Child Marijuana Edibles Exposures Jumped More Than 1,300% in Recent Years: Study
The number of children exposed to marijuana after accidentally ingesting edibles has increased by nearly 14 fold in recent years, according to the findings of a new study that highlights growing concerns about the poisoning risks as more states legalize marijuana.
Calls to poison control centers involving child marijuana edibles exposures started to skyrocket in 2017, often resulting in the need for emergency room treatment for marijuana poisoning.
In findings published this week in the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago analyzed data from the National Poison Data System from 2017 to 2021. They compared data between pre-COVID years 2017-2019 and COVID pandemic years 2020-2021.
A total of 7,043 cannabis edible exposures were reported during 2017-2021. In 2017, there were 207 reported cases of child exposure to marijuana edibles. By 2021, there were 3,054 reported cases. From 2017 to 2021 the number of cases of children exposed to edibles increased by 1,375%.
Accidental Childhood Edible Marijuana Poisoning
The majority of cases, 98%, occurred in the child’s own home.
One-quarter of the children were admitted to the hospital after ingesting the edible, and 8% needed intensive care. About 70% of children were reported to have central nervous system depression.
More than half of the children who were treated for ingesting marijuana edibles were 2– and 3-year-olds. Nearly 20% were 4-year-olds, 15% were 1-year-olds, 13% were 5-year-olds and 2% were infants.
There were significant increases in intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and non-ICU admissions.
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In February 2022, the New Jersey Poison Information & Education System issued a statement warning about the increasing dangers of children ingesting marijuana edibles. In New Jersey, there was a 370% increase in cannabis edible exposures from 2019 to 2010.
Researchers attribute the drastic increase in child-involved ingestion cases due to more children staying home due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing legalization of recreational marijuana in many states across the country.
In 2017, 30 states and Washington DC allowed medical cannabis use, and eight states and Washington DC allowed recreational use. By 2022, recreational marijuana use expanded to 39 states and DC, and 18 states and DC allowed recreational use.
With increasingly relaxed marijuana laws, more cannabis products are kept at home, including edible products that take the appearance of candy or junk food. Many edible products look like common convenience food, chips, candy, and other treats that are enticing to children. More children are at home because of the pandemic and may have easier access to edible cannabis products.
A typical edible product contains 100 milligrams of THC, the active psychoactive component of marijuana. The average adult begins by ingesting roughly one-tenth of that dose. In some states and some products, edibles can contain as much as 500 mg of THC.
When young children ingest cannabis they can experience confusion, hallucinations, rapid heart rate, and vomiting. In severe cases, children can experience trouble breathing and fall into a coma.
It is important, as marijuana regulations become more relaxed, that more vigilance is taken in how edible cannabis products are packaged and advertised. Packaging should not appear like common or popular food products that may be appealing to children. All marijuana products should always be kept out of the reach of children or behind locked doors.
“It is important for providers to be aware of this in their practice and it presents an important opportunity for education and prevention,” wrote study authors.
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