Poison control centers are warning about sharp increases in reports of children poisoned by cannabis edibles and beverages containing marijuana, as legalization increases nationwide.
In a report published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers indicate nearly 30,000 children suffered accidental cannabis exposures over a two-year period, with 20% of those exposures linked to “edibles”, like cookies, brownies, gummies, candy or soda.
Manufactured cannabis products, including so-called “edibles”, vaping liquids, and concentrates, have seen a rise in sales as more states have legalized marijuana. Edibles are food and beverage cannabis-infused products. Vaping liquids are cannabis products designed to be used in vaping pens and e-cigarette products, and concentrates are highly infused cannabis products like oils. Non-manufactured products are plant-based cannabis products like the flower itself.
In this new study, researchers used data from the National Poison Data System on cannabis exposures reported to U.S. poison centers from January 2017 through December 2019. They found a total of 28,630 exposures during that time period.
While accidental exposure to plant materials were the largest portion of the reports at 65.5%, at least 19.3% of the reports consisted of accidental exposures to edibles. In addition, exposures to concentrates made up 9.6%, vaporized liquids were linked to 3.8% of exposures, and other manufactured products were linked to 1.8% of incidents.
The researchers indicate there were 2,505 cases involving children under 10 years old, who appear to be at significant risk. Researchers speculate this is due to the popularity of edibles which look like cookies, candy, gummies and other common food products.
Manufactured products like edibles and vaping liquids could be a greater health risk to children than plant products, due to higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than unprocessed cannabis plant materials, experts warn. For instance, a product such as a cookie may contain several times the level of THC recommended to even adults.
Higher levels of THC can lead to short-term effects such as cognitive and psychomotor function impairment. Children can experience overdose effects such as intoxication, altered perception, anxiety, panic, paranoia, dizziness, weakness, slurred speech, poor coordination, or even breathing and heart problems.
“Although we did not see more serious health outcomes for manufactured product exposures compared with plant products overall, most cannabis plant exposures involved polysubstance use, whereas most cases for manufactured products were for those products alone, suggesting that exposure to manufactured products alone may be relatively more likely to generate adverse events,” the researchers concluded. “This is consistent with studies of acute health effects.”
The study suggests the trend will continue as more states legalize cannabis and cannabis products. Researchers called for more regulatory controls of such products as states legalize them.