“Take it low and slow”: Why ER docs are concerned about growing buzz from THC drinks

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesotans are seeing green, and the new law legalizing pot has made an immediate impact on the accessibility and popularity of beverages with THC, the key ingredient from hemp and cannabis that gets someone high.

“We’ve seen a huge rise in popularity,” Josh Maslowski, owner of Twin Cities-based STIGMA Cannabis Co., told WCCO News. “There are more locations in Minnesota to buy a THC beverage than the rest of the nation combined almost, and secondarily I think it provides a non-alcoholic alternative in a market that’s trending that way.” The market for THC products has been sky-high since edibles containing hemp-derived THC became legal on July 1, 2022. As gummies and chocolates hit store shelves, however, Maslowski said the rules on beverages were less clear.
That uncertainty ended this spring as part of the new greater cannabis bill, which explicitly allowed distributors and liquor stores to carry the product effective almost immediately (dispensaries won’t be introduced until 2025).

STIGMA Cannabis Co’s latest beverage product is an Arnold Palmer-style drink, and Maslowski said there’s a Club Soda on the way as well. The cans contain 10mg of THC, which is two servings of the legal limit of 5mg.

“You wake up the next morning, you’re not hungover, and you can be more productive you know in general,” Maslowski said. “We’re putting in more or less the vast majority of our focus into beverages while we’re waiting on the legislation to take its course on traditional dispensaries and high-dose cannabis. The trend of drinking alcohol is going one way and the trend of cannabis is going the other way.”

Indeed, even if alcohol becomes less popular, it is still much more well-known when it comes to its short and long-term risks, not to mention its effects on an individual’s behavior. THC meanwhile, just as it is a new emerging market, is also becoming a new experience for users.Dr. Jon Cole, a toxicologist and director of Hennepin County Poison Control, said therein lies the risk.
“I think it’s a different buzz and it represents a potential risk to people who are unfamiliar with a normal time course with how cannabis affects you,” Dr. Cole said. “You can’t cut and paste your experience with alcohol into THC. They are totally different drugs and medications.”
Maslowski said that the THC in STIGMA’s beverages activates in about 20 minutes, but Dr. Cole said many more beverages on the market could take up to an hour or more for consumers to feel its full effect, leaving many novice users to think in the beginning they can keep drinking.
“They use too quickly because they don’t realize the effects are delayed,” he said. “I’ve come across patients who thought they were stopping and the effects start to increase after they think they stopped. It’s really unpleasant. They feel pretty miserable.”
Preliminary data from Poison Control reported between 50 and 70 patients reporting overdoses of cannabis every month between January 2023 and May 2023, the latest figures available. Dr. Cole said the most severe symptoms among adults include excessive vomiting and hallucinations.
The risk has been greater among children who get ahold of unsecured beverages or gummies in a home. “Real small children when they get into large doses of cannabis, they do slow their breathing down and sometimes become unconscious to the point where they need ICU level care.” The message from Dr. Cole to adult users is “take it low and slow” with THC products, including beverages and edibles.
“People don’t go to the bar and say, ‘I’m gonna have 2 grams of alcohol,'” he said. “With cannabis, it really is about the grams and milligrams of THC that you’re consuming. You’re starting from the beginning, and you’re going to have to learn how cannabis and THC affects you.” Josh Maslowski at STIGMA said he agrees. “You need to have a little personal responsibility around your own cannabis use, especially if you’re a novice,” he said.



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