August 3, 2022

Marijuana edibles causing a rise in THC poisoning for children

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Because the edibles look and taste like candy, some children have ended up in intensive care.

What was once a random emergency room encounter is becoming more common: young children requiring treatment for marijuana poisoning after ingesting THC-infused products.

Edibles, infused with THC — the substance that’s primarily responsible for the effects of marijuana on a person’s mental state — are consumed in small portions by adults but they’re too tempting for children who get their hands on them and think they’re just candy, said Dr. Marla Levine of the Department of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Can a child overdose on edibles?

In the first half of 2022, Levine and colleagues saw an increase in the number of small children requiring treatment for toxic exposure after ingesting the THC-infused products. The Tennessee Poison Center reported 46 THC or marijuana exposures in children 5 years old and younger in the same time period.

“These edibles resemble candy, and to young children, they probably even taste like candy,” Dr. Levine said. “They are not stopping at one bite or a nibble. They are consuming the entire piece or possibly pieces. They have no understanding that there are drugs inside.

“The doses that are in these products vary. There is no standardization. Children are exposed to a much higher dose of the drugs leading to a dangerous and oftentimes toxic level in their systems.”

Dr. Levine said children experiencing THC poisoning have required immediate medical attention for excessive vomiting, seizures, altered states of consciousness and severe depression in breathing leading to the need for intubation and admission to the pediatric intensive care unit.

What you can do to prevent THC poisoning

The message: Please store these products safely out of reach of children.

“You should be using the same vigilance in ensuring the safety of your child that you would with any other dangerous object in your household whether that’s medication or a gun,” said Dr. Levine. “You have to treat these products the same way. It’s a danger to small children and is completely preventable.”

Need help?

The Tennessee Poison Center has a 24-hour hotline, 1-800-222-1222, is staffed by registered nurses, pharmacists and physicians. It is available for hearing impaired and non-English speakers.

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