Tasty THC Promises and challenges of cannabis edibles

By Daniel Barrus, Kristen Capogrossi, Sheryl Cates, Camille Gourdet, Nicholas Peiper, Scott Novak, Timothy Lefever, Jenny Wiley

Food products containing cannabis extract (edibles) have emerged as a popular and lucrative facet of the legalized market for both recreational and medicinal cannabis. The many formulations of cannabis extracts used in edibles present a unique regulatory challenge for policy makers. Though edibles are often considered a safe, discreet, and effective means of attaining the therapeutic and/or intoxicating effects of cannabis without exposure to the potentially harmful risks of cannabis smoking, little research has evaluated how ingestion differs from other methods of cannabis administration in terms of therapeutic efficacy, subjective effects, and safety. The most prominent difference between ingestion and inhalation of cannabis extracts is the delayed onset of drug effect with ingestion. Consumers often do not understand this aspect of edible use and may consume a greater than intended amount of drug before the drug has taken effect, often resulting in profoundly adverse effects. Written for the educated layperson and for policy makers, this paper explores the current state of research regarding edibles, highlighting the promises and challenges that edibles present to both users and policy makers, and describes the approaches that four states in which recreational cannabis use is legal have taken regarding regulating edibles.


Barrus, D., Capogrossi, K., Cates, S., Gourdet, C., Peiper, N., Novak, S., ... Wiley, J. (2016). Tasty THC: Promises and challenges of cannabis edibles. (RTI Press Publication No. OP-0035-1611). Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI Press. https://doi.org/10.3768/rtipress.2016.op.0035.1611

© 2019 RTI International. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Daniel BarrusDaniel G. Barrus, BS, is a laboratory technician in the Pharmacology group of RTI International’s Center for Drug Discovery. Mr. Barrus conducts nonclinical behavioral pharmacology and toxicology research.

Kristen CapogrossiKristen L. Capogrossi, PhD, is a research economist in RTI’s Food, Nutrition, and Obesity Policy Research Program. Dr. Capogrossi conducts economic analysis of nutrition policy, food safety regulation, food production and marketing, and related areas using econometrics, simulation modeling, statistical analysis, and other methods.

Sheryl CatesSheryl C. Cates, BA, a senior research policy analyst in RTI’s Food, Nutrition, and Obesity Policy Research Program, has more than 25 years of experience conducting consumer behavior research related to nutrition and food safety. She conducts studies to assess consumer use and understanding of labeling features and response to alternative label formats. Her research also assesses the impact of educational interventions on outcomes related to healthy eating and foodborne illness prevention.

Camille GourdetCamille K. Gourdet, JD, MA, is a public health research policy analyst in the Center for Health Policy Science and Tobacco Research at RTI International. She has worked with the US Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products evaluating state and local tobacco control policies, and has served as project manager on two internally funded nationwide surveys to gather the opinions of adults around the country about marijuana use and legalization and the types of e-cigarette products adolescents use most often.

Nicholas PeiperNicholas C. Peiper, PhD, is a research epidemiologist in RTI International’s Behavioral and Urban Health Program. His research concentrates on the etiology, correlates, and consequences of psychiatric disorders, with a particular focus on early intervention for adolescents and young adults. Dr. Peiper works with Dr. Scott Novak on National Institutes of Health (NIH)- and SAMHSA-funded grants related to prescription drugs, injection drug use, marijuana, and psychiatric comorbidity.

Scott NovakScott P. Novak, PhD, is a senior research public health analyst in RTI’s Behavioral Health Research Division. His current work focuses on characterizing the epidemiological trends and identifying the at-risk populations for prescription drug abuse and co-occurring illicit drug use.

Timothy LefeverTimothy W. Lefever, MA, manages RTI International’s Neurobehavioral Laboratory. Mr. Lefever has been conducting preclinical behavioral research for over 13 years and has been testing the effects of cannabinoids in these models extensively during the past 5 years.

Jenny WileyJenny L. Wiley, PhD, is a leading expert in behavioral pharmacology. Dr. Wiley designs and supervises a program of in vivo research at RTI International, including the synthesis and development of candidate medications and investigation of neural mechanisms underlying substance abuse. She also conducts independent NIH grant-supported research in the area of cannabinoid pharmacology.

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