Cannabis edibles are often sweet or savory products that are naturally attractive to young children. Serious and sometimes life-threatening side effects can occur in children who consume cannabis edibles. Find out what to do if your child ingests a marijuana edible, what symptoms to watch for, and when to go to the hospital.
My Child Ate a Cannabis Edible
Cannabis edibles are often sweet or savory products that are naturally attractive to young children. Serious and sometimes life-threatening side effects can occur in children who consume cannabis edibles.
The Full Story
Are edibles legal?
Although the possession, sale, and use of cannabis remains illegal on a federal level, many states have passed legislation to legalize or decriminalize (meaning it’s still illegal, but officials have decided not to prosecute for possessing small amounts for person use) recreational and medical use of cannabis products. Cannabis products, including edibles, are available for sale in many states and can also be purchased over the internet.
How much THC is in edibles?
The amount of THC in edibles varies by product. Many cannabis-containing edible products contain potentially toxic amounts of the active ingredient THC. For example, a small, one-ounce bag of THC-infused Doritos®-inspired nacho cheese chips contains 600 mg THC, a dose that is poisonous for both children and adults when an entire bag is consumed. Even when children eat smaller amounts of these products, the consumption of THC can result in unwanted and dangerous side effects.
Are edible ingestions on the rise in children?
While these products are meant to be used only by adults, unintentional or accidental pediatric exposures to cannabis edibles are becoming increasingly common in the United States. When children eat cannabis edibles, serious and potentially life-threatening side effects can occur.
Why are kids more vulnerable to cannabis ingestion?
There are several reasons why children eat cannabis edibles. Children are naturally attracted to tasty items such as candies and baked goods, which represent significant number of edible products. Cannabis edibles may be in packaging that is remarkably similar to snack foods that are popular among children and adolescents, including Doritos®, Nerds®, and Cheetos®. Cannabis edible packages are sometimes colorful and may feature appealing images of cartoon characters. While the packaging does state that the product inside contains cannabis or THC, this information is often in small print and cannot be easily read or understood by young children.
Why aren’t edibles in child-resistant packaging?
Many people wonder why there are not stronger requirements to make cannabis edible packaging less appealing to children. Since cannabis is illegal on the federal level, there are no federal regulations relating to cannabis edible packaging. There is also no federal government enforcement of how cannabis edibles are packaged. Product labels may be inaccurate or confusing. Laws regarding the packaging and labeling of cannabis products vary from state to state, but generally include a requirement for child-resistant packaging. In Illinois, cannabis product packaging must also be odor-proof, cannot include images of cartoons, toys, animals, or children, and must not contain information that is false or misleading. Alaska does not allow cannabis product packaging to contain markings, color, or patterns that are similar to widely distributed branded food products. Unfortunately, cannabis sellers may not always follow these laws. In one 2017 study, investigators evaluated 20 cannabis-containing edible products purchased at dispensaries in California. None of the products met all of the state’s requirements for cannabis packaging and labeling, and most were compliant with less than half of published California regulations.
What happens if a child eats an edible containing THC?
Common clinical effects that occur in children after ingestion of cannabis-containing edibles include vomiting, dizziness, difficulty walking, a rapid heart rate, drowsiness, confusion, and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, hallucinations, an abnormally slow heart rate, and low blood pressure may occur. Recent published medical literature suggests that younger children (especially those less than 10 years of age) who are exposed to cannabis edibles are more likely to require hospital admission and respiratory support than older children. The signs and symptoms of cannabis poisoning in children may last for hours, and some patients with severe symptoms may require admission to the Intensive Care Unit for careful monitoring.
Young children, who are especially susceptible to the adverse effects of cannabis, are often affected by poisoning from cannabis edibles. In one study of poison center data, teenagers and young children (less than 5 years of age) were the most common age groups affected by cannabis edible exposures. Because young children are likely to require medical attention after unintentional consumption of cannabis edibles, parents or caregivers should contact poison control immediately for expert advice if a child eats cannabis edibles. Parents and caregivers should call poison control regardless of whether symptoms are present because signs and symptoms may not occur immediately after consumption. This is because after consumption of cannabis, the signs and symptoms of intoxication occur more slowly and less predictably than after cannabis inhalation.
