New research shows the number of children under the age of 5 accidentally poisoned by cannabis edibles has soared 1,375% since 2017, a high that doctors are not happy to see.
“It’s becoming more and more common. It’s important for people to understand that it’s a danger; it’s something that we’re really having to deal with,” said Christopher Pruitt, M.D., medical director of the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital Emergency Department.
“The worst is where they’re very minimally responsive, and we are worried. I’ve had a number of these cases where we’re worried that we might have to place an artificial airway and put them on a ventilator.”
Recent research indicates that 2-year-olds had the highest rate of exposure, followed by 3-year-olds.
One key difference is that unlike most medications and cleaning chemicals, cannabis edibles can look pretty enticing to a child. Some are in the form of gummies, chocolate bars or salty chips. What kids usually don’t realize is that many edibles contain THC—the chemical in marijuana that affects a person’s mental state.
Another issue: Cannabis edibles are designed for much bigger bodies. Pruitt said that in his experience, the smaller the child, the larger the risk. “We see it some in older kids, but they’re more likely to have a reaction like a young adult versus a younger kid. Little kids can end up unresponsive.”
That leaves some people wondering why the government doesn’t require cannabis edibles to be in child-resistant packaging. The reason: While a growing number of states have legalized marijuana use, the federal government hasn’t. That means no federal regulations on how edibles are packaged.
Marijuana is currently illegal in South Carolina, but that doesn’t keep some people from ordering it or bringing it home from states where it’s legal. Pruitt encourages parents whose children unwittingly consumed cannabis edibles to take action.
Edible products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can be easily mistaken for commonly consumed foods such as breakfast cereal, candy, and cookies, and accidentally ingested.
Accidental ingestion of these products can lead to serious adverse events, especially in children.
Some edible products are designed to mimic the appearance of well-known branded foods by using similar brand names, logos, or pictures on their packaging. These copycats are easily mistaken for popular, well-recognized foods that appeal to children.
The FDA is aware of reports of copycat products packaged to look like Cap’n Crunch, Cocoa Pebbles, Cocoa Puffs, Froot Loops, Fruity Pebbles, Nerds Ropes, Starbursts, Sour Patch Kids, and Trix, among others.
Who is at risk?
The FDA is advising consumers about the risk of accidental ingestion, especially by children, of edible products that contain THC. Accidental ingestion of these edible products may cause serious adverse events.
Some manufacturers are packaging and labeling edible products containing THC to look like popular brands of commonly consumed foods, such as breakfast cereal, candy, and cookies. These products appeal to children and may be easily mistaken for popular, well-recognized foods.
The FDA is aware of multiple media reports describing children and adults who accidentally consumed copycat edible products containing THC and experienced adverse events. Additionally, from January 1, 2021, through May 31, 2022, the FDA received over 125 adverse event reports related to children and adults who consumed edible products containing THC. Some individuals who ate these edible products reportedly experienced adverse events such as hallucinations, increased heart rate and vomiting, and many required medical intervention or hospital admission. Ten of the reports specifically mention the edible product to be a copycat of popular foods, such as Cocoa Pebbles, Gushers, Nerds Rope, Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, and Starburst.
In addition, national poison control centers received 10,448 single substance exposure cases involving only edible products containing THC between January 1, 2021, and May 31, 2022. Of these cases, 77% involved patients 19 years of age or younger. Of the total cases, 65% involved unintentional exposure to edible products containing THC and 91% of these unintentional exposures affected pediatric patients. Furthermore, 79% of the total cases required health care facility evaluation, of which 7% resulted in admission to a critical care unit; 83% of patients requiring health care facility evaluation were pediatric patients. One pediatric case was coded with a medical outcome of death following the ingestion of a suspected delta-8 THC edible.
Recommendations for Consumers
Call 9-1-1 or get emergency medical help right away if you or someone in your care has serious side effects from these products. Always keep these products in a safe place out of reach of children.
Call the local poison control center (1-800-222-1222) if a child has consumed these products. Do not wait for symptoms to call.
Contact your healthcare provider if you or someone in your care recently ingested these products and you have health concerns.
Visit www.fda.gov/fcic for additional consumer and industry assistance.
For More Information
What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-derived Compounds, Including Cannabidiol (CBD)
FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products, Including Cannabidiol (CBD)
5 Things to Know about Delta-8-Tetrahydrocannabinol – Delta-8 THC