If you’re a parent or person who lives with children and enjoys incorporating cannabis into your wellness routine, THC-infused edibles like gummies or brownies can be a great way to consume THC without the negative health effects associated with inhalation.
Unfortunately, those infused edibles can look like run-of-the-mill confections to children, and they might be tempted to snag a sweet treat without knowing the consequences.
So, what should you do if your kid accidentally eats an edible?
If your child is experiencing symptoms as a result of accidentally consuming an edible, immediately seek medical help. Call your local emergency services number or take your child to the nearest emergency room. If possible, try to figure out how much THC the child likely consumed and when.
Children are affected differently than adults by THC. The high-level dose that kids might accidentally consume by eating gummies, for example, can be nerve-wracking at best and result in hospitalization at worst.
“Children are more susceptible to adverse effects because they are smaller so the doses are more impactful and their symptoms may be more severe than adults,” according to Dr. Sarah Ann Anderson, who specializes in pediatrics and adolescent medicine at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center.
Common symptoms to look out for include “changes in speech, like slurring or slowed speech, slower movements, paranoia, heightened anxiety, and in most severe cases seizures and coma,” Anderson adds.
According to one 2016 study, children are also more likely than adults or teens to experience drowsiness or lethargy after consuming too much THC.
The good news about cannabis is that there hasn’t been a single recorded death resulting from a THC overdose, and your main challenge when caring for a child who has accidentally consumed THC is to keep the child calm and monitor their symptoms until professional help can arrive.
To emphasize: the first step in caring for a child who has accidentally consumed THC is to call your local emergency services number or transport the child to the nearest emergency room.
In addition to the symptoms described above, children experiencing an acute, high-level dose of THC are likely feeling disoriented, nauseous, cold, or anxious — all in a similar similar symptoms expressed in a more intense manner than those adults might experience when “greening out” from too much THC.
While waiting for professional medical help, encourage the child to relax and stay hydrated. (Be sure to keep yourself calm as well.)
Once medical help has arrived, they will most likely engage in common therapies for THC overdose such as administering IV fluids or benzodiazepines. In rare cases, the child might need to be intubated to aid with cardiovascular functions, as THC overdoses can impair the child’s ability to breath.
According to one study examining edible cannabis exposure among children under six years of age across the United States between 2017 and 2021, there were a total of 7043 cases of cannabis exposure and a clear trend showing an increase in exposures during the study period.
The researchers behind the study state that this trend is at least partially the result of more states having legalized adult recreational cannabis use. Another major factor is the prevalence of THC edible packaging that looks like regular candy to children.
“They think it looks like candy, and maybe, they just want to eat it,” Marit Tweet, the study’s lead author, told NPR.
“Unlike with tobacco or alcohol products, there are no nationwide laws regarding how cannabis products are packaged. Products continue to be offered in brightly colored, enticing packaging that is identical in style to how candy and snack products are marketed,” the study states.
The solution? To start, the study recommends taming packaging and making containers childproof.
“Not only should cannabis products be placed in child-resistant packaging, but they should be in opaque packages with simple labels. In addition, there should be clear warning labels on the product cautioning against excessive use, and the national poison center phone number should be included on the package,” the study says, adding that California has implemented laws to begin controlling these factors.
Importantly, the study reported that 97.7% of the exposure incidents occurred in a residential setting, and only about a quarter of the incidents covered by the study resulted in hospitalization. The study also found that the younger children were more at risk, with 2 and 3-year olds facing the greatest danger because “they are capable of opening containers and climbing to high spaces to access items of interest.”
If you consume cannabis and live with children, you have a part to play in keeping that number of children accidentally exposed to THC-infused edibles down. Providing accessible, comfortable cannabis education and engaging in responsible storage are two cornerstones of that role.
Education is often the best way to prevent any kind of medical event from occurring, and the conversations parents have with their children about cannabis can play an important role in preventing children from accidentally consuming THC.
Jointly recommends engaging in a low-stress, positive, and informative conversation about cannabis with your children and suggests using these tips. It’s also important that you, as a role model, have a good understanding of how cannabis works and the potential risks associated with consumption.
Regardless of how educated a child might be about cannabis, it is still the responsibility of adults living with children to prevent them from accidentally consuming THC edibles kept around the home.
The best step you can take to keep your THC products away from your children is keeping those products in a designated spot away from other food products and out of the kids’ reach — ideally in a locked container.
If the children in your life are old enough to read, an extra preventative measure could be to use extremely clear labeling to make it obvious which gummies are adults-only. This is especially important if you’re making THC edibles at home, and works best when combined with education about the potential dangers of consuming cannabis as a child.
If you’re keeping THC-infused edibles in the home, it’s also smart to keep an eye out for any signs that your child might have accidentally consumed THC and make a plan in case they do.
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