Newswise — As marijuana has become legal in more states across the U.S., a recent analysis has found that the drug is accidentally ending up in the hands—and mouths—of children. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has some tips for keeping kids away from cannabis.
According to figures from the National Poison Data System, between 2017 and 2021 there were more than 7,000 cases of exposure to edible cannabis in kids under 6 years old. During that five-year span, the number of incidents rose from 207 in 2017 to 3,054 in 2021—a 1,375% increase. About 1 in 4 of these children ended up hospitalized, many with severe complications such as breathing difficulties that landed them in critical care units.
The most devastating finding: In more than 90% of cases, children obtained the toxic edibles from inside the home.
What can you do to keep from adding to these statistics? We asked Colleen Kraft, MD, MBA, Attending Physician in the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, for her best five tips on how to keep cannabis products away from children. She says having a pot-free house, of course, is the only fail-safe method: “The best way to keep your kids safe from marijuana edibles is not to have them in your home.”
But if you’re going to have edibles around, Dr. Kraft says to take these precautions to make sure your children can’t get to them.
- Store them away. Dr. Kraft tells parents to treat their edible marijuana like they would medication—meaning, keep it out of kids’ reach. First, remove the edibles from their packaging and put them into child-resistant containers. Next, affix a “marijuana edibles” label onto the containers and place them into a locked cabinet.
- Buy edibles with less enticing packaging. Edibles are packaged to look like treats—gummy candies or brownies, usually—which makes them naturally appealing to children. “These products often come in ‘copycat’ packaging that looks like real candy,” Dr. Kraft says. “This is particularly dangerous for kids who are too young to read.” The doctor advises the simplest solution: Don’t buy edibles that are packaged to look like candy.
- Do not eat them in front of your kids. This is commonsense advice, but it’s worth saying. Your kids are instantly curious about anything you’re eating, especially if it appears to be candy or some other sweet treat. Since edibles can trigger their curiosity, it’s better to consume them where your kids can’t see you.
- Ask other adults to do the same. If your child visits other households where the adults consume marijuana edibles, you must have a talk with them about storing cannabis edibles safely—and they need to listen. “If family and friends use these products, they need to take the same precautions you would take,” Dr. Kraft says.
- Be alert, know the facts and respond. If your child consumes a marijuana edible, look at its wrapper to see how much tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) it contains. THC is the toxic psychoactive component in cannabis, and because of a child’s small size, “just one cookie or candy bar can lead to an overdose,” Dr. Kraft says. She explains that the body takes longer to process ingested THC than inhaled THC, so be aware that symptoms of marijuana poisoning, such as vomiting, slurred speech and breathing difficulties, may not appear until hours after the edible is consumed.
And finally ... If you believe your child has ingested edible marijuana, the first step to take is to call the poison control hotline—1-800-222-1222—to determine what to do. If your child’s symptoms are severe, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.