A study published in JAMA Network Open found that Ontario emergency room (ER) visits for children with cannabis poisoning increased nine times since Canada legalized cannabis. The study compared ER visits during three specific regulatory stages from January 2016 to March 2021. These stages included pre-legalization, post legalization of flower-based cannabis products and oils in October 2018, and after January 2020 when concentrates and cannabis edible products like gummies and chocolates were legalized and available for purchase. Between 2016 and 2021, there were 522 ER visits for cannabis poisoning in children under 10, and the average age of these children was three years and nine months. No fatalities were reported, but 32.7% of the visits required hospitalization and 3.6% required intensive care unit (ICU) admission.
The study found a majority of child poisoning incidents were attributed to cannabis edible products. ER visits dramatically increased to 39% after legalization of edibles and led to higher hospitalization rates compared to the 25% rate of the previous periods. The Ontario study’s lead researcher Dr. Daniel Myran explained that there were “...more frequent and severe ED visits due to cannabis poisoning in children under 10 following the legalization of cannabis, and the legalization of edible cannabis products appears to be a key factor.” Children are at an increased risk of inadvertent cannabis poisoning because edibles can look appealing, and children may confuse a cannabis-infused item for a regular cookie or treat.
Other studies also confirm that edibles are the most common product associated with child cannabis poisoning, although some cases are caused by flower or concentrate consumption. The National Poison Data System indicates steady increases in cannabis poisoning. 28,630 people contacted Poison Control between January 2017 and December 2019, and edibles and vapes were the most common cannabis product responsible for poisoning in children 10 and under. Most calls were from individuals aged 21 and up, and cannabis products like edibles and vapes account for 38.5% of the incidents in this age group. 34.5% were aged 10-20 years old, and 27% were under age 10.
Most states and countries require specific child resistant packaging and production of edibles that cannot resemble candy or food items appealing to children. For example, regulations often mandate that cookies and chocolate must bear a ‘THC!’ stamp and not have sprinkles, icing, or any other physical features that might attract the attention of a child. Production and packaging regulations may become more stringent as poisoning rates increase and more states legalize cannabis.
Eureka Science News Alert, JAMA Network Open