As more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana, children are more likely to be unintentionally exposed to it. Studies in Colorado and Massachusetts found that cases of children accidentally ingesting THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, increased after recreational marijuana use became legal for adults. Plus, the COVID-19 pandemic means kids are spending more time at home. So, if there’s marijuana in the home, they have more opportunities to come across it.
“Many THC products have vivid colors on the packages and look very appealing to children,” said Bryan Kuhn, PharmD, a pharmacist and poison education specialist at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. And edible marijuana products and their packaging can look like candy or chocolate, so they are especially tempting for children.
What happens if children ingest marijuana?
If children ingest marijuana, symptoms can vary depending on the dose of THC. “Kids sample things they find by putting them in their mouths,” Dr. Kuhn said. A dose of THC for an adult can be just one gummy or one square of chocolate, but a child may get their hands on several gummies or an entire candy bar. And some children may ingest lower-dose edibles while others take in higher doses. THC cookies and brownies and THC concentrates are more likely to contain higher doses.
“Most children have minor to moderate effects such as sedation, dizziness, incoordination and hallucinations,” Dr. Kuhn said. “With higher doses come the risk of more serious effects like respiratory depression, unresponsiveness and seizures.”
How can you reduce the risk of marijuana exposure for your child?
First of all, recognize that marijuana is dangerous for kids. When marijuana is legal, people sometimes assume that it’s safe, especially if they have natural or organic forms of marijuana. But ingesting THC can be as dangerous to a child as ingesting prescription or over-the-counter medications.
If you have products that contain THC in your home, store them out of children’s sight and reach. And make sure they are stored in childproof packaging for an extra level of safety.
What should you do if a child has ingested marijuana?
You should call 911 if your child has ingested marijuana and has stopped breathing or isn’t responsive to your voice or touch.
If your child has less severe symptoms such as sedation, dizziness, incoordination or hallucinations, or doesn’t have symptoms but you saw them ingest marijuana or suspect that they did, call the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center at 800-222-1222 for instructions.
The bottom line
As medical and recreational marijuana becomes legal in more states, the risk of children accidentally ingesting marijuana increases, too. You can help keep children safe by storing any products that contain THC in childproof packaging, out of sight and out of reach of children. If you would like to connect with a pediatrician for more advice on how to help your child stay safe, reach out to Banner Health.