The dangers of marijuana edibles for kids

Today’s guest blogger is Blair Thornley, PharmD, CSPI, a certified specialist in poison information and public education coordinator at The Poison Control Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

In states where marijuana has been legal for several years, such as Washington or Colorado, poison control centers have already started to see an increase in accidental exposures in children. Now that more than half of U.S. states have legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use, the popularity of edible products such as marijuana-laced cookies, gummies and other yummy looking baked goods is on the rise – and so is the risk of accidental exposure among children.

Although marijuana has only been legalized for medical use in Pennsylvania, as parents, it’s important to know how these products are packaged, how they affect the body, and how to minimize the risk of these products getting into the wrong hands.

Marijuana edibles, often referred to simply as “edibles”, come in many different forms, and can often times be indistinguishable from regular sweets. Marijuana can be added to everything from baked goods like cookies, brownies, and cupcakes, to lollipops, chocolate bars and gummy candies. In states where recreational use is legal, there are even certain sodas and lemonades that contain marijuana. All of these dosage forms look especially appealing to a child, who would not think twice about eating several cookies or brownies in one sitting.

In fact, this is one of the biggest issues surrounding these kinds of edibles, because each cookie or gummy will often contain several times the recommended adult dose of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical in marijuana that causes the high. Adults are generally instructed that a “dose” is a bite of a cookie, or half of a gummy bear, but an unsuspecting child likely would not stop at just one bite, or even one gummy bear. If a child were to eat a handful of gummies or a whole brownie, they could end up in the emergency room with serious toxicity, including: dizziness, paranoia, weakness, slurred speech, altered perception, anxiety, difficulty breathing, or even heart problems.

Another factor contributing to the safety concerns of edibles is the time it takes to feel the effects. When marijuana is smoked, you feel the effects within 30 min. When it is ingested, however, it can take up to two hours before there is any onset of symptoms. This mostly becomes a problem with teenagers who may be starting to experiment, and don’t realize that the effects are delayed, but it can also be a problem for recognizing toxicity in young kids who may have come across something accidentally.  

So how do we prevent our kids from getting into these tasty-looking, but potentially toxic treats? In states where marijuana is legal, such as Oregon, Alaska, Washington and Colorado, there are laws that require products containing marijuana to have clear labeling with standardized serving sizes, as well as child-resistant packaging. However, these new regulations aren’t always enough. We recommend the following strategies:

  • Edible marijuana products need to be stored as you would medications and other potentially toxic substances. Keep them in their original packaging, and store them in locked containers.
  • Do not eat marijuana edibles in front of your children, for either medical or recreational purposes. Kids will want to mimic your behavior
  • Talk to anyone your child spends times time with about whether or not they use edibles. If they do, make sure they also store them properly.

No matter how many precautions you take, however, some children are just that determined to eat what they can’t have. Don’t ever hesitate to call us here at the Philadelphia Poison Control center at 1-800-222-1222, where a specially trained pharmacist or nurse will be happy to answer your questions.


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