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A-Z of Drugs

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W is for weed (edibles)

Neil Wilson
Neil Wilson

W is for weed (edibles)

Scooby-doo reached in 50th Birthday a couple of years back and is still going strong, powered by his infamous ‘scooby snacks’.

The probable drug reference didn’t seem to bother, or they didn’t notice, the ACT (Action for Children’s Television) organisation in the 1960’s who had worked hard to remove cartoons that contained violence from the airwaves. The allusions to the emerging counter-culture movement as Fred, Daphne, Velma and Shaggy seemed obvious to many as their brightly coloured van, ‘The Mystery Machine”, travelled America’s backroads. It was the double act of Shaggy and Scooby that seemed to steal the show with Shaggy (voiced by DJ Casey Kasem) appearing to sound a least lightly stoned most of the time. His demeanour certainly suggested he should stay away from heavy machinery, if not fake ghostly apparitions. His partner, Scooby-doo, seemed to permanently hungry. Some owners of Great Danes would recognise that state of affairs, other people put it down to a severe case of “the munchies”.

Meanwhile on Irish television RTE pumped out the puppetry in the form of ‘The Wanderly wagon’. With mythological backdrops in the early days to adventures under water and into space in later episodes it formed part of the childhood of hundred of thousands of Irish children over its 25-year life span. It may have lacked more overt drug references, but the whole premise of the show and the possible state of mind of it’s creators left some wondering if the puppeteers had decidedly ‘fallen off the wagon’. Donald Clarke writing in the Irish Times summed it up nicely when he said “Lord knows what was going on in Wanderly Wagon”

Over the water in Britain in the 1960s the tea-time classic of ‘The Magic Roundabout’ featured more drug references than an episode of Breaking Bad. The excitable Dougal was a shaggy dog with boundless energy and a profound fondness for sugar cubes. In one episode he famously claimed: “It starts with some sweetsand then you’re on two bags a day.” His best friend Dylan was a rabbit who played guitar and slept a lot; this may well have implied he had been smoking 1960’s ‘pot’ off-camera. His likeness to the singer Bob Dylan is of course entirely a coincidence. Not content with loading each somewhat ‘trippy’ five minute storyline with these references the loveable cow Ermintrude was also often seen chewing on a flower which looked suspiciously like opiate-laden poppy. Just as an example, in one iconic episode Dougal attends a party he has no memory of, and proceeds to chat away with a banana and a pear!

Whether or not the underage target viewing audience ever understood or were influenced by such references in these and other children’s programmes is clearly open to debate. Many more modern-day cartoons are aimed at a wider age range. Some gags and references may land with adults laughing out loud to the incredulity of children who wonder may what’s so funny.

This blurring of the lines of ‘childish’ and ‘adult’ things has also begun to take place within the world of drugs.

In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of products available that are infused with THC, the psycho-active component of cannabis. People have baked cannabis into foodstuffs for many years, chocolate brownies being perhaps the most well-known. As more individual states in America and other countries around the world have begun to relax their cannabis laws commercial opportunities have begun to open up to mass produce more cannabis-based products.

Many of these new products appear very similar to the branded sugary treats of childhood. In the early days of the industry (the State of Colorado began a process of legalisation in 2012) well-known brands were often mimicked to help create a publicity stir and shift product. Nestle’s ‘Kit-kat’ became ‘Kif-kaf’ with a little added greenery on the packaging. This attempt fell foul of the regulatory authorities. Others sailed close to wind as well with packaging that looked suspiciously like (but not too closely) that of various long-established confectionary, popcorn, Ice-cream, drinks and other snack companies.

Increasingly cannabis producers have engaged marketing companies to establish their own brands in the marketplace. Somewhat ironically these companies have become the target of newer entrants to the market copying their packaging in an attempt to profit from the newly-established respectability of such brands.

The ‘rise of edibles’ has had a number of surprising consequences. Colorado has seen a significant increase in ‘Pot-tourism’. In 2016 the state had over 82 million visitors. Despite the attractions of stunning scenery and the snow-laden slopes in winter, at least 5% of visitors said their primary motivation to visit was to use weed, often in the form of edibles. In total at least 15% of visitors used cannabis whilst holidaying in the state that year.

Hospital admissions due to an overdose of cannabis have certainly attracted press attention. In some years admissions have topped over 230 in the state, with approximately 25-30 of those being for younger people who it is presumed used cannabis unknowingly after mistaking edible cannabis products for regular foodstuffs such as gummy bears, brownies, lollipops, etc. One commenter at the time, Dr. Franson, of the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy, was quoted as saying: “What kid doesn’t eat an entire brownie?” also adding, “And you know the toddler doesn’t read the label.”

Small children, usually under 12 years old, are at higher risk based on their size and weight.  Because edible products often have very high amounts of THC they ingestion may require a hospital admission due to the severity of their symptoms. Colorado ‘rowed back’ on this area of their newly-minted legislation by imposed a ban on edibles that looked like kids’ treats. This and other new regulation followed the significant amounts of negative publicity that flowed from the death of a young tourist who was fatally injured when they jumped from a hotel balcony after eating too many pieces of a pot cookie.

As of 2015, Colorado has required cannabis products to be sold in childproof packaging. The so-called ‘gummy bear law’ meant edible cannabis products could not be rendered in the shape of humans, animals or fruits. The law went on to specify a range of labelling requirements including a measurement of the strength of ‘one serving’, similar to the system of standard drinks or units posted on bottles of alcoholic drinks. Despite the required label “The standardized serving size for this product includes no more than ten milligrams of active THC.”, it still requires the user to do the mental maths to measure out the amount of the product they are using. There is some evidence to show that this has reduced the number of accidental overdoses occurring, but has also aided others in seeking out products with a greater strength of THC.

Another unexpected problem has arisen in the form of our canine friends. Some 4,000 calls were made last year by worried pet owners across the United States who suspected that their pooch had ingested an edible cannabis product. A senior director of the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) was quoted as saying “Dogs are more sensitive to the effects of marijuana toxicosis than humans, and exposure should be avoided”. As with accidental ingestion by children these figures may just represent the tip of the iceberg. It’s also unknown how may of these cases relate to owners deliberately giving their supposed best friend a ‘Scooby snack’.

Although all but four states within the US and various countries of the world have relaxed laws as regards cannabis, it remains the case that many researchers are still focussed on following what is now seen as the medium to long-term effects of Colorado’s ground-breaking legislation.

A decade on from the beginning of the process the jury is still out.


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