Both the potential for and risks around cannabis edibles came to light in a particular event, which took place more than a year ago: A 70-year-old heart attack patient in Saint John, New Brunswick, was looking for a little relief from arthritis pain and insomnia. So, he accepted a cannabis-infused lollipop from a friend even though he hadn’t consumed marijuana since he was young.
Shortly after consuming the treat, the elderly man felt chest pains and was rushed to the hospital as he was suffering from a heart attack. Research by an attending physician revealed the candy probably contained about 70 mg of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), compared to an average of 7 mg for a typical THC dose.
“The dosage could easily be underestimated by the users because it doesn't give you that immediate hit,” Dr. Robert Stevenson told CBC. It was Dr. Stevenson who saw the patient shortly after he showed up in the emergency room of the Saint John Regional Hospital.
While the medical emergency underlined the need for regulation to protect the public health, the lollipop itself symbolizes the sweet promise of a huge market for edibles. Some predict that it will outstrip the market for smokable cannabis, with demand from people who don’t like the stigma of smoking the plant or believe edibles are a healthier form of cannabis consumption.
Food & Drink Companies Are Jockeying for Position Before Cannabis Legalization
Indeed, in the months leading up to legalization last October, food and drink manufacturers were jockeying for position to take advantage of the public market. In September 2018, Coca- Cola Co. was reportedly in talks with a Canadian cannabis producer to see if they may be able to give some new zing to “the Real Thing.”
Also, a few weeks before legalization, another Canadian producer partnered with Hummingbird Chocolate, a family-run bean-to-bar chocolate maker from out of Almonte, Ont., to develop cannabis-infused chocolate for the Canadian market.
“It’s an interesting thing from a taste perspective, because cacao beans have a very unique flavor based on the origin of the bean and how they’re treated,” says Hummingbird co-founder Erica Gilmour. “I think there’s an opportunity here to play with the flavours of cannabis, and maybe pair those with different cacao beans. We’re still in the early stages, so we’ll see how all that plays out.”
A Pathway to Legal Marijuana Edibles Is Opening Up
It’s increasingly looking as if all of the hard work of the food companies and cannabis producers may pay off. Last December, Health Canada released a list of proposed regulations covering cannabis edibles (plus extracts and topicals), with a goal of making them legal on Oct. 17, 2019. The government agency is near the end of a 60-day consultation process, getting feedback from Canadians on its proposed rules.
Some of the suggested regulations for marijuana edibles include:
- Child-resistant packaging
- Restricting ingredients uses
- Limiting edibles to 10 mg of THC per package
- Not allowing the production of regular food and cannabis edibles in the same facility
Companies Are Going Beyond Cannabis-Infused Cookies & Brownies
As food companies and cannabis producers join forces and compare recipes, it looks as if Canadian consumers will have much more than the stereotypical marijuana brownies and cookies to look forward to.
Last November, Newstrike Brands announced that it was partnering with specialty food producer Neal Brothers, known for its line of organic, non-GMO, gluten-free chips and accompanying dips.
“You can trust we will have a minimum of 12 to 18 edibles ready ... whenever it becomes legal,” says Neal Brothers co-founder Peter Neal in a Financial Times interview. “The innovations we are working on have not been seen anywhere. I’m pretty sure we are going to start out with a high gourmet chocolate, and then maybe chips that are organic or gluten-free, whatever people want.”
And, of course, it’s not just edibles—it’s drinkables, too. Established beverage manufacturers are also looking to reach the untapped cannabis market. Perhaps they’re looking south of the border, where, for example, Heineken-owned beer brand Lagunitas launched an IPA-inspired beer made out of hops and cannabis, called Hi-Fi Hops. The beverage is alcohol-free and doesn’t contain any carbs or calories.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, Coalition Brewing released a beer called Two Flowers IPA, which is infused with cannabidiol (CBD).
In Canada, Molson Coors said it would partner with a Quebec-based cannabis producer to make a nonalcoholic marijuana beverage for the local market.
If coffee is your preferred drink, you may have options there, too. Last year, Canadian medical cannabis producer CannTrust created a single-serve marijuana pod called the CANNCUP, which can be used with your Keurig coffeemaker.
With a proposed cost of $3 or $4 a pod, and a promise that the taste of the coffee won’t be affected, the pods still need to be approved. And while they’re aimed at the medical marijuana market, their potential for recreational use is pretty obvious, too.
Cannabis Edibles Are Also Making the Government Hungry
Canadian governments are taking notice of the huge potential profits from the edibles market come next October and are getting hungry. Calgary, Alberta’s city council, for one, is griping that the $3.84 million the province gives it to help cover enforcement and regulation costs for legalized cannabis through 2019 isn’t enough. City officials predict these expenses will rise $10.44 million by the end of this year.
The expenses cover everything from impaired-driving enforcement to bylaw and health regulation. Councillor George Chahal says that it’s only fair that the city gets reimbursed for these cash outlays and enjoy some of the money feast edibles are predicted to bring.
Photo credit: Lisa Fotios