The Canadian federal government began legalizing aspects of recreational marijuana use in October 2018, so researchers are assessing the dangers associated with cannabis poisoning in minors. In a new study, researchers investigated cannabis poisonings in children and youth, finding that most of these cases were a direct outcome of intentional cannabis use paired with alcohol, illicit drugs, and/or medication.
Using data from the emergency department at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver between January 2016 and December 2018 – essentially the three years prior to recreational cannabis legalization in Canada – researchers studied the circumstances involving cannabis poisoning in children and youth. They examined medical reports and health records telling a story of how, where, and when cannabis poisonings occurred.
Out of 911 total poisonings at this emergency department in the study’s time period, 12.5 percent were related to intentional cannabis consumption. The large majority of cannabis-related poisonings, 71.1 percent, were cases that involved more than just cannabis: also including a combination of alcohol, illicit drugs, and other pharmaceuticals. The median age of minors affected by cannabis poisoning of any kind was 15.
There were less than ten cannabis-related poisonings related to inadvertent ingestion. Of these cases, the cannabis in question belonged to either parents or siblings, the incident occurred at home, and involved children of a median age of three. While this is a small number, study researchers are still concerned as there are larger risks of side effects from cannabis exposure for this age group.
"This is especially important now that cookies, chocolates and gummies containing cannabis have been legalized in Canada. We need to do whatever we can to keep kids safe,” explained senior author Shelina Babul.
Common signs of cannabis poisoning include:
While very few cases of cannabis poisoning will lead to long-term health effects, cases may require emergency care. When does intentional cannabis use change from eliciting desired effects to producing potentially harmful effects, indicating poisoning? Experts say that the effects of cannabis may vary depending on several factors:
Acute, desired effects of recreational cannabis use may include euphoria, “perception alteration,” powerful sensory experiences, and motor impairment. However, cannabis users may also experience negatively associated effects including anxiety, depression, and panic. Research also shows that cannabis use is linked to negative changes in the cardiovascular system, central nervous system, and respiratory system.
As researchers continue to learn more, they are concerned with improving cannabis safety guidelines, improving safety for minors, and painting a full picture of how the legalization of recreational cannabis affects children’s health.