What Do Parents Need to Know About Edibles?
Dr. Lisa offers a deep-dive into the world of edible marijuana and how to talk with your child about the dangers of trying edibles. Reena asks what’s the difference between CBD and THC? How does marijuana affect the brain? What age should parents talk to their kids about edibles and should they say? In Parenting to Go, Lisa also explains that while parents may understandably want to avoid difficult conversations, if our kids are dealing with a tricky topic, we need to be ready to deal with it too.
October 19, 2021 | 26 min
Transcript | What Do Parents Need to Know About Edibles?
Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 52: What Do Parents Need to Know About Edibles?
The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional
mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being,
consult a physician or mental health professional.
REENA: I keep thinking Avicci, you know that song by Avicci, “I took a pill in Ibiza”?
LISA: Uh huh. I know that song.
REENA: Oh my gosh. I just want to go to Ibiza. We’re at the point in this pandemic, Lisa, where it’s like finding joy every day, how do I find joy? I want a trip to look forward to.
LISA: Okay, well if you go to Ibiza, please take me with you. Where is Ibiza? I don’t even know where Ibiza is.
REENA: Spain. Spain. I don’t even want to know what the COVID rates are. I just want to go. I just want to go.
LISA: Let’s just go.
REENA: We got a letter actually, about edibles, which kind of shocked me a little bit, but this was a great letter from a parent. I want to read it to you. It says: ‘Dear, Lisa and Reena. My seventh grader came home the other day talking about edibles after hearing that one of his classmates had tainted gummy bears at school. I flipped out and lectured my son about the dangers of pot. I’m sure I could have handled the situation better, but I was so surprised that I wasn’t sure what to do. Where are kids getting these drugs, especially when in middle school, and how should I talk about this with my kid? Help. A worried mom.’ What the hell, Lisa? What’s going on?
LISA: Well, you know this is a topic that is kind of roaring into parenting in middle school and high school. I recently wrote about it for The Times. We’ll link to my column there. But I learned a lot, and I think, I have to tell you, I was kind of naive about it going into researching this piece for The Times. I sort of had the what the hell, where is all this coming from? response that you did, and it’s big. So, what we know, what I learned in researching all of this, is that edibles are the number one product sold by dispensaries. They’re hugely popular, and so in states, especially where there’s legalization for recreational use, there’s a lot of marijuana product in circulation. So, a seventh grader could readily get their hands on some and then bring it to school, and you do hear the stories about kids bringing edibles to school and having them in the lunchroom or passing them around and it’s a strange new world to have to think this through as a parent.
REENA: You have to be 21 in Connecticut, to have it. So, you’re saying it you know because it’s so widely available it’s easy for these kids to find it? Get it?
LISA: It is. I mean sometimes it may be the parent’s product.
LISA: And, you know, the parents have some at home and they’ve obtained it and are using it, and then the younger, you know, the teenager or the kid, figures it out and takes it to school and is passing it around. You know but we certainly, it’s in some ways like the same way that, you know, your older siblings bought beer and then came it home and then it sort of trickled down into the younger grades. It certainly happens and is happening in that way, but there’s someone unevenness based on the availability in the community. You know in communities where there’s a lot of dispensaries we’re seeing more of this.
REENA: Yeah, yeah. I actually heard a story about a mom who uses her designer handbag to keep CBD edibles.
LISA: Well, and let’s make a quick distinction, so CBD is not going to make you high, whereas THC is the active ingredient in marijuana, and so we’re talking about edibles, they have THC in them, so it really can make a kid high. It can also make you very sick.
REENA: And CBD? What’s the difference?
LISA: CBD, I don’t know as much about it, but it’s not regulated in the same way. My hunch is your friend with designer handbags has THC gummies, that those gummies are basically marijuana gummies in there.
REENA: This podcast is showing just how uncool and uneducated I am about CBD.
