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More children than ever are overdosing on pot edibles

Posted at 5:31 PM, Aug 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-03 19:31:59-04

As more states legalize pot, kids are winding up in the hospital after accidentally overdosing on marijuana edibles, and parents are being pressed to watch how they store their supplies. 

Calls to poison centers for kids under age 12 who had eaten cannabis edibles jumped 1,600 percent between 2016 and 2020 to 2,681. So far this year, there have already been over 2,000 calls. 

The edibles, which look like candy, cookies, or brownies, typically contain about 10 mg of THC — the chemical component of cannabis that causes a high — and are meant to be taken in single servings by adults. 

Julie Weber of the American Association of Poison Control Centers says they’re seeing more incidents of kids getting into their parents' stash. 

"The child ate a bag and a half, with each bag containing 12 of the gummy bears. And the amount that was ingested was so significant that we did have to refer them into the emergency department because of the risk for seizures," Weber said, recalling one call to a poison control center. 

Weber says most calls to poison control centers can usually be handled at home, but 88 percent require treatment at a health care facility when it comes to pot edibles. 

Thirty-nine states plus DC have legalized or decriminalized cannabis, and many of them are doing their part to keep edibles out of kids' hands by requiring edibles to be sold in child-proof packaging that clearly shows the amount of THC.  

Some states ban packaging that imitates other popular snacks and the use of cartoons, animal shapes, or anything that might be attractive to children.

But because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, the FDA can’t regulate the packaging or potency of edibles. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is working on a new bill to legalize cannabis, but it’s still unclear how the FDA would choose to regulate edibles.  

For now, public health experts and cannabis industry insiders agree the best prevention for child overdosing is responsibly storing cannabis edibles. 

"I think that a lot of parents are falling behind on the learning curve when it comes to responsibly storing cannabis products the way that they would alcohol and medications and household cleaners and things of that nature, all of which, by the way, send tens of thousands of times more people to the hospital every single year," said Morgan Fox, media relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association. 

"I think it's even more than up and way. We really need to look at it as medication, and we should really put it in a locked storage box," Weber said. 

Kellan Howell at Newsy first reported this story.