Children Are Increasingly Ingesting Marijuana Edibles

Over the past few years, Marijuana has become legalized for recreational use in certain states across the US. A new study has found that nationally, and specifically in legalized states, the rate of children getting sick after accidentally consuming Marijuana edibles has been significantly increasing. 

What Are Marijuana Edibles?

Edibles are food or drinks that contain chemical compounds that are found in cannabis. When consumed, these compounds, also known as cannabinoids, have effects on the mind and body. While cannabinoids, like cannabidiol (CBD), are non-intoxicating, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) produces euphoric or high feelings. 

These products typically look very similar to normal foods, such as chocolate, cookies, lollipops, or fruit gummies. Some are designed to look like recognizable candy brands. Because these products can be easily mistaken for common treats, some states have instituted laws that dictate how they should be labeled and packaged. 

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Growing Rates Of Children Consuming Marijuana Edibles

Accidental edible consumption has been climbing in legalized states and on a national level. Five years after Marijuana retail sales began in Washington state, the first state to legalize recreational Marijuana, the number of these incidents essentially tripled. In the US, there were 187 instances of child exposure to Marijuana edibles in 2016. This number rose to over 3,000 by 2020. 

New data is showing that children ages 3-5 are at the highest risk for accidental Marijuana edible consumption. Children in this age group may be affected at higher rates because they tend to be more curious and have less supervision during this stage. Additionally, edibles are responsible for half of the Marijuana accidents for children 9 and under. These incidents are more common in states where the substance has become legal for recreational use. 

What Is Being Done To Prevent These Accidents?

Currently, there are 19 states where Marijuana can be used recreationally. These states include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. In these states, Marijuana edibles can be purchased from retail stores. Additionally, some states allow residents to grow limited amounts of the substance for their own personal use.

Colorado began requiring a universal symbol on edibles in 2016. This diamond shape marking with the letters “THC” must be found on the product itself, not just the packaging. This requirement was made in addition to other childproof packaging, such as difficult to open zippers and lids. Despite being intended to prevent children from consuming edibles, rates have continued to increase. 

The Risks Involved For Children

While the numbers of accidental ingestion by children are increasing, no overdose deaths have been recorded as a result. Despite this, 15% of children experienced moderate symptoms of Marijuana use. Major symptoms were present in 1.4% of these cases. The symptoms that occur and their severity will depend on how much the child has ingested and in what form. Moderate symptoms include: 

  • Drowsiness
  • Agitation 
  • Confusion
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Trouble breathing 
  • Coordination issues 
  • Red eyes 

Severe symptoms include: 

  • Seizures 
  • Neurological impairment 
  • Intense breathing issues 

Edibles are often packaged with more than one adult serving. Because they look just like any other candy or snack, children are at risk for consuming more than the recommended dose for adults. Elizabeth Perry, a Maryland mother, spoke to D.C.’s NBC station last year about her toddler’s overdose on Marijuana edibles. Oliver consumed 15 gummies which was 75 mg of THC, or 7 times the serving size. 

Some states have passed laws regarding the maximum amount of THC that can be in a serving size. In Oregon, 5mg per serving is the maximum, while in Colorado, it is 10 mg per serving. 

What To Do If Your Child Has Consumed Edibles

If you suspect that your child has accidentally taken Marijuana edibles, it’s important to remain calm. Next, get as much information as you can. This includes identifying what type of edible, how much has been ingested, and the warnings included on the label. To determine how much your child has consumed, you may have to recall how much was in the packaging before they got into it. 

It may seem as if your child has no symptoms. This might be due to the fact that effects of edibles take longer for the body to absorb. While it could take up to 90 minutes for effects to kick in, they also can last longer (up to 24 hours) than other forms of Marijuana. For these reasons, you should make sure to call poison control even if your child is showing no signs of use. 

If your child is showing symptoms, such as sleepiness, slowed breathing, or seizures, call 911 and seek help immediately. 

How To Prevent Accidental Child Marijuana Consumption

The best way to prevent your child from unintentionally taking Marijuana edibles is to keep them in a very secure location. They should be treated as if they are a toxic substance or prescription medication. This may mean finding a spot where they can be locked up and out of reach. It is also important to not take Marijuana edibles in front of your children as it’s possible they will follow your actions should they find the edibles. Finally, friends and family members can also be a cause of exposure. For this reason, you should be sure to speak with others about where they keep their edibles, especially if your child spends time in their home frequently. 

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Emily Murray

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  • Emily Murray is a Digital Content Writer at Addiction Center. She earned a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies with Behavioral/Social Sciences and Art concentrations along with a Journalism minor from the University of Central Florida. Dedicated to creativity and conciseness, Emily hopes her words can be of service to those affected by addiction.

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