More young children are eating cannabis edibles by mistake, study finds

U.S. children under 6 have been accidentally consuming THC, often at home

Jan 4, 2023 at 3:09 pm
click to enlarge THC-infused gummies in the shape of a cannabis plant. - Shutterstock
THC-infused gummies in the shape of a cannabis plant.

A growing number of children in the U.S. have accidentally consumed cannabis-infused edibles in recent years, according to a new study.

The report, published Tuesday in the journal Pediatrics, analyzed data from the National Poison Data System. It found a staggering 1,375% increase in reported cases of children under the age of 6 accidentally eating cannabis-infused products over the past five years, from 2017 to 2021.

Nearly all of the 7,043 incidents, or 97%, occurred at home, and in 22.7% of cases children were admitted to a hospital.

Cannabis-infused edibles “are particularly appealing to toddlers because they resemble common treats such as candies, chocolates, cookies, or other baked goods,” the authors wrote. And this can be dangerous, because a small amount of edibles can contain a large amount of THC, the substance in cannabis that gets you high, especially for a young child.

“If a child opens a pack of (cannabis-infused) gummy bears, they’re not likely to stop at one. Kids enjoy candy,” said Dr. Marit Tweet, one of the study’s co-authors, according to the BBC. “They may consume the whole package.”

Fortunately, it’s almost impossible to overdose on cannabis. According to the study, the most common reported effect was central nervous system (CNS) depression, which includes drowsiness and lethargy, and other effects include ataxia (loss of control of movement), agitation, and confusion.

In about 36% of the cases, the children were treated and released, and less than 2% developed more severe effects.

No deaths were reported by the study.

A growing number of states have legalized cannabis in recent years. The study found an increase in incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Tweet telling the BBC she theorized that the lockdowns could have led to increased opportunities for exposure.

Some states have restrictions on how cannabis edibles can be packaged in order to make them less appealing to children. In Michigan, the packaging for cannabis-infused products cannot include images or cartoons or fruit, and the words “candy” or “candies” cannot be used. They also cannot mimic the packaging of commercially sold candy, and must be clearly marked as containing THC.

“We need to remain vigilant in protecting children from accidentally ingesting marijuana products," Michigan’s former Marijuana Regulatory Agency executive director Andrew Brisbo said in a statement ahead of a crackdown on cannabis packaging in 2022. “When the products leave the stores, it is important that the packaging is not attractive to minors. Obviously, nothing we can do is as impactful as the watchful eyes of adults, but we want parents in Michigan to know that we are doing everything in our power to prevent children from unknowingly consuming marijuana products.”

In Michigan, there have also been reports of an increasing number of children accidentally consuming cannabis-infused edibles. Last year, two fifth grade students were rushed to the hospital after consuming cannabis-infused gummies at a Livonia school.

Experts advise parents to keep cannabis-infused edibles in a hard-to-reach spot or locked up, away from other food.

If a child accidentally consumed a cannabis-infused edible, the MRA urges parents to call the poison control hotline at 800-222-1222.

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