NJ Poison Control: Children Getting Sick from Marijuana Edibles
For the fourth year in a row, the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School has seen an increase in calls concerning children who accidentally consumed cannabis edibles.
One of the cases involved a 3-year-old toddler who was evaluated in the emergency room after showing signs of strange behavior. Shortly after arriving, the child had a seizure which resulted from consuming a large number of cookies containing cannabis.
Medical director, Dr. Diane Calello says in 2021, the NJ Poison Control Center helped more than 150 children who were accidentally exposed to these edibles. Nearly 100 children were 5 years old and younger and more than 55 children were between the ages of 6 and 12.
Symptoms of marijuana in children
Unlike adults, children who eat edibles are at a much higher risk for severe health effects. Calello said it's all about the amount. If a child consumes a small amount of cannabis, chances are they will behave strangely, feel frightened or act a bit wacky.
But consumed in higher dosages, children could experience trouble breathing, have a loss of coordination, become drowsy, suffer a seizure, or even death.
It's also very important to note that the effects of cannabis edibles may be delayed compared to smoking pot, Calello said. Therefore, parents and caregivers may not realize a child ate the pot-laced food for quite some time.
She said the effects of cannabis edibles may not take effect for an hour or two after consumption and the effects don't peak until several hours after that.
The New Jersey Poison Control had a case last year involving a 2-year-old who awoke with intense night terrors. Once awake, the toddler was drowsy and behaving as though she were "drunk." The child was evaluated in the emergency room and treated. It was discovered she consumed gummy candies containing cannabis hours earlier.
"So people who are not familiar with the time that edibles to take effect, may consume too many of them before the effect takes place. The start low and go slow approach makes sense even if it's an adult who intends to eat the edible cannabis but doesn't intend to overdose," she said.
Calello said over the last few years, eating food products containing cannabis has become a popular way of consuming pot. As edibles continue to gain popularity and become a common household item, the NJ Poison Control Center continues to see a drastic spike in kids accidentally getting into them in the home.
"It is difficult for anyone, especially children, to distinguish an edible marijuana product from food when the product is almost identical to common everyday foods," Calello said.
"If you come across a candy that looks good, particularly if it's labeled as one of your favorite candies and says Skittles, the kid is going to be very enticed by that, and that is exactly what happened to a kid we had who ended up in the ICU on a vent," Calello said.
Marijuana safety with children
The key to keeping a child safe is to be aware of how enticing these pot edibles are to a young child. Edibles are highly concentrated so she advises parents to not store a lot of pot edibles in the house at one time.
"If you have something that looks delicious to you, you can be sure it looks delicious to your child," she said.
Edibles like brownies, gummies, and even lollipops can be fun and therapeutic for adults, but she says the high levels of THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) can lead to dangerous overdose symptoms in children.
Keep pot edibles locked up, the same way you would lock up medicines in the home. Be aware of the potency of the edibles at home.
Only purchase products containing cannabis from licensed, reputable sources. It is hoped that these products would be in child-resistant packaging.
Parents should call NJ Poison Control if they suspect their child consumed cannabis edibles and are experiencing symptoms. The center is open 24/7 at 1-800-222-1222.
If a child is not breathing or suffering a life-threatening symptom like a seizure, call 9-1-1