By Diana Lambert
School bake sales are taking on new meaning.
In recent weeks, students in Sacramento and across the country have become ill from eating marijuana-laced brownies they got at school. Here's the tally from a recent 8-day period:
• Feb. 10: Two students at Monterey Trail High School in Elk Grove were transported by ambulance to a hospital after eating pot-enhanced brownies. The next day, a 17-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of possessing and furnishing marijuana.
• Feb. 10: Michael Flores, 18, was arrested at Franklin High in Elk Grove on suspicion of selling marijuana-laced brownies, a day after a student came to that school's office ill.
• Feb. 9: A junior went to Sacramento's Florin High School office and told staff she had gotten sick after eating a brownie that contained marijuana. The girl was examined by emergency personnel and sent home.
• Feb. 9: Six students in Evanston, Ill., were hospitalized after eating brownies laced with marijuana, according to a school website.
• Feb. 2: The principal of Albany Middle School in the Bay Area sent an email to parents saying that at least three kids in a two-week period had gotten sick from eating pot brownies.
Is it a trend or just a random cluster? Officials aren't certain.
Part of the difficulty is that pot-laced brownies are not reported as a separate crime category. Those caught selling the baked goods are arrested under the same penal code as those selling baggies of drugs.
And students who get sick from the brownies don't always report it or ask for help.
According to Sacramento County Sheriff's spokesman Jason Ramos, the popularity of the brownies makes them a profitable commodity in a down economy.
"More and more parents are unable to buy their children those designer clothes, more expensive (athletic) shoes and such," Ramos said. "Since marijuana is so popular, more and more youths are selling it to make money and provide themselves what their parents cannot."
Roger Morgan, director of Coalition for a Drug Free California, said 18-year-old students can obtain a physician's prescription for medical pot for $40 and buy not just smokable pot but brownies, too.
Officials say pot-laced brownies present risks that unsuspecting students might not realize. Unaware of the potency, students who eat more than one and ingest it too quickly are more prone to become ill.
"When people eat it they think of the same instantaneous effect from smoking it," said Chris Conrad, a marijuana legalization advocate. "They think: 'This marijuana doesn't affect me at all. I can eat five brownies.' Then the first kicks in and it goes from there."
Instead, medicinal pot officials instruct their clients who eat marijuana-laced brownies to take them in slowly.
The Medical Cannabis Safety Council issued a warning saying that those who prefer to eat their marijuana should take a small bite and wait one hour to "analyze the effects" before eating more.
The potency of such brownies shouldn't be taken lightly, officials said.
Sgt. Keith Graves, a narcotics expert with the Livermore police department, said that THC - the psychoactive substance present in marijuana - made up 3 percent to 5 percent of an ounce of marijauna in the 1970s and 1980s.
Techniques developed since medicinal marijuana was legalized have raised the THC content to 20 percent to 30 percent an ounce, he said.
Pot brownies have evolved from squares of plant leaves baked in batter. Bakers now extract resin from marijuana leaves with butter and use the cannabis butter to bake the brownies - discarding the plant matter, Conrad said.
He said that people should sniff baked goods and check their color if they aren't sure if something contains marijuana. If there is marijuana in the baked good it will have a green caste and smell of pot. The greener and stronger the smell the stronger the marijuana.
Educators in some districts are asking parents to warn their children about accepting homemade baked goods from other students.
Conrad said other factors could be making the students sick. Brownies stored in lockers for long periods, made with spoiled eggs or butter could be factors, too.
But he acknowledged that eating too much marijuana can make people sick, especially inexperienced users. Conrad said trips to the emergency room may nip any trend in the bud.
"One of the good things about an incident like this is all the kids that saw it won't be so tempted to jump onto the next pot brownie that comes their way," he said.
Call The Bee's Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Follow her on Twitter @dianalambert.