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  • As more states legalize recreational marijuana (cannabis), more people are keeping marijuana edibles at home. These products often resemble regular treats, including gummies, chocolates, lollipops, and brownies. 

    As a result, accidental marijuana exposure among young children has exploded in recent years. 

    Surge Of Children Accidentally Eating Edible Marijuana

    According to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, the number of small children who accidentally ate marijuana edibles increased 1,375% between 2017 and 2021. 

    The study used data from the National Poison Data System regarding edible marijuana exposure in children under age 6.

    Explaining The Surge

    Researchers believe this surge is at least partially linked to the increasing legalization of marijuana. In 2017, there were 207 reported cases of edible marijuana exposure among kids under 6. At that time, recreational marijuana use was only legal in eight states and the District of Columbia. 

    In 2021, however, it was legal in 19 states, and 3,054 kids under 6 ingested edibles. Between 2017 and 2021, there were 7,043 total edible ingestions in that age group.

    The COVID-19 pandemic also played a role in the surge of edible exposures. That’s because kids spent more time exploring their homes during lockdown. 

    What Happens When Children Eat Edible Marijuana?

    The effects of accidental marijuana ingestion depend on how much tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the child consumes. 

    THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. In other words, it’s the ingredient that makes you feel high. Because kids weigh less than adults, they may be more vulnerable to the effects of THC. 

    They are also more likely than adults to ingest high amounts of THC. That’s because many edible cannabis products contain multiple adult servings of THC. 

    For instance, a single chocolate bar may have multiple 10 mg THC servings. While a responsible adult would know to only eat one piece of chocolate at a time, a small child might eat the whole bar.

    Children who ingest small amounts of THC may only experience mild effects, namely drowsiness and red eyes. Children who ingest large amounts may develop more serious symptoms, such as:

    • confusion
    • poor balance and coordination
    • nausea and vomiting 
    • increased heart rate
    • trouble breathing
    • seizures 

    Such symptoms often lead to hospital admission. Of the 7,043 children who ingested edibles in the Pediatrics study, 22.7% were admitted to the hospital. 

    Are There Long-Term Effects?

    Children who are regularly exposed to marijuana smoke face a higher risk of memory problems and lower IQ. However, researchers have not yet determined the long-term effects of edible exposure.

    What To Do If Your Child Accidentally Eats Edible Marijuana

    If you think your child has ingested an edible marijuana product, try to stay calm. If your child is experiencing any physical or psychological changes, call 911 or head to the emergency room right away. If your child is not experiencing any changes, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. 

    In either case, you will be asked how much marijuana your child consumed. 

    To figure this out, try to remember how much product was in the package when you last saw it and how much remains. You should also check the package for information on the type and amount of THC the product contains. 

    How To Keep Your Child Safe

    Due to the rise in accidental marijuana ingestions, many parents, caregivers, and pediatricians are urging the edible cannabis industry to use safer, child-resistant packaging. 

    Plain, white packages would be far less tempting to kids than the current packages, which are often colorful and sometimes identical to brand name treats.

    In the meantime, you can help your child avoid marijuana edibles by taking these steps:

    Store Edibles Safely

    Store your edibles the same way you would store any medications or other potentially dangerous substances. In other words, lock them in child-proof containers, and place them somewhere your kids can’t reach.

    Don’t Eat Edibles In Front Of Your Kids

    Kids will often mimic your behavior. That’s why you should never eat edibles in front of them. 

    Talk To Family & Friends

    In most cases of accidental marijuana ingestion, the edibles were purchased by the child’s parents. However, some kids also ingest edibles that belong to other people, including babysitters, neighbors, and relatives. 

    Make sure all the adults and teens in your child’s life know how to prevent, identify, and respond to edible cannabis exposure. 

    If you or someone you love struggles with marijuana abuse, please reach out to an Ark Behavioral Health specialist. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer medical detox, behavioral therapy, and other evidence-based treatments to help you recover from drug abuse and addiction.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Article Sources

    American Academy of Pediatrics - Edible Cannabis Exposures Among Children: 2017–2019
    American Academy of Pediatrics - Pediatric Edible Cannabis Exposures and Acute Toxicity: 2017–2021
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Poisoning
    Epileptic Disorders - Long-term effects of cannabinoids on development/behaviour
    Journal of Medical Toxicology - ACMT Position Statement: Addressing Pediatric Cannabis Exposure

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on March 18, 2023
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