It’s fitting that Halloween is a holiday full of so many terrifying myths. It’s a night that celebrates death and ghosts and trickery. Kids are sent out into the night to ask strangers for candy – and if they don’t get their trees, tricks are said to ensue. An ominous and threatening tone is set from the beginning. And every year the headlines start warning of this year’s candy danger.
Halloween falls at the end of harvest and the start of winter – a season that rightly evokes death. The ancient Celts believed this was when the barrier between the living and dead worlds fell away, and ghosts could walk the earth. Thus began the Celtic tradition of Samhain – lighting bonfires and wearing costumes to keep spirits away. Later, after conquering the Celts, the Romans incorporated two of their own practices into Samhain. Feralia, a day in late October, commemorates the dead, and Pomona honors the goddess of fruit and trees. And when Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as All Saints Day, the night before became All Hallows Eve (aka Halloween), and many rituals from those Roman and Celtic traditions were included.
For generations, myths and horror stories about Halloween (and Trick or Treating in particular) have persisted. Chief among them is the threat of “tainted candy” (whether purposeful or inadvertent, it’s sure been a spook factor for parents far and wide).
Professor of criminal justice and sociology at the University of Delaware, Joel Best, studied claims of “Halloween sadism” dating back to 1958 and found no “substantiated report of a child being killed or seriously injured by a contaminated treat in the course of trick-or-treating.” The one documented case of a child dying from poisoned Halloween candy occurred in 1974 when Timothy O’Bryan’s father put cyanide in his Pixy Stix. The father was executed for his crime in 1984.
In reality, most reports are kid-generated hoaxes. The internet has acted as an accelerant for these wild claims. Kids sabotage their candy for a photo op, and it immediately goes viral. Their less tech-savvy parents and grandparents take the news and run with it.
With cannabis legalized in 18 states and Washington DC, horror stories about “dosed” candy have overtaken parents’ previous fears of poison and razor blades. But a quick check on Snopes.com, FactCheck.org, or PolitiFact reveals even these hard-to-believe tales aren’t true.
There is little to no evidence of cannabis-infused candy deliberately handed out to trick-or-treaters. In 2019, an isolated incident in Nova Scotia involved parents discovering a cannabis edible in their kid’s trick-or-treat bag. But it wasn’t intentional, and the child didn’t consume it.
Accidental cannabis consumption is more typical during the rest of the year. Incidents are typically due to a combination of parents not sufficiently securing their edibles from their kids’ curious hands and an ongoing issue with edible packaging too closely resembling preexisting candy brands. As we recently reported, a Florida teacher is facing criminal charges for this exact type of scenario. Apparently, a box of Stoney Patch Kids, which very closely resembled the brand name, non-cannabis candy Sour Patch Kids, was pulled from the communal candy bowl in her classroom by one of her unsuspecting students. While the teacher was not purposefully trying to lace children with THC, labeling on cannabis packaging is incredibly important for this reason. It needs to be abundantly clear that something is cannabis, for adults only, and also kept far away from kids’ curious hands.
Just as laws were passed prohibiting kid-friendly tobacco packaging and advertising, lawmakers are enacting legislation to further restrict and regulate cannabis edible packaging. In 2017, Colorado passed House Bill 1436, banning edibles from being made in shapes that could entice kids.
These annual fearmongering stories have real-world consequences. On October 30, 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported that law enforcement confiscated cannabis-infused candies from dispensaries. This action came just days before a vote on Proposition 19, which would’ve legalized marijuana. The result was a legislative defeat likely driven by unfounded fear and paranoia.
Professor Best is the author of a study entitled “The Razor Blade in the Apple: The Social Construction of Urban Legends,” which explores the history of adults giving harmful things to kids on Halloween. “Halloween sadism can be viewed as an urban legend which emerged during the early 1970s to give expression to growing fears about the safety of children, the danger of crime and other sources of social strain,” he wrote.
Every few years, the specific threat changes to reflect the current cultural obsession. Ecstasy-laden candies were the urban legend topic of 2015. In 2019, heroin-infused SweeTARTS was the fear du jour. Neither of these examples has been confirmed to be true.
Prevention is the surest method for keeping cannabis away from kids prying hands. Many effective options begin at the checkout counter: Child-resistant packaging, tamper-evident packaging, tamper-evident labels, tamper-evident holographic labels, and more. The next step is for parents to find a secure (preferably lockable) location to store their edibles. Additionally, it’s recommended that parents consume their edibles out of sight from their kids; when they see you eating them, they learn that they could eat them, too. Plus, children are more often to want a treat they’ve been told they can’t have.
Despite the knowledge that incidents of poisoned, sabotaged, or dosed treats are nonexistent, any parent will be hard-pressed to forgo double-checking their child’s Halloween haul. The best advice may be to dress up as the Royal Taster and sample the goods while checking them – although your kids will probably be upset that you’ve taken a nibble of each piece of their hard-earned candy, which is almost definitely safe.