LISA: It is interesting, Reena, I felt very prudish as I was doing all of this research, and it’s,you know, kind of a it’s a funny thing because I grew up in Colorado where certainly people around me were smoking marijuana when we were in high school and then, you know, marijuana became legal very early there, and when I’m home visiting my folks in Denver, I’m a bit blown away by the widespread availability, driving by dispensaries constantly, and it had already crossed my mind as I was doing that in Denver thinking, wow like this sends a really different message to kids about marijuana and its, basically proximity to their lives, and then when I was researching this piece for The Times, I got talking with this researcher named Jacob Borodovsky who studies the availability of marijuana products in a community and its impact on kids, and one of the major findings from his research is that the more dispensaries there are in a community, the younger kids are trying edibles. It kind of lowers the barrier, the sense of it being strange, and I’m sure at the same time also ups the accessibility, you know, that there’s just more in the universe of that child’s life, and then if you’re driving by dispensaries all the time are advertisements for marijuana, all the time, it just doesn’t seem so far away and strange, and so for parents who are listening and wondering how worried do they need to be about this, what I would say is like, well it depends on where you live. So, where I live I’ve never driven by a dispensary, whereas I was talking to some colleagues in Oklahoma and they were saying, oh no, no, no, they’re every few blocks. So, that’s going to be a factor in terms of the worry level parents need to have about this.
REENA: You know the other thing is it just seems so benign. It’s not like you can have that lecture and alcohol, it’s bad, oh, alcohol, you know, whatever it is you tell your kids, but with gummies, I mean you have vitamin gummies, you have gummies for fun, you know, the fact that it’s laced with this I think is hard for kids to sometimes understand. It could be very dangerous.
LISA: That’s exactly right, you know, so it’s gummies or its brownies or cookies, and so there’s two problems here. One is exactly what you said, you know, like how bad can a gummy be? Like how dangerous can a gummy bear be? The other thing is, and this is, you know, for some of the people I talked to as I was researching, they call it highly palatable. It’s easy to eat a lot of gummies, right?
REENA: Right. Totally.
LISA: I mean if it tasted bad your kid would probably be safer, but they taste good. You know how you can just down a whole brownie? That’s very easy to do, and so there’s that problem, and on that, one thing that does sometimes happen and is really important to note is that there’s accidental ingestion by young kids, and so I want to rest on that for a minute for the families who are listening because there are, you know, all of these ER reports of little kids who discover the not well hidden, not well handbag, you know, disguised dummies, and of course they eat them and then they come to the ER. So, one of the ER doctors, Eric Kauser, who I talked to, he was really wonderful guy, he was like for the love of god could you just please tell people to secure their edibles very high, put them away, put them where little kids cannot get to these candies, these cookies, these brownies, and, you know, he was coming just from the medical side of, you know this is this is scary, and it’s scary to have kids coming into the ER having accessed these.
REENA: And what does he see? You know the kids that do get access like what is it? What does it do?
LISA: What we think about is, like they I think they call it like THC toxicity, you know, when there’s too much ingestion of THC, and in little kids it can be especially powerful because their bodies are small, and what they see is lethargy. They can also see seizures and they can see suppressed respirations is what they’re saying,a difficulty breathing, and I think that the function here is that it slows the central nervous system, and so that’s really very frightening, and so there’s the accidental piece, which can happen with little kids and which, you know, parents if they’re using edibles want to really, really go out of their way to make that something that cannot possibly happen, and even, Reena, if you see the packaging of these things, they look, not not just the item themselves, like they look like the packages of candy. They’re hard to tell apart. Okay, but then there’s the kids who take too much though they know what they’re doing, right? This is the teenage worry, right? That a teenager knows that they’re taking something that has THC in it.
