NEW YORK — Is it really a bag of fruit snacks or is it full of cannabis products high in THC? That’s the question researchers at New York University say children are facing thanks to colorful packages which are dressing up cannabis edibles to look like popular treats.
Cannabis edibles with colorful and child-like packaging are gaining popularity. Companies are even selling them under similar names to the actual fruit snacks and candies they mimic.
Unfortunately, it’s no laughing matter when children and adults mistakenly consume these products, thinking they’re harmless treats. From 2017 to 2019, U.S. Poison Control officials handled nearly 2,000 cases of young children under the age of nine mistakenly consuming edibles.
Too much like the real thing
Researchers fear that a single bag of gummies could contain 60 times the dosage of a single hit of cannabis. The team collected hundreds of photos of cannabis products and analyzed their packaging, including branding, names, imagery, and THC content.
“At first glance, most of the packages look almost exactly like familiar snacks. If these copycat cannabis products are not stored safely, there is the potential for accidental ingestion by children or adults,” says Dr. Danielle Ompad, an associate professor of epidemiology at NYU, in a university release.
They focused on photos for 267 edibles and found that eight percent closely resembled 13 different snack products. Twelve of the products were candies or sweet snacks (fruit chews, fruit snacks, rice or marshmallow treats, and gummies) and one was a bag of chips.
Eight of the 13 packages used the exact brand or product name of the original snack. The remaining five used names that were similar, calling the edibles “Stoner Patch Dummies” instead of “Sour Patch Kids” for instance.
Seven of the packages even used the same cartoon or brand character as the original product.
According to information listed on the packaging of the lookalike products, these edibles contained an average of 459mg of THC and a range of 300 to 600mg per package, greatly exceeding the maximum limits of 10mg in U.S. states where cannabis is legal.
“While each package is likely intended to include multiple doses, few packages indicate the serving size or number of servings,” Dr. Ompad says. “Moreover, if we’re considering 10 mg a standard dose, these products could contain an alarming 30 to 60 doses per package.”
“Policies to prevent cannabis packaging from appealing to children haven’t stopped copycat products from entering the market—nor have food brands taking legal action against cannabis companies for copyright infringement,” Ompad concludes. “People who purchase edibles that look like snack foods should store them separately from regular snacks and out of reach of children.”
The study is published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
South West News Service writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.