Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Number of young kids accidentally consuming marijuana-laced edibles rises sharply: research

Between 2017 and 2021, cases of children accidentally exposed to cannabis edibles rose by over 1,300 percent.
Cannabis gummies.

Story at a glance

  •  Data were collected from the National Poison Data System.

  • The latter two years of the study, which marked the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, saw the largest spike in pediatric exposure.

  • Researchers recommend parents and caregivers keep products in a locked container in a location unknown to children to help limit exposure. 

More than half of all U.S. states allow residents to use marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes. But new new research shows increased access is linked with more children accidentally ingesting edible cannabis products.

From 2017 to 2021, the nation saw a 1,375 percent increase in cases of edible cannabis exposure among children younger than 6. Data, collected from the National Poison Data System, showed there were 207 reported exposure cases in 2017; that number grew to 3,054 in 2021. 

Notably, the overall case volume of children reporting to poison centers decreased during this time.

In 2017, just eight states and Washington, D.C., had legalized recreational cannabis use, while 30 permitted the substance for medicinal purposes. By 2021, 18 states permitted recreational use and 39 allowed medical use. 

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The vast majority of exposures took place at home, while 70 percent of those followed-up with reported central nervous system depression, authors wrote. 

Symptoms of the condition can include drowsiness, dizziness, slurred speech, dry mouth and poor concentration. 

When assessing the impact of COVID-19 on trends, researchers found that compared with the 2017-19 window, more severe exposure effects significantly increased during the last two years of the study. The largest spike in cannabis exposure among children also occurred during these years. Both school closures and increased time spent at home could have played a role in the rise, they said.

Nearly a fourth of all children who consumed the edibles ended up in the hospital. During the five-year window, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions stayed roughly the same, and non-ICU admissions significantly increased. Median age at exposure was 3 years old. 

Many cannabis products come in the form of gummies, cookies or candies, making them particularly appealing to toddlers, authors wrote. While the typical adult starting doses for edible cannabis products can range from 2.5 to 10 mg of THC — the component of cannabis responsible for a high — multiple doses are often found in one package.

Children, unaware of the substance’s toxicity, may not stop eating the product after a single dose. Because of their smaller weight, a higher milligram/kilogram dose puts children at risk for increased toxicity, authors explained. 

They recommend parents or caregivers keep their cannabis products in a locked container in a location unknown to children to help limit exposure.

Some states are working to make cannabis packaging less appealing to kids in an effort to curb accidental exposure. In California, any designs attractive to children are banned from cannabis labels, including any with cartoons or that imitate candy labeling.

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