(Bullit Marquez, AP)

Parenting: Worried about THC while trick-or-treating?

Does legal weed mean my little trick-or-treater is going to get a candy stash tainted with pot-infused edibles?

It sounds crazy, right? With a newly legal and intoxicating substance widely available in Colorado and Washington, the magnifying glass is being turned on cannabis-infused edibles. But what kind of unbalanced individual would take the time (or spend the money) to give a few unsuspecting kids a surprise edible encounter?

The Denver Police Department is concerned about the issue. The police released a warning video for parents featuring Urban Dispensary owner Patrick Johnson as he details the lack of ability to tell if a piece of hard or soft candy has THC in it just by looking at it:

“What’s happening a lot with the edible manufacturers who have focused on a hard or a soft candy is that the most cost-effective way for them to bring that to the market is to use knock-off candy. So they’ll buy it in bulk form and they infuse it by using viscous hash oil. They spray that onto the candy, and once that candy dries there is really no way to tell the difference … There’s really no way for a child or a parent or anybody, even an expert in the field, to tell you whether or not a product is infused or not. Once you take something out of one of these packages and put it next to something that isn’t infused it’s very difficult to tell the difference.”

While some will scoff at the idea of someone giving away weed with harmful intentions, there is absolutely justification for parents to be a little cautious about the first year of trick-or-treating after legal recreational marijuana sales began. And The Cannabist, as always, is here to provide some well-informed perspective.

More Pot and Parenting

Yes, my son knows I smoke marijuana

No easy answers about cannabis use and breastfeeding

10 ways to keep your stash away from kids

But first, a brief history of tainted Halloween candy in America. Candy concerns are not a recent phenomenon. And they are not entirely based in myth either.

Poisoned treat rumors in the United States go as far back as the 1800s and the Industrial Revolution. Kids would get sick after consuming candy, and it was inferred there was some kind of poison ingredient lurking within — but government-performed tests ruled out any known toxic substances. The problem was finally chalked up to unsanitary hygiene practices and ignorance to the health and safety needs in food production and factory settings.

Then in 1959 a deranged dentist, William Shyne, treated neighborhood children to 450 “candy-coated” laxative tablets. Fortunately no one died but 30 children did get severely sick. Shyne was discovered as the culprit and charged with unlawful dispensing of drugs and outrage of public decency.

Almost 20 years later a Texas death refueled the fire Shyne had started. On Halloween in 1974, 8-year-old Timothy O’Bryan consumed a Pixy Stix that had been laced with potassium cyanide. He died that night in his father’s arms shortly after eating the candy. Suspicions of a random hit by a shadowy stranger were quickly replaced with the horror of reality when Timothy’s father,  Ronald O’Bryan, was arrested less than a week later.

O’Bryan was charged with the murder of his son and the attempted murder of 4 other children (including his daughter). His motive was purely monetary. He was in debt and needed the insurance money. His intent aside, three children he wasn’t related to (and wasn’t going to gain from financially) were also given fatal doses of poisoned candy.

And from those seeds the urban legend grew.

Video: Denver Police warns parents of pot-infused Halloween candy

The movie “Halloween” came out in ’78, and the holiday forever became a little less about dressing up and getting candy and a little more about playing pranks and scaring people. Comparable to early toxic candy claims, if kids or adults got sick around the time they ate Halloween sweets it was assumed the candy was the culprit.

But further claims through the years proved either self-inflicted or unrelated, as evidenced in Samira Kawash’s book “Candy,” where she writes:

“When the sociologist Joel Best decided in 1984 to try to quantify just how bad the poison Halloween candy threat actually was, he discovered something surprising: it was all rumor and fabulation. Best investigated seventy-six press accounts of what he called “Halloween sadism” published between 1958 and 1983. He concluded that “there was simply no basis for Newsweek’s claim that ‘several children have died.’” Not a single case that Best could discover fit the pattern of an anonymous maniac arbitrarily attacking children by tampering with Halloween treats.”


For the most part, it would appear as though the indiscriminate misfit who tampers with children’s candy for the fun of it lives primarily in our minds.

So now what?

Edibles standards and safety are still in flux. Though the number of users experiencing unintentional effects is low compared to other substances, the incidents do in fact occur and they’re on the rise.

Between 2005-2013 a total of eight children were admitted to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital Colorado for accidental cannabis ingestion. The same number of children were seen last year alone. And just five months into 2014, Children’s Hospital had already seen nine youngsters for accidental consumption.

Trademark infringement, marijuana-style: Hershey sues Colorado pot candy maker TinctureBelle

And then there’s LivWell, a chain of Colorado marijuana dispensaries that has been accused of handing out THC-rich chocolate samples from their booth at the Denver County Fair’s first ever Pot Pavillion.

Richard Jones said he received a Full Melt chocolate bar from LivWell and was instructed that it contained no THC — which made sense as no cannabis, in any form, was allowed at the Pot Pavilion or the fair itself. But an hour later, Jones was sweating and panicked. After initial attention by on-site EMTs, tests at the hospital showed Jones had more than 100 nanograms of THC in his system. Two other patrons of the Pot Pavilion have come forward with similar claims against LivWell.

In many situations, it really is difficult to tell the difference between a treat and an infused treat. The Denver Police’s video includes side-by-side images of THC-infused candy next to the original candy they resemble to allow viewers to judge for themselves.

The question that begs to be answered here is this, “Do I need to worry about my kid getting pot-infused edibles from some psycho this Halloween?”

I say, if you do your due diligence, the chances of that happening are minuscule to none.

It all boils down to common sense, mom and dad. Don’t be dumb. The old rules apply — check your kids’ candy. If something is unwrapped, homemade or looks or smells funny don’t chance it — just toss it. At the very least it’s one more potential cavity avoided, no? Your child will have plenty of safe options left after you have done a little quality control.

A good distraction could be a pre-purchased treat that your child can enjoy after the neighborhood run. That way you have time to check what he or she has collected and weed out any unwanted items before they are demolished by tiny mouths. Otherwise, have fun! Relax and soak up the joy that is the enormous smile on a costumed child’s face.