US regulators have sent cease-and-desist letters to six US stores found to be selling THC-infused snacks resembling products popular among children.

The six businesses are selling edible products containing the active ingredient in cannabis tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

In a statement, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said the products are sold “in packaging that is almost identical to many snacks and candy children eat, including Doritos tortilla chips, Cheetos cheese-flavoured snacks, and Nerds candy”.

“Marketing edible THC products that can be easily mistaken by children for regular foods is reckless and illegal,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies must ensure that their products are marketed safely and responsibly, especially when it comes to protecting the well-being of children.”

After reviewing online marketing for the products sold by the six companies, the FTC has determined that the retailers’ advertising may violate Section 5 of the FTC Act, which “prohibits unfair or deceptive acts in or affecting commerce, including practices that present unwarranted health or safety risks”.

The THC-infused products are said to mimic a range of food that appeal to children. In the FTC’s statement, it highlights the “Doritos” marketed by Missouri-based Dr Smoke in packaging similar to PepsiCo’s Doritos Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips.

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The regulator also pointed to New Jersey-based The Haunted Vapor Room selling THC products called Rope 500mg Delta-8 Nerds Candy and Medicated Dope Rope Bites. The snacks are said to closely resemble Nerds Rope candy, with both products comprising multi-coloured crunchy candies attached to a gummy rope. The former products also has packaging with what might appear to some to be the Nerds candy mascot.

“Children are more vulnerable than adults to the effects of THC, with many who have been sickened and even hospitalized after eating ‘edibles’ containing it. That’s why we’re issuing warnings to several companies selling copycat food products containing delta-8 THC, which can be easily mistaken for popular foods that are appealing to children and can make it easy for a young child to ingest in very high doses without realising it,” Janet Woodcock, the principal deputy commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration said.

The four other companies to have received the cease-and-desist letters were: Delta Munchies LLC and Exclusive Hemp Farms, both in California; Hemp Shoppe in North Carolina; and Nikte’s Wholesale in New Mexico.

The FDA published a warning about the health risks of Delta-8 THC in May last year. It described the ingredient as a “psychoactive substance found in the cannabis sativa plant, of which marijuana and hemp are two varieties”, adding the FDA had never approved it for safe use in any context.

The FDA said Delta-8 THC is found naturally in the cannabis plant but not in significant amounts. Concentrated amounts found in edibles are typically manufactured from hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD).

“It is important for consumers to be aware that delta-8 THC products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use in any context. They may be marketed in ways that put the public health at risk and should especially be kept out of reach of children and pets,” the agency said in its public warning.