Edibles have become a popular option for cannabis consumption. Since its legalization, there have been issues within this budding field. Some might say marijuana’s relationship with food is much like Cheech and Chong’s--completely entwined but not without its glitches.

Last year, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined Cannabinoid Dose and Label Accuracy in Edible Medical Cannabis Products​. Edible cannabis was obtained from three randomly selected dispensaries in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle. 75 products from 40 different brands were tested to measure the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). About 17 percent had been labeled accurately for THC content, 23 percent were under-labeled, and the remaining 60 percent were over-labeled. Over half contained significantly less CBD content than labeled and some only had negligible amounts of THC. As a result of the variation, the product may have minimal to no effect. Conversely, they could even have adverse effects resulting from too much THC.

Some consumers have also experienced confusion regarding portion size and the timing of the effects of edibles, as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd can attest.  Recounting the nightmarish experience in her column, she consumed more marijuana than she should have from a candy bar that was not labeled properly. Dowd, a marijuana novice, was unaware of time it took for edible’s effects to occur. After feeling no effects after her first bite, she had another, and estimates​ that she probably ate one quarter of a bar. Dowd became paranoid as a result of her overconsumption, writing, “I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.”

There has also been concern surrounding the consumption of cannabis by children. “The debate about legalization often focuses on health effects among adults, economic benefits, and crime rates. Lost in the discussion is the potential harm to young children from unintentional exposure to marijuana,” explains Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Smith is also one of the lead authors of a study that examined marijuana exposure to children below the age of six.

Published in the June 2015 issue of Clinical Pediatrics, the study found children’s accidental exposure to marijuana relatively rare but increasing. From 2006 to 2013, it rose 147.5 percent across the United States. During that same period, the rate also increased nearly 610 percent in states where marijuana had been legalized for medical use prior to 2000. Over 75 percent of the children exposed to marijuana were under the age of three, with the majority of them swallowing it. The authors believe this may be due to the popularity of edibles such as brownies, cookies, and other foods.

These findings, says Smith, suggest more research needs to be done. He adds, “The same precautions used to protect children from medicines and dangerous household chemicals need to be used with marijuana products – for example, keeping the products in child-resistant, opaque containers and storing products up, away and out of sight of children, preferably in a locked cabinet.”

Positive steps have recently been taken to address issues surrounding marijuana edibles. There are new labeling laws that make content information clearer. In addition to the prohibition of marketing to children, measures have been added requiring child proof packaging. 

There have also been innovations regarding the culinary profile of cannabis. Chefs have responded to the plea to elevate cannabis beyond the proverbial pot brownie and stereotypical stoner cuisine. Partnered with Cresco Labs, prominent pastry chef Mindy Segal has become the first James Beard award winner to create a line of edibles.

She plans to continue her innovative approach and skills to the aptly named Mindy’s First Batch. “I’m a professional chef so I am using that approach for the brand. I’m trying to create an experience on a medicinal level that someone would get in my restaurant--the same quality and the same approach,” says Segal.

In order to do so, she has been learning all the aspects of edibles--understanding carbon dioxide distillation, the properties of the different strains of marijuana, as well as the politics, laws, branding and packaging. She tells me the process has been fun and fascinating.

The line includes products containing blends of milk chocolate and peanut butter, peanut brittle, and caramelized white chocolate brittle is planned for the future. Terpene, explains Segal, gives marijuana its hoppy taste. Its flavor can be complementary and is incorporated for some of her products. Using cutting edge technology that is exclusive to her brand, Segal has also developed edibles that completely separate terpenes from the cannabinoids. As a result of the process, the flavor of cannabis is absent for those who prefer not to taste the terpenes.

Segal’s line also addresses the concerns surrounding edibles. The packaging is child proof and uniform in dosing. Each edible is single dosed at 10 milligrams and lab tested. Says Segal, “I want to create a brand through the eyes of a pastry chef and Cresco’s approach was to create consistent dosing, so the two like minds come together with the goal of excellence in our product.”

Her products are currently available in licensed dispensaries in Illinois but she sees a national brand in the future.