They may resemble familiar supermarket treats such as gummy bears, cakes, and cookies. But make no mistake: cannabis foods are not meant for children.
Unfortunately, many children eat these foods when they find them at home. Emergency room doctors across the country are seeing more and more children accidentally ingest these products.
“Oddly enough, I’ve seen an increase in cannabis exposure in children since marijuana was legalized for recreational use in California,” said James Chenoweth, assistant professor of emergency medicine and medical toxicologist at the University of California, Davis.
Chenoweth analyzed calls to a poison center across the country from 2009 to 2019 in an unpublished study and reviewed all reports of cannabis exposure. Now that marijuana is legal in 19 states for recreational use, Poison Control is seeing an increase in marijuana exposure calls nationwide.
In California, the number of cannabis-related exposures reported to Poison Control among children aged 18 and under increased from 150 in 2009 to 777 in 2019.
Chenoweth added that poison control data is difficult to analyze due to the lack of a food exposure code until 2017.
The potential of cannabis in these edible treats can be quite strong. Five milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance in marijuana, is a typical dose for adults who do not use marijuana daily. However, one cookie can contain up to 100mg of THC. Other foods are dosed in small portions. One bite of a THC brownie, gummy bear, or donut hole contains 5-10mg of cannabis.
“You have to cut the cookies into ten pieces, but who eats such cookies? Who only eats one gummy bear? Chenoweth said. “If you didn’t know you were eating a product with THC, it would be easy to fall prey to unintentional THC poisoning,” Chenoweth said.
When children ingest food, side effects may include vomiting, dizziness, difficulty walking, heart palpitations, drowsiness, confusion, and difficulty breathing.
“Edible foods usually make children unbalanced and altered,” Chenoweth said. “We don’t have specific antidotes for cannabinoids, so our goal is to keep an eye on them until the cannabis is out of their system. »
UC Davis Children’s Hospital leads the Safe Kids Greater Sacramento coalition, and coordinator Jennifer Rubin offered the following tips for keeping young children safe around food:
- Keep food out of reach and in closed cabinets like medicines or other toxic products.
- Try not to eat in front of children, as they like to imitate adults.
- Children are attracted to sweets and foods that resemble what they usually eat, so try to buy foods that don’t mimic other foods in your home.
“Another pro tip: For teens, use a combination lock or key lock to keep them away from any stored medications, alcohol, and recreational drugs,” Rubin said.