LISA: But they take a toxic amount. They take way too much, and here’s how this happens. It’s sort of fascinating from the biological side. So, there’s two things that can make it happen, actually. One is it takes a long time for the effects to kick in because when you inhale marijuana the effects happen quite quickly, you know, they they just, you know, within minutes, usually, people can get a sense of feeling high, but with edibles it has to work its way through the digestive system, and so one of the ways that teenagers or younger kids, you know, kids who know what they’re eating, get themselves in trouble is they take a gummy bear, they wait five minutes, they feel nothing, they wait 10 minutes, they feel nothing they wait a half an hour, they feel nothing. So, then they keep going and they take more and without realizing what they’ve done, they certainly have taken a huge volume of THC and can end up with, you know, the same symptoms that I talked about with little kids where they are lethargic or they are having trouble with coordination or, you know, they’ve lost sense of like time, location and place. They’re really having a lot of very frightening symptoms.
LISA: And need to be taken care of medically.
REENA: So what should you say your kid? And I mean it varies from age, right? Middle school, high school, elementary school. Does the elementary school kid get like don’t touch the gummies? I think it can all be so confusing.
LISA: It’s really confusing, right? And this mom’s letter was so true to life around just, you know, like any of us could have this experience of your kid says, there were gummies in the lunchroom, and we’re like, what? And sort of lose it because it’s very upsetting and it’s very concerning. So, this seventh grader gave the parent an opening, and I think we want to be really alert to those openings, and it’s fine also if you blow those openings because they do catch you off guard. So, this mom who wrote could certainly go back to her kid say, you know I was really caught off guard and here’s what I want you to know, and then start to run down some of the things we’re talking about, which is, you know, if you’re taking an edible, if you’re trying it, first of all you’ve no idea really what’s in it, and you also have no idea how much is in it, and that’s another thing that came up in in my coming to understand about all of this is that the dosing is very opaque, that it’s hard to know, actually, how many milligrams of THC or even something. It’s in some ways, and it was actually interesting again, Dr. Kauser, who I interviewed, said, you know, it’s actually very hard to smoke too much marijuana because you get high pretty fast and it’s sort of regulating in that way, you know, so many puffs have so many milligrams, it’s pretty clear. Whereas, a brownie could have anywhere between five milligrams and 400 milligrrams of THC and you have no way of knowing unless it happens to have excellent packaging that you look at very carefully and you happen to understand what the milligrams mean. So, when we’re talking with our kids about it, what we need to say is, you have no idea what’s in there, whether there’s THC. or anything else, and even if it’s just marijuana, you have no idea how much. This is a complete black box here.
REENA: Yeah. Yeah.
LISA: And so, you shouldn’t take it because you have no idea what you’re involving yourself in, then you can layer on all of the pieces around how marijuana affects the developing brain, and we know that marijuana affects the developing brain very, very differently than it affects ones that are fully formed, and, you know, so after age 24 the brain is much less vulnerable to the impact of marijuana. Before age 24, we know that marijuana influences how the brain develops and can mess with attention and focus and intellectual development. I mean it’s really worrisome. So, we can talk all that through, and then, Reena, I do think we need to walk through the reality of kids getting themselves in trouble because they don’t feel like there’s anything in there and continuing to take more.
REENA: It’s so easy.
LISA: It’s so easy. So, I think we should be very straight up about that and say, here’s the other problem, kids are getting themselves landing in the ER because they take some, feel nothing and keep going. So, I don’t think you should be messing with these. I don’t want you to try them and if you do you need to know it doesn’t kick in right away, and you want to be really, really careful. So, I think, you know, that’s one of those funny things we’ve talked about a lot where there we sort of give a mixed message of like, don’t, but if you do, right? It’s not ideal but I think it’s also realistic.
REENA: I like how you always, you tell this over and over again tell us, bring it back to safety. When you’re trying to get them to understand, bring it back to their safety, and their development is what you’re saying can really make a difference. What age, though, Lisa, do you think you should have this conversation?