What should I do if I think my child has ingested marijuana or THC?
For questions about adverse or unwanted effects that occur after use of cannabis-containing edibles, contact Poison Control for expert advice. Get an immediate personalized recommendation online or call 1-800-222-1222. Both options are free, confidential, and available 24 hours a day.
Call 1-800-222-1222 or
- Keep all cannabis products away from children.
- Do use cannabis products that look like common branded food items.
- Do not use cannabis products around children.
This Really Happened
A 2-year-old boy became unusually sleepy and lethargic after a playdate. His mother took him to a hospital, where he began to have seizures. Doctors placed a breathing tube, and the boy was transferred to a larger Children’s hospital where tests showed that he had THC in his system. His mother later realized that her toddler had ingested her cannabis gummies that contained 75 milligrams of THC. After a 36-hour hospitalization, the boy fortunately made a full recovery.
What should I do if my child eats something with weed in it?
If your child accidently eats gummies or something else with weed in it, get medical help right away. Don’t wait – marijuana is a serious drug.
- If your child shows signs of serious distress – such as difficulty breathing or unconsciousness – call 911 or go to the closest emergency room.
- Otherwise, call their doctor or the help line of the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) at 1-800-222-1222.
- In addition to seeking medical attention, try to figure out how much marijuana your child consumed, and how much THC it contained (if it’s an edible, you can look at the wrapper).
Serious side effects are especially common with edibles (such as cookies, brownies, and candies) and synthetic marijuana because these are sometimes cut with dangerous chemicals. Edibles also typically contain more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
A child who has ingested marijuana might just need to be observed in the emergency room for a few hours. If their symptoms are severe, they could be admitted to the hospital for observation overnight. Your child’s urine probably will be tested to confirm the presence of marijuana and check for any other substances.
As marijuana becomes decriminalized, hospitals are seeing more and more children who have accidentally consumed weed. In 2020, the AAPCC received nearly 3,000 calls about children who were accidentally exposed to edible marijuana. Most were under age 5.
Healthcare providers treating a child who has eaten something containing marijuana may contact child protective services, who will typically want to ensure the overall safety of the child within their home. But fear of these consequences is not a reason to avoid getting your child necessary – and potentially life-saving – medical care.
What are some of the signs to watch out for after my child ingests marijuana?
Because children are small, they have a much greater risk of severe and potentially life-threatening effects from weed. Symptoms to look out for include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- Loss of coordination
- Excessive sleepiness
- Slurred speech
Keep in mind that the THC in edible marijuana won’t take effect until about 30 to 60 minutes after it’s eaten. These effects will likely continue to intensify for another 3 to 4 hours.
Can my child get high if they eat something with marijuana in it?
Yes. Because of their smaller bodies, children who consume a marijuana edible will experience the effects – including getting “high” – more quickly than an adult. This can be a very scary, unfamiliar experience for a child. Just one pot candy or cookie could have multiple times the recommended dose of THC for adults, so these products are especially potent for kids.
How to keep your child from ingesting something with weed in it
Whether your weed is legal or not, medicinal or recreational, treat it (and all marijuana products) like any medication:
- Store it safely. Keep marijuana products out of children’s reach in child-resistant containers or a lockbox.
- Never keep marijuana edibles with other foods because some edibles are packaged to resemble familiar treats, like gummy bears and brownies, and your child won’t be able to tell the difference.
- Don’t buy edibles that resemble real candy. Some marijuana edible packaging are designed to look identical to common candy packaging, making them a magnet for kids. Your child will not be able to tell the difference.
- Don’t use marijuana in front of your kids. Consuming marijuana around children sets a bad example and can create a temptation for kids. It can also be harmful. Second-hand marijuana smoke, including THC, can also get into children’s bodies, research shows. Marijuana consumption can also impair your ability to provide a safe environment for your child.
- Talk to family members, friends and caregivers. If visitors bring edibles or weed into your house, make sure it’s always out of children’s reach, and that they don’t use them while watching your kids.
If you’re concerned about your use of weed and want help quitting, talk to your doctor. They can help you find the resources and support you need.