The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced it is working to stop a troubling trend in the production of cannabis edibles: products with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that look like popular brands of candy, cereal, and baked goods. The FDA’s May 13 consumer advisory said copycat cannabis products that look like Froot Loops, Cap’n Crunch, Starbursts, and other sweet and colorful treats could cause “serious adverse events” in adults and children. While this isn’t a typical food safety issue, it illustrates how missteps can affect the emerging edibles market accounting for about 11% of overall cannabis sales.

This blog from ImEPIK looks at the FDA’s concerns with copycat products and describes its plan to remove them from the market.

Consumer Complaints on the Rise

From January 2021 to April 24, 2022, more than 100 of these adverse events were reported to the FDA, with the effects including hallucinations, increased heart rate, and vomiting.

The FDA is working with state and federal partners to monitor the market for product complaints “and other emerging cannabis-derived products of potential concern.” The agency is asking health care professionals and consumers to report copycat cannabis products, as well as health events from ingesting the edibles.

In April, representatives from Pepsi, General Mills, Kellogg’s, and other big-name brands asked members of Congress to do more to ban edibles that look similar to products made by the companies. In a letter also signed by the Consumer Brands Association and American Bakers Association, food companies asked Congress to amend the SHOP SAFE Act to add the words “famous marks,” which was previously defined in the U.S. code. The change would make electronic commerce platforms that market, distribute or advertise such products liable if they “implicate health and safety.”

“This change is critical because it closes a loophole in the existing language to address a critical health and safety issue,” according to the letter. “We urge your support.”

In an extreme example of how copycat cannabis products can be mistakenly ingested, a Roy, Utah, food bank gave out THC-infused candies made to look like Nerds Ropes to 72 families in April 2020. At least two children were hospitalized after eating the products.

Copycats Limit Availability of Cannabis Edibles

Concerns about copycat cannabis products Copycat cannabis products look like they're for kids.have also been cited by state legislators adopting medical and recreational-use laws. In New Jersey, legal sales started in April, but edibles are not allowed. New Jersey regulations don’t allow for sales of edibles, and they specifically ban products that resemble commercially manufactured or trademarked food products or anything that resembles a character, fruit, animal, or similar item. The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission was not prepared to regulate the health and food safety of the commercial kitchens needed to produce edibles.

In 2017, Colorado updated regulations to ban edibles in the shape of a fruit, human, or animal (similar to California regulations), and manufacturers cannot use images of “candy” or “candies” on packaging.

Food Safety is Key to Better Serving Edibles Consumers

Recalls and food safety scares affect all makers of cannabis edibles, not just the companies on the receiving end of regulatory actions. Also, packaging and product design are an essential part of the process.

ImEPIK’s safety courses for cannabis edibles address issues throughout the manufacturing process and the cross-functional adoption of an effective food safety culture. Contact ImEPIK to learn more about our 100% online, remote safety training and the steps needed to make safe cannabis edibles and earn consumer trust in the marketplace.