HERTFORD, N.C.

Goodies packing a bigger punch than a sugar high are turning up in North Carolina.

Homemade marijuana edibles have been around for years. But the latest batch of consumable products aren't your parents' pot brownies.

With many states legalizing the medical and recreational use of marijuana, chocolate bars and lollipops laced with the drug have become more popular.

“You can find these products anywhere,” said Israel Morrow, an assistant special agent in charge with the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement. “All the way from Manteo to Murphy.”

And police are having a hard time discerning what’s legal and what isn’t.

“We’re in a gray area of how we’re going to tackle this issue,” Morrow said. “Are they laced with anything? You’re not really sure what you’re putting into your mouth.”

A ninth grader at Perquimans High School was charged with three counts of possession, selling and delivering marijuana Oct. 23 after the 14-year-old student shared parts of a marijuana-laced cereal bar at school. Three students vomited after eating pieces of it.

A Perquimans County deputy smelled the drug after making a routine traffic stop early this year. He tracked the aroma to a bag of chocolate bars. A state lab found high levels of marijuana in the sweets and the man was charged with felony possession.

Three years ago, a Pasquotank High School student was charged when he shared a marijuana-laced chocolate bar after another student became sick.

Marijuana edibles are not hard to find as they're legally sold online and in stores.

In states where personal-use marijuana is legal, the laced candy is sold to customers who can take it anywhere – even places where the drug is still illegal.

Two stores in Kill Devil Hills offered edible marijuana products, but no one at either business would speak to a Virginian-Pilot reporter. An internet site selling hemp products did not respond to email inquiries from The Pilot.

Legal goods should only include trace amounts of THC, a psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. They can contain cannabidiol, or CBD, a chemical compound found in marijuana that does not cause a high but relieves pain, according to advocates.

A pamphlet available in a Kill Devil Hills shop lauded the benefits of CBD, including its capability to suppress seizures, fight off psychosis disorders, combat cancer cells and reduce inflammations.

Eating marijuana is more dangerous than smoking it, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency. Since it takes longer to feel the effects, people tend to eat more because they don't think the drug is working.

Products with concentrated marijuana that were seized by law enforcement contained an average of 55 percent THC in 2015, growing from an average of 13 percent in 1995, according to the DEA. Concentrates have been found in edibles, the DEA said.

Children should not eat anything that is not labeled with a reputable brand in a package, Morrow said.

But even labels are not always accurate.

A study published three years ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that in marijuana edibles, accurate quantities of ingredients were listed in only 13 of 75 products. Almost one in four had higher amounts than labeled.

To determine if store products were legal, police would have to confiscate every single item and send it to a lab, said Capt. Kevin Duprey of the Dare County Sheriff’s Office.

The state education department did not have statistics on marijuana-laced foods found in schools, but Morrow said it turns up frequently around the state. School officials have a hard time identifying mind-altering munchies until something happens, he said.

“They still have no clue what’s in it,” Morrow said.

Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com

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