Marijuana edibles can send a child to the hospital with just one bite.

Marijuana edibles can send a child to the hospital with just one bite.

The Dangers of Edible Marijuana for Children

With the legalization of cannabis in many U.S. states, brightly colored “edibles” have become more widely available and tempting for young kids. However, new research has found that it only takes a small amount of these edibles to make a child very sick, which may explain the increasing number of hospitalizations due to cannabis poisoning in children.

Dr. Lesley Pepin, an emergency medicine specialist at Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Safety in Denver, warns that pediatric exposures to cannabis have been on the rise with legalization, and she believes this trend will continue. Even a 3-year-old child weighing around 31 pounds could exceed the toxicity threshold by consuming just 2.5 milligrams (mg) of the standard 10-mg THC gummies. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Ingesting too much THC can result in severe symptoms such as seizures, altered mental state, unresponsiveness, breathing issues, low blood pressure, or fast heart rates. The effects can last for hours or even a full day, requiring hospital evaluation, medical observation, and treatments like supplemental oxygen or IV fluids.

Even smaller amounts of THC can cause milder symptoms such as sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, difficulty walking, and confusion in children. To understand the severity and prevalence of such cases, researchers reviewed hospitalization records of kids under 6 who consumed weed gummies in Colorado, a state where recreational and medical marijuana is legal. Among the 151 cases studied, 53% of the children met the criteria for “harmful exposure.”

Children in the study were around 3 years old on average, and the typical amount of THC ingested was 2.1 mg. Symptoms could manifest as early as 15 minutes after consuming the gummies, with most children experiencing effects within one or two hours. Parents should watch out for signs like sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, difficulty walking, confusion, and dilated pupils. Some stereotypical signs of marijuana use such as red eyes and increased hunger might also be observed.

It’s important to note that not all weed gummies have the same THC content. The amount can vary depending on factors such as a person’s age, weight, tolerance of cannabis, medical conditions, and other substances consumed concurrently, such as alcohol or drugs.

To protect kids, it’s crucial to childproof the weed stash. Edibles should be stored in child-resistant packaging and kept in a locked location out of children’s reach. Accidental ingestions often happen outside the home as well, so it’s essential to educate friends and family members on safe cannabis product storage.

The study suggests advocating for improved cannabis product labeling and child-resistant packaging. By limiting the THC dose sold per package and making the products less attractive to children, the number of accidental overdoses can be reduced.

Dr. Tucker Woods, the chair of the emergency department and associate medical director of Lenox Health Greenwich Village in New York City, has witnessed an increase in cases where children consume their caregiver’s weed gummies. He expects this trend to continue with the expanding legalization of marijuana.

He emphasizes that these gummies are made for adults weighing 120 to 160 pounds on average, which means that for a child weighing 28 pounds, one gummy could be enough to cause a coma or seizure. The lower the child’s weight, the higher the risk of ingesting a toxic dose of THC.

Dr. Woods advises parents and caregivers not to keep edibles in the house. However, if they must have them, it is essential to store them safely. Remove the gummies from their original packaging, place them in a child-resistant container, label it, and store it in a locked cabinet. Choosing edibles with less appealing packaging, particularly ones that don’t resemble treats, candies, or brownies, can further reduce children’s curiosity.

Additionally, it is crucial not to consume edibles in front of children, as this may spur their natural curiosity. If you suspect your child has ingested edible marijuana, call the poison control hotline at 1-800-222-1222. In severe cases, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Ultimately, it is essential to understand the dangers associated with edible marijuana and take necessary precautions to ensure children’s safety. By raising awareness, promoting responsible storage, and advocating for improved product regulations, we can protect our children from the unintentional harms of edible cannabis.

Childhood Diseases SLIDESHOW: Childhood Diseases: Measles, Mumps, & More

More information on the risks of edible marijuana for children can be found on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website.

Sources: – Lesley Pepin, MD, emergency medicine specialist, Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Safety, Denver – Tucker Woods, DO, chair, emergency department, and associate medical director, Lenox Health Greenwich Village, New York City – Pediatrics, Aug. 28, 2023, online