinoids, they also produced metabolites as well. Most abundant are hydroxylated 7-COOH metabolites, which are derivatives of CBD/cannabidiol. Like THC, CBD has first-pass effects in the liver. However, our bodies absorb these metabolites differently, and unlike THC, a large portion of CBD is excreted unchanged in the feces. So in other words, when you consumes a CBD edible, a significant portion of the active cannabinoid is going straight to your bowels, waiting to be wasted.  

You will still feel the effects of CBD even orally, but it will take a while longer and won’t be anywhere near as noticeable as the effects from a THC edibles, psychotropic activity notwithstanding. However, the effects you do feel will last much longer than if you had inhaled the CBD, and that rings true with any orally administered cannabinoid.

There are numerous benefits to choosing edibles over smokeables. First and foremost is the impact on your health. When you smoke – anything, cannabis included – you’re exposing your body to carcinogens and other harmful chemicals. Another reason people might choose edibles is because of the long-lasting effects. If you’re using cannabis to manage a chronic condition like ongoing pain, anxiety, etc., it makes more sense to eat an edible a few times a day as opposed to finding somewhere that you can smoke or vape every hour or two. They’re also more discreet, making them easier to travel with and use on the go or in the workplace.

Are some people immune to cannabis edibles?

Technically, yes. Because edibles can be so discreet, potent, and beneficial, many people find themselves seriously disappointment when they take some and realize they don’t work for them. Obviously there is no exact number on this, but even in my personal life I’ve met quite a few people who say they don’t feel anything when they use edibles, myself included.

Ok, to be fair, I wouldn’t say I don’t feel anything… but I definitely don’t experience any type of psychoactive effects. When I use edibles, I feel really tired and nothing more. Estimates indicate that anywhere from 10-15% of cannabis user do NOT experience the desired effects from cannabis edibles, and we can thank our intricate and complicated digestive systems for that.

Research shows that the effectiveness of cannabinoids administered orally can vary based on numerous different factors. Generally speaking, when people are unable to process cannabis edibles it can be narrowed down to one of two complications: digestion/absorption issues or metabolic issues.

Digestive issues

Sometimes, using cannabis for Gastrointestinal disorders can be a bit of a catch 22. On one hand, cannabis can be extremely helpful for someone suffering from these conditions; on the other hand, GI issues can often have a negative impact on how the body digests and absorbs cannabinoids. If a person is unable to absorb fats and nutrients, it’s highly likely that they will not be able to absorb cannabinoids either.

Disorders that can affect how your body absorbs and digests cannabis include: Fat malabsorption syndrome, Irritable bowel disease, Irritable bowel syndrome, gallbladder removal surgery, Lipase deficiency, Pancreatic issues, Issues with bile production, Cystic fibrosis, Chronic diarrhea, or history of other GI surgery.

Additionally, several medications are known to affect digestion and absorption as well. Just think about how many medicines you’ve come across in life that list “gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, etc.,” as possible side effects. This applies to both pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter medications.

Metabolic issues 

Another possible scenario is that metabolic issues are hindering your body’s ability to process cannabinoids. When using edibles, the cannabinoids are metabolized in the liver before being dispersed into your bloodstream. To be fully processed, the cannabinoids must pass through the incredibly complex CYP450 metabolic pathway, in which metabolic enzymes are produced to help our bodies further utilize certain compounds.

If a person’s body produces too little or too many CYP enzymes, they won’t be able to properly metabolize cannabis products. Some will metabolize them too quickly or too slowly so they won’t be able to properly take effect, others won’t metabolize them at all.

There are many conditions that can affect metabolic enzyme production. According to research from Prof of Pot, one of the reasons could be genetic. “There is a very strong genetic component that influences cannabis metabolism. These genetic components are the reason each individual responds to cannabis so differently. Some people are considered rapid cannabis metabolizers, while others are ultra-slow metabolizers. How your body processes cannabis could be genetic.”

Other elements that could work against your metabolism include age, muscle mass, diet and medications, age, hormone function and production, level of physical activity, and environmental factors such as temperature.

Could it be something else?

The good news is, aside from the above health conditions, there are some simple issues that could be preventing you from experiencing cannabis edibles to their fullest. One of the most obvious being that the dosage is too low, in which case, just find products with a higher concentration of cannabinoids and if that’s not possible, simply eat a few extra.

Assuming you’ve already taken that into account, then you can consider another common issue – maybe you’re using the wrong type of edible. All edibles are made with different strains, meaning they have a different blend of terpenes, minor cannabinoids and other compounds. If you’ve been trying mostly the same types of products to no avail, it might be time to start looking at some different brands and really learning more about the specific ingredients in each edible you’re trying.

And finally, another common issue I hear about is people trying to take edibles on an empty stomach. This is something I typically run into with recreational users rather than medical ones. It’s a commonly held belief that if you’re drinking to get drunk, the quickest way to achieve that is by drinking on an empty stomach, and many people apply the same principal to cannabis.

However, when it comes to edibles, it doesn’t work quite the same way. Yes, the cannabinoids will be processed faster if you take your edible on an empty stomach, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Again, with cannabis edibles, absorption time and metabolism are everything. If your body metabolizes cannabinoids too quickly, you won’t get the desired effects. Try eating a nice meal, drink some water, and think of the edibles as an ultra-relaxing dessert.

Final thoughts

For some people, edibles simply don’t work no matter what they do. Just like certain types of conventional medications don’t work for everyone – for example, I don’t do well with antibiotics – cannabis edibles don’t work for everyone either. Some patients claim to benefit from dietary supplements (Lipase specifically), or by making sure to accompany their edibles with an additional fat.

If nothing helps, you might want to try a sublingual tincture, nasal spray, or vaping. You could also try speaking to your local dispensary workers or even check out a cannabis helpline to see what options might be more suitable for you.

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