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Update: Disturbing Increase in Children Confusing Marijuana Edibles for Candy

More and more children each year are mistakenly digesting edible cannabis products, causing serious health problems and thousands of hospitalizations, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

An AAP report published in January 2023 found a significant increase of children-related toxicity cases linked to edible cannabis, with more than 7,000 cases from 2017 to 2021, representing a 1375 percent increase over five years. AAP tracked the outcomes of approximately 5,000 cases, some children admitted to critical care units with breathing problems, elevated heart rates, and vomiting; others reported comas.

Edible cannabis or “edibles” often contain THC, tetrahydrocannabinol which causes a “high.” These products are often packaged with appealing, kid-friendly branding and children often mistake these products for candy. Pediatrician Dr. Colleen Kraft told healthline, “These products often come in ‘copycat’ packaging that looks like the real candy, leading to unintentional THC poisoning if kids eat them.

Beyond THC exposure, children may be at risk of ingesting several other harmful contaminants as these products have not been approved for consumption by the FDA.

Of the thousands of cases reported to the National Poison Data System, more than 90% of the children were exposed to edibles at home. Local news outlets continue to warn parents and guardians of this issue:

  • As New York opens licensed recreational marijuana outlets, public health advocates are urging increased scrutiny on how these products are being marketed to children.

  • The Blue Ridge Poison Center in Virginia received more than 70 calls related to children unintentionally consuming edible marijuana products in 2022 – nearly tripling from 26 in 2021. According to UVA Health, 68% of those calls made last year involved children 5 years old and younger, with most of them requiring hospitalization.

  • In Arizona, the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center received around 300 calls last year from people in Maricopa County, an increase of about 50 calls from the year prior.

  • One county in Illinois reported more than 124 hospitalizations - the most common age range being between two and three years old in 2021.

  • The city of St. Louis, Missouri issued a health advisory, encouraging marijuana users to keep products away from children and pets.

  • A local Wisconsin physician described his experiences treating children exposed to cannabis and reiterated the importance of keeping products in a secure location away from children, saying, “one thing that everybody can agree on is small children do not do well with exposures…it really is poisonous to small children.” Last year, the state Wisconsin Poison Center consulted on 145 exposures to delta-8 THC products. Forty-seven of those involved kids less than 12 years old. Wisconsin retailers support stronger regulations to protect kids.

  • Several Mary G Montgomery students consumed THC-laced copycat candy and were hospitalized in Alabama.

  • The Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston recently said they were “averaging about one child per week” being treated for cannabis poisoning and at least one other hospital in Lowcountry is seeing higher rates of kids getting sick from cannabis edibles in their emergency department.

  • The North Carolina Secretary of State's Office seized nearly $170,000 worth of counterfeit snacks – treats infused with THC – using legitimate brands like Skittles, Fritos, AirHeads and Oreos. Secretary of State Elaine F. Marshall said, “This growing trend is dangerous for our communities and it’s important to raise the overall awareness of this issue with parents and all residents around North Carolina.”

  • Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers recently launched a statewide action against retailers selling mislabeled and deceptive THC-containing products, saying, “The sale of these deceptive, mislabeled, dangerous products poses a real threat of harm to Nebraskans, especially children."

  • Most recently, the Florida Commissioner uncovered 8,700+ hemp-extract packages targeting children and expressed their committed to "keeping consumers safe from products like these that can pose serious risks when ingested by children.”

The Food and Drug Administration announced that products infused with CBD, derived from cannabis or hemp, do not meet federal safety standards and require stricter regulations. The National Consumers League welcomed this news adding that, “As Congress works to develop a new regulatory pathway for CBD, it is critical that we bear in mind there’s greater urgency to address the risks posed by intoxicating cannabinoid products in the hemp market. As we’ve seen, these products pose significant risks to consumers, and must be addressed. Science should continue to guide policy discussions to ensure a safe and effective regulatory pathway.”

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