LISA: That’s really important, right? Because this seventh grader happened to bring it up, so it threw the door wide open for the mom to, you know, walk in and have this conversation, and she can certainly go back now and say, I’ve looked into the edibles thing and there’s more I want to talk to you about. My sense, in terms of the age, would probably be very regional. That I would really encourage parents to look around at their communities and their neighborhoods and get a sense of how much this may be on their kids radar. That said, even though I’m saying, oh I live in Ohio where there’s no dispensaries that, you know, we walk by on a regular basis, we’ve totally had this happen in the middle schools around here, and so I don’t want to give give parents a false sense of security that just because you’re not walking around with dispensaries nearby or the legalization questions are still being sorted out in your state, you don’t have to have this conversation. So, I would say probably seventh grade is the latest, which is sort of a surprising thing to say, but it’s probably the latest age at which I would bring it up, and if your kid isn’t bringing it up, I do think it might be worth by sixth grade.
REENA: Middle school.
LISA: Yeah. Just saying, have you ever heard of edibles? Is this on your radar at all? And just asking and get a feel for what they know and what they may be aware of, and ask in a neutral way. Make it clear they will be in trouble if they know more about it than you expect.
REENA: You know that’s an important point that you’ve said in the past, too, is like, let them know you’ve got an open door. You want to talk about it without making them think I’m going to come down hard on you.
LISA: It is important, and I think also, we always think we’re so neutral as parents. We’re just asking. We just have a little question for you, kid. What do you know about edibles? That is not how it’s felt by the sixth grader. That so often when we come with those kinds of questions about behavior that is obviously, in sixth grade, you know, inappropriate and worrisome, kids receive that is like, why are you asking me that? Like what’s behind it?
LISA: Like what have I done that would have you put such a strange question to me, and that’s not really a great way to kick off the kind of conversation we want to have.
REENA: So what you’re saying, Lisa, is don’t preemptively have a conversation with them? Like wait for a window?
LISA: No. What I am saying, and I’m working it out as we talk it through, is I do think you should bring it up, but I think you should bring it up in a way that makes it clear that it’s not about your kid in particular. There was no reason that you were inspired to raise this question because of something your kid did or said or you suspect. So, it may really be worth saying, you know, I was listening to this podcast and they were talking about edibles. This was not even remotely on my radar.
REENA: Oh, interesting.
LISA: Is this something you’ve heard of? Or I saw something in the paper about, you know, on the other side of town or down the street somebody had some edibles. Like do you know about these? Have these even come up? But to bring it up really with that sense of your kid as an ally in this as maybe someone who is as boggled by all of this as you are, and then if they say, yeah, no I’ve heard about it? Then say like, what do you know? Like what have you heard? And this is a really essential maneuver in any informational conversation we’re going to try to have with our child because, you know, obviously there’s a lot of information about edibles that I didn’t know a whole lot before I started researching this topic that we can’t necessarily assume our kids have any good information on it. So, we want to transmit this good information about, you know, dosing and delay and toxicity and all of that, but before we lay all of our wisdom on them, it’s really helpful to say, what have you heard? What do you know? What do you think this is all about? And get their take on it because kids are often holding information, and they may be holding misinformation, they may think something’s true that’s not true, like, oh but it’s marijuana and marijuana’s fine, you know, it’s just like alcohol, it’s, you know, it’s a safe drug. We want to know what they believe, especially if it’s misinformation, before we start dropping our information on top of that because they’ll just mash together whatever we tell them with the misinformation they already have.
REENA: Interesting. So, what I’m hearing from you today is one, have a conversation, but make sure you approach it in a way that they don’t feel like they’ve done something wrong. The second thing I hear you say is explain to them how it can affect development and how you might not, eating a couple gummies that are laced with something, you might not feel it instantly and it’ll make you take more, which then has a very adverse effect on your health.
LISA: Absolutely and and just, you know, the only thing I would add to that is they really have no idea what’s in there, and that’s very scary. I do hear stories about teenagers who think they’ve taken an edible gummy and, you know, they land in the ER, it is clear there was something else in there too.
