Cannabis Edibles and Kids: What Parents Need to Know
Gummies, mints, brownies, sodas: More products containing THC, the primary psychoactive part of a cannabis plant, are available in New York as the state approves and licenses recreational cannabis dispensaries.
Though these products are intended for adults age 21 and over, pediatricians are concerned that children will consume cannabis edibles they find in the home and get sick. Edibles in particular are under scrutiny because many are sodas, candy, and sweets—products that are familiar and appealing to children.
"As legalization and liberalization of cannabis laws spread nationwide, we have seen increased rates of accidental ingestion of edible cannabis products in children,” says Sarah Ann Anderson, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
“It's important for parents to ensure products containing THC are properly stored, as with any medication. It is also important for parents to realize that many cannabis edibles can contain high levels of THC, posing a greater risk to children than adults.”
The strength of cannabis products is measured by concentration of THC, which is generally higher in edibles, and many edibles are made with THC-infused oils. “Oils stay in the body longer and therefore the psychoactive properties can be amplified,” says Anderson.
One study found 7,043 exposures to edibles in children under age 6 in the United States from 2017 to 2021, including 3,054 in 2021. Most children found the edibles in their homes and had mild reactions. Close to 23% were hospitalized and 8% (573 children from 2017 to 2021) required critical care.
What are the signs a child has been poisoned by THC?
Poisoning due to THC can cause changes in speech, like slurring or slowed speech, slower movements, paranoia, heightened anxiety, and in most severe cases seizures and coma,” says Anderson.
“Children are more susceptible to adverse effects because they are smaller so the doses are more impactful and their symptoms may be more severe than adults."
If you suspect a child has ingested a cannabis gummy, what should you do?
If your child ate a THC gummy or anything else containing THC, call your doctor or the American Association of Poison Control Centers help line: 1-800-222-1222.
If the child is having difficulty breathing, is unconscious, or showing other signs of serious distress, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
Try to figure out how much the child consumed. Look at the container for dosage details.
How do you prevent children from eating cannabis edibles?
Store edibles, medications, and other dangerous products like bleach and laundry pods away from children.
Legal products containing THC are sold in child-proof packaging; do not move the product to a different container. Do not store cannabis edibles in the same cabinets or space with other food.