Study finds most exposures to marijuana edibles in young children happen at home

7,043 cases reported to poison control over 5 years

Edible marijuana samples are set aside for evaluation at a cannabis testing laboratory in Santa Ana, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File) (Chris Carlson, Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

More children younger than six are getting sick after exposure to marijuana edibles in the United States, according to a study published last week.

The study found that calls to poison control centers about children younger than six exposed to edibles containing THC rose by 1,375% between 2017 to 2021. There were 7,043 total reported exposures in that timeframe. Most of the exposures occurred at home.

The largest increase in marijuana edible exposure in children younger than six happened between 2019 and 2020. Researchers believe that COVID-related quarantines and school/daycare closures could have played a role in the increase.

What the data tells us about exposure to marijuana in young children

The study was published in the American Academy of Pediatrics and looked at data from the National Poison Data System from 2017 to 2021.

Researchers focused on common clinical effects, medical outcomes, health care utilization, and changes in acute toxicity between the pre-COVID years (2017–2019) to the COVID years (2020–2021).

According to the study, there were 7,043 exposures reported during those five years. There were 207 cases reported in 2017 and there were 3,054 cases reported in 2021. This brings us to the 1,375% increase. No deaths were reported.

YearNumber of reports

Below is a chart that breaks down how many cases there were by age of child:

AgeNumber of Cases
Unknown but <617

Out of all the reported cases, 22.7% of patients were admitted to a hospital. Out of the cases followed to a known outcome, 70% were reported to have central nervous system depression. There were only 155 major effect cases (2.2%) and there were 1,539 moderate effect cases (21.9%).

Below is a chart that breaks down how the child was treated:

Admitted to critical care unit573
Admitted to noncritical care unit1,027
Treated/evaluated and released2,550
Patient refused referral/did not arrive at HCF625
Lost to follow-up/other2,268

You can click here to learn more about the study and what researchers found.

How to prevent children from consuming marijuana edibles

If you use marijuana products, you should always keep them in childproof containers and out of reach of children and pets. The study suggested keeping the products in a location the children aren’t aware of and using a locked container.

Researchers said keeping marijuana edibles outside of the kitchen and away from other food products may help. Adults should refrain from consuming marijuana in front of children because the children may attempt to imitate the adult.

What happens if a child eats a marijuana edible?

Depending on the age of the child and the amount of marijuana consumed, the child may need to be hospitalized.

Children younger than 10 years old who consume marijuana edibles are more likely to need to go to a hospital than older children.

Data from one study showed that teens and children younger than five were the groups most commonly affected by marijuana edible exposures, according to Poison Control.

Symptoms of consuming marijuana can last for hours and children with severe symptoms may need to be admitted to an intensive care unit.

Poison Control lists the following symptoms for children:

  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Breathing difficulties

In more severe cases, children may experience hallucinations, an abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure.

How to get help from Poison Control

Parents and caregivers of young children are encouraged to contact Poison Control immediately to get advice if they believe a child has consumed marijuana edibles, even if the child does not have symptoms.

You can contact Poison Control online by clicking here, or by calling 1-800-222-1222.

About the Author:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.