LISA: And that’s the part where it can become part of a broader conversation about marijuana or drugs, which is, if your kid is getting their hands on these, if your young person is getting access to any form of drugs, it’s not coming to them through trusted sources. It’s not coming to them through people who really, really care about them.
LISA: So, it’s always a good idea to remind kids that we’re talking about drugs that even if the legal for adults are legal for them, and that usually means they’ve gone through several hands, and these are hands of people who don’t know your kid or care about your kid, and so that’s where I think it’s really helpful to say to them, look, you may know the kid who’s offering it to you. They may even be somebody you like or, you know, feel to be a friend. Somewhere down the line, though, was somebody who does not care about you, and you have no idea what’s in that thing you’re taking, and you need to remember that regardless of who is making it available to you, you know, at school or at a party, you don’t know where this came from.
REENA: Of all the research you did for this New York Times piece, for your adolescence column, what surprised you the most about edibles?
LISA: Well, what interested me and sort of surprised me the most is that it really seems to be trickier than other things we have dealt with, and to open up possibilities that are harder to parent through, and here’s what I mean. There’s, you know, what we talked about with the kid who might and possibly take it because somebody at school has it and we can talk them through it. There are also, of course, kids who are using lots of marijuana in lots of ways, smoking marijuana, and they’re also taking edibles, and that is likely a substance use concern that needs to be addressed separately, but there’s this middle category that was somewhat new to me of kids who are not smoking marijuana but are using edibles when they want to have a stealth high. So, on the way to homecoming, on the way to football games, on the way to places where adults maybe trying to be on the lookout for drinking or smelling, you know, like you’ve been smoking, and so edibles actually enter into that space as a way for kids to be really, really stealth and show up at a party or a homecoming or a football game stands having taken an edible on the way in, and they’re high there, and it’s basically not something that adults can detect or regulate or stop, and that piece sort of struck me as different from drinking and smoking, which are frankly harder to hide, and so on that what I would say is I would be really head on if you think you have a teenager who might be interested in the stealth aspect of edibles, and I would say to them, look, we can’t stop you. If you want to do this, you can, and you can certainly get away with it, and I and I think it’s very important to make it clear to your teenager, like I get it. Like I don’t have the power to prevent this, but then to route back to the things we were talking about earlier, just to say, but you don’t know what’s in there. You have one brain that is you’re paying for the rest of your life. I don’t want you taking any chances with it. You don’t want to take chances with it. And also if you get yourself in trouble, I’m here for you, but I don’t want to come to that and you don’t want to come to that.
REENA: That’s really great. You always think of the things that I never think about and the conversations I never ever think about having. Edibles is definitely one of them. Top of the list. Along with porn, by the way, that episode on porn, just wow. I never thought about having a conversation with my child about porn.
LISA: Yes. I know. These are some tricky conversations.
REENA: So tell us, what do you have for us for parenting to go?
LISA: Well, actually, Reena, I’m going to go right from where we just were. There are things in parenting that we do not want to deal with. Let’s say porn is high on the list, edibles is high on that list, and there may be other things like a difficult family history around depression or suicide, right? There are things that make us enormously uncomfortable as parents, and we all have the instinct to avoid the hard things, and I understand that instinct, but what I would say is if our kids are dealing with it, whether it’s porn or edibles or other frightening things, we have to deal with it too, and it can mean being brave, it can mean getting a lot of good information, but just because we don’t want to talk about something, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be talking about it with our kids.
REENA: An important reminder. That’s really good. So, next week, Halloween is coming around the corner. We’ve got an episode about kids and weight.
LISA: Yeah. We get a letter from my mom who’s worried about her daughter being overweight, and is wondering if she should comment.
REENA: I’ll see you next week. Unfortunately, not in Ibiza.
LISA: Not in Ibiza. I’ll see you next week, right here.
REENA: I’ll see you, Lisa.