Study Finds Sharp Increase in Accidental Ingestion of Cannabis Edibles Among Children

Researchers discovered the number of children inadvertently eating cannabis edibles increased by 1375% in the past five years.

Key takeaways:
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    Edibles are foods that contain cannabis.
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    They often come packaged as gummies, chocolate, or baked goods, which can be appealing to children.
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    Recently, a new study has found an alarming increase in accidental ingestion of edibles among young children.
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    The results suggest a need for education, prevention strategies, and laws that require edible manufacturers to use child-resistant packaging.

Edible products containing cannabis, including gummies, chocolates, and baked goods, have become increasingly popular in states that allow medical or recreational marijuana use. These edibles look and taste like typical treats, making them appealing to children.

Previous research suggests that the rate of edible marijuana exposure reported to US poison control centers has increased, especially among children five years old or younger and 13–19-year-old adolescents. This increase was more prominent in states where cannabis is legal.

Now, a new study published in Pediatrics found that the accidental ingestion of edibles significantly increased among children younger than six years from 2017–2021. The scientists suggest these results underscore the urgent need for better parent education, prevention strategies, and packaging requirements.

To conduct the study, the researchers analyzed data from the National Poison Data System. Specifically, they looked for pediatric exposures to edible cannabis products in children less than six years from 2017 to 2021.

The data showed that there were 7043 total reported cases of cannabis edible ingestion from 2017 to 2021. Further analysis showed that in 2017, there were 207 reported cases. However, in 2021 that number rose to 3054 — an increase of 1375%.

Two- and three-year-old children accounted for most of the cases, and most of the incidences happened at the child’s home. Moreover, 70% of the children who accidentally consumed edibles experienced central nervous system depression. Other effects reported were agitation, confusion, and seizures.

Of all children exposed to edibles, 22.7% were admitted to the hospital and 8.1% were admitted to the critical care unit. However, no deaths were reported.

According to the study, cannabis edibles have a typical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) dose ranging from 2.5 to 10 milligrams (mg). However, edible products are often available in a package with multiple doses. Adults may understand that one piece equals one dose, but young children may not.

The scientists say this inability to recognize dosages and their small body size puts children at risk for toxicity from these exposures.

Because of the risks, the study authors suggest that parents should safely store edibles and refrain from eating these products in front of children. In addition, they recommend states should enact policies, including risk-reduction laws that require child-resistant and clearly labeled packaging of cannabis edibles.

“Although awareness of pediatric cannabis exposures is growing, much more can be done from a poison prevention standpoint,” the study authors wrote.

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