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Copycat packaging of marijuana edibles poses risk to children, study finds


At first glance, it looks like a bag of Nerds Rope that your child could eat as a treat. But take a closer look. See the word “medicated” and the little white box at the bottom that says 600 milligrams of THC?

These three letters represent tetrahydrocannabinol, the part of the marijuana plant that gets people high.

Eating even a small fraction of that bag “would overwhelm a child,” said Danielle Ompad, associate professor of epidemiology at the NYU School of Global Public Health and lead author of a new study on copycat packaging in cannabis sales. The study was published Tuesday in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Another candy wrapper reviewed by Ompad was nearly identical to the popular Candy Gushers. The label says the bag contains 500 milligrams of THC, while a Doritos lookalike bag contained 600 milligrams. The resemblance to branded products is strange, she says.

“The Nerd Rope knockoffs that I personally saw looked like the licensed product,” Ompad said. “The (counterfeit) Doritos were the same shape as the real thing and also had a creak.”

Eating 500-600 milligrams of THC would be a huge dose, even for an adult. “If I ate this whole packet, I would be miserable. People who use edibles recreationally usually eat no more than 10 milligrams,” Ompad said.

Close examination reveals no manufacturer listed on the copier’s packaging, she said. However, empty bags imitating dozens of major snack and candy brands can be purchased online. in bulk, she said, making it easy for small businesses to join the market.

“Reputable cannabis businessmen don’t engage in this kind of conduct,” said Henry Wykowski, legal counsel for the National Cannabis Industry Association. “There are other people who are still operating in the illicit market and they are breaking the rules.”

“We would like to help stop this. It’s not good for anyone,” he added.

“Many cannabis edibles companies blatantly overstep marketing, putting consumers at risk and infringing on the trademarks of well-known and trusted confectionary brands,” mentioned Christopher Gindlesperger, senior vice president of public affairs and communications for the National Confectioners Association, in an email.

The association has established a set of guidelines for states considering deregulating cannabis.

“We are working to ensure that the appropriate guidelines and policies are established to distinguish edibles containing cannabis from traditional confectionery,” Gindlesperger added.

The makers of various major candy and chip brands such as Mars Wrigley, Hershey Company, Mondelez Canada and Ferrara Candy Company have filed lawsuits against a few companies selling counterfeits.

“We are deeply disturbed to see our trademarks being used illegally to sell THC-infused products, and even more disturbed to learn of children ingesting these products and getting sick,” a Mars spokesperson said in an email. .

“We encourage consumers to contact their local authorities for advice on these illegal products,” the spokesperson said.

Although anyone can mistake a candy or chip for a real one, young children are particularly vulnerable, Ompad said, as they can be easily attracted to brightly colored bags often decorated with familiar cartoon characters.

If a child ingests food they can become “very sick”. They may have problems walking or sitting or have trouble breathing,” according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A study published in the journal Pediatrics looked at calls to regional poison control centers from 2017 to 2019 and found there were 4,172 cases of cannabis exposure in the United States among children up to age 9. Almost half (46%) of these calls were for cannabis edibles.

More than 70% of calls to U.S. poison control centers related to marijuana edibles in 2020 “involved children under the age of 5,” according to New York Attorney General Letitia James, who issued a consumer alert in October 2021.

“In the first half of 2021 alone, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported that poison control hotlines received approximately 2,622 calls for services related to the ingestion of illegal cannabis products by young children. “, reads the alert.

News reports from across the United States have highlighted these numbers.

A 3-year-old child was admitted to a New Jersey intensive care unit in December 2020 after eating “cannabis candy that looked like Nerds rope,” according to Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. A month later, a pre-teen was hospitalized in New Jersey after eating a large amount of “almost identically” packaged marijuana candy from Sour Skittles.

Two children under the age of 5 were hospitalized in Oklahoma in March 2021 after eating edibles from bags that looked like Ruffles, Doritos and Fritos, according to public information officer Mark Woodward for the Oklahoma Narcotics Bureau. And that same month, a Florida sheriff’s office posted a warning on Facebook with an image of dozens of counterfeit edibles.

New Jersey has approved the legalization of recreational marijuana, which will go into effect soon, but Oklahoma and Florida have not.

If a younger child is exposed at home, it could mean adults are neglecting to leave edibles lying around, Wykowski said.

“I could sell you a responsibly packaged product that looks nothing like candy,” he said. “But if you leave it out and it looks like a brownie, and your kid walks by and thinks, ‘Oh, I’m a little hungry. Dad left the brownies aside, then he eats them, whose fault is it?

It’s also possible for teens to get edibles by faking ID or asking older friends to buy them. them, just like they do with alcohol, Ompad said.

Until the Wild West of cannabis marketing is tamed by regulation, the onus rests with parents to protect their children, experts say. Keep all marijuana products out of the reach of children in childproof containers, the CDC recommends. Better yet, lock them up, Ompad said.

“I’m not a person who thinks cannabis should be illegal or edibles shouldn’t be available,” she said. “We just need to do a better job of keeping them away from children and clarifying that they’re edible and what the adult dose is to get the effect you want.”

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