The number of children who have accidentally eaten cannabis-infused edibles has spiked over the past five years as marijuana became legal in more states, according to a new report.
The significant increase was based on more than 7,000 pediatric cases filed with the National Poison Data System, which tracks reports of poisonings across the nation.
“When it’s in a candy form or cookies, people don’t think of it in the same way as household chemicals or other things a child could get into,” said Dr. Marit Tweet, a medical toxicologist with the Southern Illinois School of Medicine, who led the study published this week in Pediatrics. “But people should really be thinking of it as a medication.”
The numbers revealed a change from about 200 cases per year in 2017 to more than 3,000 in 2021. About 8% of the cases resulted in children being admitted to critical care units typically due to problems with breathing or coma, with more than a third of the children visiting emergency rooms.
The Pediatrics-published research noted that more than 97% of the exposures occurred in a home setting. The researchers concluded, “It is important for providers to be aware of this in their practice and it presents an important opportunity for education and prevention.”
The study recommended multiple ways to reduce future poisonings. The suggestions included changing product packaging and labeling, reducing the maximum allowable dose in a package, and increasing public education on household risks involved, especially for young children.
The push for new packaging is a significant consideration, as cannabis-infused edibles are often made to look like candy or cookies, which can lead children to consume the product accidentally.
The concern especially relates to toddlers who are unable to read the packaging. More than half of the reports involved 2 and 3-year-old children.
Common symptoms in children included confusion, hallucinations, rapid heart rate, and vomiting, according to the research. The most severe cases had depressed breathing or coma, though no children in the study died. The symptoms tend to vary based on a child’s size and age, as well as how much cannabis has been consumed.
Dr. Kevin Osterhoudt, the medical director of the poison control center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told NBC News that the situation is increasing nationwide.
“I think the pattern that we’re seeing is well-represented by this study,” Osterhoudt said. “Emergency physicians all across the country have been recognizing what they believe to be a sharp increase in both young children and teenagers showing up to emergency departments for THC intoxication.”
The increased reports come as 37 states allow some form of medicinal marijuana, while 21 states permit various levels of recreational usage, the Associated Press reported.
The problems with cannabis-infused edibles are not limited to children. The Daily Wire reported in June that a man who blacked out driving a 38-passenger bus from a Connecticut casino in March was charged with 38 counts of reckless endangerment.
The driver, Jinhuan Chen, claimed he didn’t know he was eating cannabis-infused gummies before passing out.
Chen, who spoke through a Chinese interpreter, told Superior Court Judge Ndidi Moses, “I didn’t know it was marijuana. I didn’t know.”