Nearly 1400% Rise in Young Kids Ingesting Cannabis Edibles

Nearly 1400% Rise in Young Kids Ingesting Cannabis Edibles


The number of young children unintentionally exposed to edible cannabis products in the United States jumped 1375% over a 5-year period, according to a new analysis of data from poison control centers.

In 2017, centers received 207 reports of children aged 5 years and younger who ingested edible cannabis. In 2021, 3054 such cases were reported, according to the study, which was published online January 3 in Pediatrics.

Many of the children experienced clinical effects, such as depression of the central nervous system (CNS), impaired coordination, confusion, agitation, an increase in heart rate, or dilated pupils. No deaths were reported.

“These exposures can cause significant toxicity and are responsible for an increasing number of hospitalizations,” study co-author Marit S. Tweet, MD, of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, in Springfield, and colleagues write.

About 97% of the exposures occurred in residences ― 90% at the child’s own home ― and about half of the cases involved 2- and 3-year-olds, they note.

Examining National Trends

Twenty-one states have approved recreational cannabis for people aged 21 years and older.

Prior research has shown that calls to poison centers and visits to emergency departments for pediatric cannabis consumption increased in certain states after the drug became legal in those jurisdictions.

To assess national trends, Tweet’s group analyzed cases in the National Poison Data System, which tracks potentially toxic exposures reported to poison control centers in the United States.

During the 5-year period, they identified 7043 exposures to edible cannabis by children younger than age 6. In 2.2% of the cases, the drug had a major effect, defined as being either life-threatening or causing residual disability. In 21.9% of cases, the effect was considered to be moderate, with symptoms that were more pronounced, prolonged, or systemic than minor effects.

About 8% of the children were admitted to critical care units; 14.6% were admitted to noncritical care units.

Of 4827 cases for which there was information about the clinical effects of the exposure and therapies used, 70% involved CNS depression, including 1.9% with “more severe CNS effects, including major CNS depression or coma,” according to the report.

Patients also experienced ataxia (7.4%), agitation (7.1%), confusion (6.1%), tremor (2%), and seizures (1.6%).

Other common symptoms included tachycardia (11.4%), vomiting (9.5%), mydriasis (5.9%), and respiratory depression (3.1%).

Treatments for the exposures included IV fluids (20.7%), food or snacks (10.3%), and oxygen therapy (4%). Some patients also received naloxone (1.4%) or charcoal (2.1%).

“The total number of children requiring intubation during the study period was 35, or approximately 1 in 140,” the researchers reported. “Although this was a relatively rare occurrence, it is important for clinicians to be aware that life-threatening sequelae can develop and may necessitate invasive supportive care measures.”

Tempting and Toxic

For toddlers, edible cannabis may be especially tempting and toxic. Edibles can “resemble common treats such as candies, chocolates, cookies, or other baked goods,” the researchers write. Children would not recognize, for example, that one chocolate bar might contain multiple 10-mg servings of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) intended for adults.

Poison centers have been fielding more calls about edible cannabis use by older children, as well.

Adrienne Hughes, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health and Science University, in Portland, recently found that many cases of intentional misuse and abuse by adolescents involve edible forms of cannabis.

“While marijuana carries a low risk for severe toxicity, it can be inebriating to the point of poor judgment, risk of falls or other injury, and occasionally a panic reaction in the novice user and unsuspecting children who accidentally ingest these products,” Hughes told Medscape Medical News.

Measures to keep edibles away from children could include changing how the products are packaged, limiting the maximum dose of drug per package, and educating the public about the risks to children, Tweet’s group writes. They highlight a 2019 position statement from the American College of Medical Toxicology that includes recommendations for responsible storage habits.

Hughes echoed one suggestion that is mentioned in the position statement: Parents should consider keeping their cannabis products locked up.

The researchers have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Pediatrics. Published online January 3, 2023. Full text

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