Marijuana edibles have been in the news and on TikTok feeds lately. They are widely available in many U.S. states, and as the name implies, edibles can look very tempting to a young child. However, they can cause children to get very sick.
Every year the National Poison Data System (NPDS) highlights trends of public health importance. In 2021, a concerning trend was noted in an analysis of more than 20,000 poisoning exposures to marijuana edibles that were reported nationally. It showed that children ages 5 and under represented the largest age group with such poisoning exposures (nearly 36%). This trend has continued to rise.
For these reasons, we’d like to remind parents what they need to know about marijuana edibles. As a fellow parent, I think it’s critical to understand four main points about these products:
- The way they look
- The amount of drug they contain
- How the drug is absorbed in the body
- The availability of the edibles
Here are four facts you should know as marijuana products continue to become more available in Ohio and around the U.S.:
1. Marijuana food products can look just like regular foods.
In Ohio, packaging of marijuana edibles is prohibited from being attractive to children. But edibles may be obtained from many sources outside of Ohio that can look very similar to common foods or snacks that are in most homes. Even if the packaging isn’t attractive to kids, once opened, the product can resemble chips, candy, cookies, brownies or gummies. Having these look-alike products in the home increases the risk of kids accidentally being exposed to marijuana.
Any products like this kept in the home should be treated like alcohol—stored away from the reach of kids in a locked cabinet.
2. Amount of drug and serving size matters.
Marijuana edibles often contain much higher amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychoactive component we associate with marijuana use. One entire piece of candy or cookie may contain 5-6 servings, which could result in an unintentional overdose.
THC can cause lethargy, slow down the breathing, affect the heart rate and even cause coma.
3. Absorption and timing of drug effect make a difference.
Another concern is the way marijuana is absorbed into the body when it is ingested. When marijuana edibles are ingested, the psychotropic effects of the drug are delayed for 30-90 minutes afterward. The maximum or peak effect of the drug is not reached until 2-3 hours after ingestion, and the effects last on average from 4-12 hours. Someone experimenting with marijuana edibles might not feel the effects as quickly as expected. That could cause the user to eat more of the edible which may lead to overdose.
4. Edibles are readily available.
The availability of edible products in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana is widespread. Our poison control center experience tells us that problems arise when these products are removed from their original packaging or kept within sight of children.
These four factors of marijuana edibles—packaging, drug amount, absorption rate and availability—can all contribute to accidental exposure in young children.
The chance for accidental ingestion of marijuana edibles by kids is very real. It is important for parents to understand the potential dangers so we can help keep our kids as safe as possible.
Becoming educated about issues like this helps me start conversations with my kids so I can guide them in making good choices as they grow up. I hope it helps you do the same.