The number of American children falling sick from eating treats laced with marijuana has surged during the past five years, according to a new study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as pot becomes legal in more places across the country.
The study involved a retrospective analysis of the National Poison Data System (NPDS) of children aged less than six years who were exposed to edible cannabis products between 2017 and 2021, during which, it was found, that there were 7,043 exposures. The number of cases rose from 207 cases in 2017 to 3,025 in 2021, an increase of 1,375 percent. The vast majority of cases, nearly 98 percent of total cases, occurred in a residential setting.
Of all the reported incidents, 22.7 percent of the kids were admitted to the hospital. The researchers found a “significant increase” in both ICU and non-ICU admissions.
The number of patients who were treated and released fell during the COVID-19 years of 2020–21 when compared to pre-COVID 2017–19. Both major and moderate effects from consuming marijuana edibles were found to have “significantly increased” in the pre-pandemic years.
“There has been a consistent increase in pediatric edible cannabis exposures over the past five years, with the potential for significant toxicity. It is important for providers to be aware of this in their practice and it presents an important opportunity for education and prevention,” the study said.
According to the study, the most common symptom among kids exposed to marijuana was found to be central nervous system (CNS) depression at 70 percent, followed by tachycardia at 11.4 percent, vomiting at 9.5 percent, ataxia at 7.4 percent, agitation at 7.1 percent, confusion at 6.1 percent, and mydriasis at 5.9 percent.
Tachycardia is a condition in which the heart rate is over 100 beats a minute, while ataxia refers to poor muscle control due to which voluntary movements become clumsy. Mydriasis is the dilation of the pupil.
In 2017, edible cannabis contributed only 0.2 cases per 1,000 pediatric NPDS cases, which jumped to 3.6 cases by 2021. The study found that two-year-olds made up the largest number of patients at 27.7 percent, followed by three-year-olds at 24.6 percent.
“My biggest fear is that if they start it at a much younger age, they have a higher chance of getting addicted to it. If you smoke at an early age, you might actually drop your IQ by eight points. And this IQ is not something that can come back,” Dr. Cathy Ward from Big Apple Pediatrics, said to Fox News.
Legalization, Greater Risks for Children
Back in 2017, 30 American states, together with the District of Columbia, legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. Out of this, eight states, plus the District of Columbia, allowed recreational use by adults.
As of May 2022, 39 states, including the District of Columbia, allowed the medicinal use of marijuana. As for recreational use, 18 states, including the District of Columbia, allowed it.
A key reason why children are so affected by marijuana edibles is believed to be the fact that they tend to consume more than the recommended dose unknowingly. The edibles usually contain multiple doses in a single treat or package, with the packages typically meant to be consumed by adults.
For instance, a chocolate bar might have multiple servings. A child is less likely to know that they need to stop after taking a single bite. As they are of a smaller size, the children end up consuming a higher milligram-per-kilogram dose of marijuana, which immediately puts them at risk.
In an interview with The Washington Post, toxicologist Kevin Osterhoudt, medical director of Poison Control Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, confirmed that they have seen a surge in such cases among kids.
“For doctors that worked from the year 2000 to the year 2015, it was pretty unusual to ever see children poisoned by cannabis edibles,” he said. “And in 2015, they starting to see these cases, and now they’re just becoming more common all the time.”