More Young Kids Are Getting Sick From Cannabis Edibles

Marijuana gummies are often just like regular foods. Skittles and Starburst are familiar brands that some candies mimic.

That is incredibly tempting for a young child.

Cannabis has exploded in popularity. Some states have passed laws to protect children from accidentally eating marijuana-based foods. Colorado requires the cannabis to be contained in child-resistant packaging and include the letters "THC", the main mind-altering chemical in cannabis. The state has banned the sale of items that look like people, animals or fruit.

In states where recreational cannabis has been legalized, unintentional marijuana exposures have continued to climb. In Washington state, unintentional cannabis exposure among children under 6 nearly tripled after retail cannabis stores opened. The American Association of Poison Control Centers says there were 187 exposures to marijuana in the United States in 2016 for kids 12 and under. A majority of the children were 5 years old and under by 2020.

Dr. Sharon Levy is the director of the Adolescent Substance Use and Addiction Program at Boston Children's Hospital. She said that not everyone will call Poison Control to report an exposure.

In a study published in the journal Pediatrics in April, it was found that nearly half of the 4,172 marijuana exposures among children 9 and under between the years of 2017 and 2019 were due to the use of IEDs. The other exposures were from dried marijuana plants. Exposures were more common in states where cannabis use is legal. 15 percent of children who were exposed experienced moderate symptoms, such as being hard to wake up or have a seizure, and there were no deaths. A small proportion of people experienced major effects that would be considered life threatening, such as multiple seizures, sedation, and difficulty breathing.

It has been a decade since Washington and Colorado became the first states to allow the recreational use of cannabis. Washington, D.C. followed suit.

The lead author of the study said in an email that the trend will likely continue upward as more states legalized cannabis.

A mother in Maryland spoke to a station in Washington, D.C., about her toddler's cannabis overdose that left him in the emergency room. She didn't know what was wrong when Oliver started showing signs of weakness. He began to cry, shake and seize. She rushed him to the hospital where doctors intubated him and ran toxicology tests that showed he had marijuana in his system.

Ms.Perry told NBC News that they don't have drugs in the house. My jaw dropped two minutes later. She realized that he probably ate the cannabis gummies she bought to help her sleep.

The doctors told NBC News that Oliver had eaten about 15 gummies, which was about 75 milligrams of the drug. That is seven times the average adult dose. The amount of marijuana in one serving can vary. Oregon and Colorado both allow a maximum of 5 milligrams of THC per serving.

There has been a similar phenomenon in Canada. The study looked at all emergency department visits and hospitalizations in Ontario for children 9 and under between January 2016 and March 2021. The researchers found that after marijuana was legalized, more kids were hospitalized. Nineteen of the children were admitted to intensive care.

Dr. Levy said that many adults and teenagers assume that marijuana products are harmless.

That is not the case.

Dr. Levy said, "THC is addictive, associated with mental health disorders and interferes with brain development during adolescence." It takes longer to feel the effect of edibles than smoking or vaping, so people who use them are at risk of using too much and having a bad side effect.

She said that they are seeing a lot of psychosis and cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome.

Young children who ingest a little cannabis tend to become sleepy, according to Dr. Sam Wang. He said that they might look a little high. Children who consume a lot of marijuana can show up in the emergency room comatose with slowed breathing. They need a mechanical ventilator in rare cases.

There are no known cases of a child dying from cannabis exposure, and the children generally become better over the course of one to two days.

The children I cared for and heard about at the hospital all recovered, said Dr. Lois Lee, an associate professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School. Some had to be hospitalized for treatment. Others were in the emergency department for hours, while their parents waited for them to improve so they could be safely discharged home.

If you think your child might have taken cannabis, call Poison Control.

When it is necessary to seek medical care, Poison Control can advise you.

If your child has more severe symptoms, such as vomiting, seizure, or not waking up, it's best to go to the emergency room, where the doctors can run tests and provide treatment if needed.

She said that many children don't need much treatment until they wake up.

Don't assume that child-resistant packaging alone will prevent a determined child from eating your food.

Dr. Whitehill said that parents and caregivers should store cannabis products out of reach of children. It's a good idea to lock it away because some kids get into everything and it's a good way to stop them.

The clinical managing director of the American Association of Poison Control Centers agreed that locked is best. Parents think they have something on top of the fridge that's out of reach, and the next thing they know their toddler is climbing the counter and scaling it.

If your child will be spending time at a friend's house, it is important to ask their parents if they keep marijuana in their home and if they are safe storing it. If you have guests staying at your home who use marijuana, make sure they understand the rules about keeping cannabis out of sight and out of reach.

If you or someone you know has taken a dangerous substance, please contact Poison Control immediately at 1-800-222-1222 or go to for assistance.