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. Marijuana edibles can have dangerous effects on children. Learn what to do in case of a child THC overdose.
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 to Do if Your Child Eats a Marijuana Edible
Many marijuana edibles come as sweet or savory snacks that look just like regular candy, chips, or cookies. It’s easy for a child to mistake them for ordinary foods. But these products aren’t safe for children. If your child eats a THC edible, they could get very sick. They might even need to go to the hospital.
Marijuana can be infused into almost anything, including:
- Chocolate bars
- Gummy candies
These products tend to be things children like to eat and drink. If you use edibles, always keep them in a secure place where kids can’t get into them.
What Is THC?
Marijuana comes from the Cannabis sativa plant. Its active ingredient is a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This is the chemical that causes you to feel “high.” It can also be used medically to treat conditions like seizures and chronic pain.
But it poses both short- and long-term dangers for children and teens. Young brains are changing and developing. Exposure to THC during this time can lead to problems with nerve connections that can affect memory and IQ and lead to a higher risk of substance misuse later in life.
One reason weed edibles are so risky is that they may contain very high levels of THC, even for adults. Many contain 10-15 milligrams or more of THC, while the recommended dose for an adult inexperienced with edibles is 2.5-5 milligrams.
Portion size can also be confusing. A 50-gram chocolate bar might contain 100 milligrams of THC, which translates to 10 doses for an adult experienced with using edibles. An adult would likely eat just a portion of the candy. But a child could easily eat a whole bar.
How Often Do Children Accidentally Consume THC Edibles?
Since marijuana has become legal in more states, more children are being exposed to the drug. One study looked at phone calls to poison centers about marijuana exposure in children between 2017 and 2019.
About half of the 4,172 calls involved THC edibles. Throughout the 2 years, the number of calls went up. And childhood exposures were twice as common in states that had legalized marijuana. The calls most often involved children ages 3-5.
Other research found that children under age 10 who consumed edibles were more likely to require hospitalization than older kids.
What Happens if a Child Eats Edibles?
If your kid consumes an edible or drink containing THC, they might experience the effects of marijuana intoxication or THC poisoning. Symptoms may include:
- Changed perception
- Slurred speech
- A fast heart rate
- Intense sleepiness
- Trouble breathing
- Paranoia, anxiety, or panic
- Nausea or vomiting
- Poor coordination
In serious cases, your child could hallucinate, develop low blood pressure, or have a slow heart rate. Rarely, they could go into a coma.
How Long Does an Edible Last in a Child?
While smoking marijuana produces a high in just a few minutes, it often takes 30 minutes to an hour for a THC edible to take effect. And it can take 3-4 hours to reach the full effects.
Your child’s symptoms may differ based on their height and weight, just like medications affect people differently based on their size.
What to Do If Your Child Consumes an Edible
If you think your child may have consumed an edible or drink containing THC, call the poison control center hotline at 800-222-1222 right away. Your child needs immediate help, even if they’re not showing any symptoms. It might take some time for the effects to show up.
Try to identify what type of edible they had and how much they consumed. You may need to figure out how much was in the package and how much is gone.
The 24-hour hotline will connect you to a local poison control center, where a trained representative can explain what you need to do. You can also contact them online. The calls and texts are anonymous.
If your child has symptoms like slowed breathing or seizures, call 911.
Can a Child Overdose on THC?
While no overdose deaths have been reported in children due to edibles, intoxication can be very frightening.
If their symptoms are serious, they might need to go to the emergency room. They may need oxygen or IV fluids to help get the THC out of their bodies.
How to Prevent Your Child From Accidentally Consuming THC
Because cannabis isn’t legal on the federal level in the United States, it’s harder to control how it’s bought and sold. For example, there are no federal rules requiring child-safe packaging for THC edibles.
In some states, like Illinois, products containing cannabis must be odor-proof and cannot show images of toys, cartoons, children, or animals.
Without federal regulation, adults who use edibles must be especially careful to keep them out of reach from children. The best approach is to store them as you would prescription medicines. Some steps you can take include:
- Keep them in a locked cabinet or other area children can’t access
- Store them in a child-proof container
- If they come in packaging that makes them look like candy or treats, repackage them in medicine bottles or similar containers
- Don’t consume edibles in front of kids
If your child is going to visit a relative or friend, ask an adult in the household whether they have marijuana products in their home and if so, how they secure them.
If your child is old enough, have a conversation with them about the snacks they consume. Make sure they know to only take food or drinks from people they trust. Tell them to always ask before they eat or drink something they find.
Children’s Hospital Colorado: “Acute Marijuana Intoxication.”
National Capital Poison Center: “My Child Ate a Cannabis Edible.”
Nationwide Children’s: “What Parents Need to Know About Edibles.”
American Academy of Pediatrics: “Edible Marijuana Dangers: How Parents Can Prevent THC Poisoning.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “Edibles and children: Poison center calls rise.”
Boston Children’s Hospital: “Cannabis edibles: Keep kids safe from adult ‘treats.’”
Missouri Poison Center: “What to Do If My Child Consumes Cannabis.”
Addiction Center: “Children Are Accidentally Consuming Marijuana Edibles.”