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Medical Marijuana Poisoning in Kids Safe Storage Can Prevent Childhood Poisonings

The Bottom Line

Medical marijuana is sometimes prescribed for patients with HIV/AIDS, seizure disorders, cancer, severe pain, and severe nausea. The active chemical is usually stronger than in the marijuana plant. There are no regulations for child-safe storage of medical marijuana products; young children have been seriously poisoned by swallowing medical marijuana.

The Full Story

The debate over whether medical marijuana should be legal has been intense. Today, many states, plus the District of Columbia, have made medical marijuana legal. Patients who are legally allowed to use medical marijuana in these states must have one or more specific medical conditions. Examples include cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, seizure disorders, severe pain, and severe nausea.

Where state law allows, patients become registered users and can legally obtain medical marijuana from places called dispensaries. In some states, patients are instead allowed to grow a certain amount of marijuana for their own use.

There are a few ways of taking prescribed medical marijuana:

  • As a pill or liquid.
  • By smoking marijuana plant material.
  • By heating plant material and inhaling the vapors
  • By eating baked goods or drinking liquids that include marijuana.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law - for medical use or any other reason. However, the federal government does not typically take legal action against users and suppliers of medical marijuana as long as they are following the laws of their own state.

Legal or illegal, if there's marijuana in a household, small children can get to it. Kids are always curious, super-fast, and like to imitate adults. Until recently, it was rare for children to have major symptoms from swallowing marijuana. It might be that they didn't swallow much and so didn't get very sick. This has changed with medical marijuana.

First, the active chemical in the marijuana plant (tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short) is often higher in medical marijuana products than in the marijuana plant or dried marijuana. Second, medical marijuana can be found in cookies, brownies, soft drinks, and candy. These items don't have warning labels that would remind adults to keep these medicines out of reach.

Researchers in Colorado recently reported an increase in the number of children brought to the emergency room after swallowing medical marijuana products. The children ranged in age from as young as 8 months to 12 years old. Most of the children ate medical marijuana cakes, cookies or candies belonging to their grandparents, parents, babysitters, or friends of the family.

The most common symptoms were excessive sleepiness, dizziness, and trouble walking. However, a few became too sleepy and their breathing slowed down. That could mean the child doesn't get enough oxygen. Fortunately, none of these children died. They all recovered without permanent health problems.

Legal medical marijuana is fairly new. We can't yet predict all of the unexpected effects. For now, we know that there is a risk to children. At this time, there are no regulations for child-resistant packaging of medical marijuana products. There are no requirements for warning labels, either.

If you or someone you know has medical marijuana at home, make sure it is in a locked up, away from children or pets. If your child swallows a marijuana product - legal or illegal - use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for guidance or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. Whether you go on line or call, you will be able to determine if you need treatment. All your information is kept private.

Take Home Message:

  • Medical marijuana is sometimes prescribed for patients with HIV/AIDS, seizure disorders, cancer, severe pain, and severe nausea, among other conditions.
  • The active chemical in medical marijuana is usually stronger than in the marijuana plant.
  • Medical marijuana may be taken as a pill or liquid, smoked, heated and inhaled, or eaten in cookies, brownies, cakes, soft drinks and candies.
  • Today, there are no regulations for safe storage of medical marijuana products, such as child-resistant packages or warning labels.
  • Young children have been poisoned by swallowing medical marijuana. Some have needed treatment in an intensive care unit.

Serkalem Mekonnen, RN, BSN, MPH
Certified Specialist in Poison Information


For More Information

Marijuana, The Poison Post ®


References

National Conference of State Legislatures. [Internet]. Denver: National Conference of State Legislators; c 2014. State medical marijuana laws; 2014 [cited 2014 Jul 5] [about 7 screens].

Wang, S.G., Roosevelt, G. & Heard, K. (2013). Pediatric marijuana exposures in a medical marijuana state. JAMA Pediatrics, 167 (7), 630-633.

Poisoned?

Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • Medical marijuana must be locked out of sight and reach of children (and pets).
  • Call Poison Control immediately if a child swallows medical marijuana. Calls are confidential: 1-800-222-1222.

This Really Happened

A 3-year-old child in Colorado ate a cookie made with his grandfather's medical marijuana. He became very sleepy and was taken to an emergency room. Several blood tests and other medical procedures were performed; a urine test showed the presence of marijuana. The child was admitted to the intensive care unit for observation and treatment.