Marijuana has been legalized for medical use throughout much of the country. Many states have even legalized recreational use, creating easier access for patients. As a result, there has been a recent uptick in children inadvertently ingesting edibles infused with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC – the principal psychoactive component of marijuana), sometimes causing severe effects such as seizure-like activity and breathing difficulties. Kids are very creative and determined and can easily find anything resembling candy, and they will often ingest cannabis edibles in large amounts.

Marijuana-infused edibles have been used by patients looking to relieve a wide variety of ailments. They are often packed in colorful bags and containers that are very attractive to children. In addition, the edibles often come in the form of gummies, hard candies, brownies and even cookies – all items that kids crave from a young age. According to The New York Times, in 2016 there were 187 children under the age of 12 who ingested marijuana edibles. Since 2020, this number has dramatically increased to almost 3,100, and this number likely significantly underestimates the scope of the problem since many ingestions go unreported.

What to do if your child ingests a cannabis edible

Doctors have seen many of these pediatric exploratory ingestions in specific areas where states legalized recreational marijuana use. However, increased numbers of exposures are being reported nationwide. Marijuana is not harmless to children, particularly after large ingestions, and can result in hospitalization. If you believe your child has ingested marijuana-infused edibles, reach out to your regional poison control center right away (1-800-222-1222). If your child is exhibiting severe signs or symptoms, such as seizure-like activity, inability to awaken or respiratory difficulties, call 911 immediately. While there is a usually a delay in symptom-onset after ingestion, and signs and symptoms can be nonspecific, some edible ingestion warning signs include:

  • Severe lethargy
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Trouble breathing
  • Difficulty getting your child awake
  • Shaking or other seizure-like activity

If you suspect your child has ingested marijuana-infused edibles:

Storing cannabis edibles safely

As many patients are aware, marijuana gummies should be treated like any other prescription drug. Child-resistance products are not always 100% protective. Understand that the packaging, appearance, and the taste of marijuana-infused edibles can be very can be attractive to young children. Always make sure they are securely stored, and preferably locked, somewhere only adults can access. On play dates, it’s okay to have a conversation with the hosting parents on the importance of safely storing child hazards such as marijuana-infused edibles.

ABOUT THE EXPERT

Brian Schultz Brian Schultz, MD, is an emergency medicine physician at Children's National. Dr. Schultz has been with Children's National for close to 2 years and is also a medical toxicology fellow at the National Capital Poison Center.

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