My Child Ate a Cannabis Edible

child sticking his hand inside of a candy jar

The Bottom Line

Cannabis edibles are often sweet or savory products that are naturally attractive to young children. Serious and sometimes life-threatening side effects can occur in children who consume cannabis edibles.

marijuana leaf on top of cannabis chocolate bar

The Full Story

Are edibles legal?

Although the possession, sale, and use of cannabis remains illegal on a federal level, many states have passed legislation to legalize or decriminalize (meaning it’s still illegal, but officials have decided not to prosecute for possessing small amounts for person use) recreational and medical use of cannabis products. Cannabis products, including edibles, are available for sale in many states and can also be purchased over the internet. 

 

How much THC is in edibles?

The amount of THC in edibles varies by product. Many cannabis-containing edible products contain potentially toxic amounts of the active ingredient THC. For example, a small, one-ounce bag of THC-infused Doritos®-inspired nacho cheese chips contains 600 mg THC, a dose that is poisonous for both children and adults when an entire bag is consumed.  Even when children eat smaller amounts of these products, the consumption of THC can result in unwanted and dangerous side effects.

 

Are edible ingestions on the rise in children?

While these products are meant to be used only by adults, unintentional or accidental pediatric exposures to cannabis edibles are becoming increasingly common in the United States. When children eat cannabis edibles, serious and potentially life-threatening side effects can occur.

 

Why are kids more vulnerable to cannabis ingestion?

There are several reasons why children eat cannabis edibles. Children are naturally attracted to tasty items such as candies and baked goods, which represent significant number of edible products. Cannabis edibles may be in packaging that is remarkably similar to snack foods that are popular among children and adolescents, including Doritos®, Nerds®, and Cheetos®. Cannabis edible packages are sometimes colorful and may feature appealing images of cartoon characters. While the packaging does state that the product inside contains cannabis or THC, this information is often in small print and cannot be easily read or understood by young children.

 

Why aren’t edibles in child-resistant packaging?

Many people wonder why there are not stronger requirements to make cannabis edible packaging less appealing to children. Since cannabis is illegal on the federal level, there are no federal regulations relating to cannabis edible packaging. There is also no federal government enforcement of how cannabis edibles are packaged. Product labels may be inaccurate or confusing. Laws regarding the packaging and labeling of cannabis products vary from state to state, but generally include a requirement for child-resistant packaging. In Illinois, cannabis product packaging must also be odor-proof, cannot include images of cartoons, toys, animals, or children, and must not contain information that is false or misleading. Alaska does not allow cannabis product packaging to contain markings, color, or patterns that are similar to widely distributed branded food products. Unfortunately, cannabis sellers may not always follow these laws. In one 2017 study, investigators evaluated 20 cannabis-containing edible products purchased at dispensaries in California. None of the products met all of the state’s requirements for cannabis packaging and labeling, and most were compliant with less than half of published California regulations. 

 

What happens if a child eats an edible containing THC?

Common clinical effects that occur in children after ingestion of cannabis-containing edibles include vomiting, dizziness, difficulty walking, a rapid heart rate, drowsiness, confusion, and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, hallucinations, an abnormally slow heart rate, and low blood pressure may occur. Recent published medical literature suggests that younger children (especially those less than 10 years of age) who are exposed to cannabis edibles are more likely to require hospital admission and respiratory support than older children. The signs and symptoms of cannabis poisoning in children may last for hours, and some patients with severe symptoms may require admission to the Intensive Care Unit for careful monitoring.

Young children, who are especially susceptible to the adverse effects of cannabis, are often affected by poisoning from cannabis edibles. In one study of poison center data, teenagers and young children (less than 5 years of age) were the most common age groups affected by cannabis edible exposures. Because young children are likely to require medical attention after unintentional consumption of cannabis edibles, parents or caregivers should contact poison control immediately for expert advice if a child eats cannabis edibles. Parents and caregivers should call poison control regardless of whether symptoms are present because signs and symptoms may not occur immediately after consumption. This is because after consumption of cannabis, the signs and symptoms of intoxication occur more slowly and less predictably than after cannabis inhalation. 

 

What should I do if I think my child has ingested marijuana or THC?

For questions about adverse or unwanted effects that occur after use of cannabis-containing edibles, contact poison control for expert advice. There are two ways to contact poison control in the United States: online at www.poison.org or by calling 1-800-222-1222. Both options are free, confidential, and available 24 hours a day.


Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD
Medical Toxicologist

Poisoned?

Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • Keep all cannabis products away from children.
  • Do use cannabis products that look like common branded food items.
  • Do not use cannabis products around children.

This Really Happened

A 2-year-old boy became unusually sleepy and lethargic after a playdate. His mother took him to a hospital, where he began to have seizures. Doctors placed a breathing tube, and the boy was transferred to a larger Children’s hospital where tests showed that he had THC in his system. His mother later realized that her toddler had ingested her cannabis gummies that contained 75 milligrams of THC. After a 36-hour hospitalization, the boy fortunately made a full recovery.

For More Information

Marijuana and Public Health: Poisoning (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Parent Shares Warning After 2-Year-Old Consumes Edible Marijuana Candy (NBC4 Washington)

Medicated Doritos Chips (OC 420 Collection)


References

Cao D, Srisuma S, Bronstein AC, Hoyte CO. Characterization of edible marijuana product exposures reported to United States poison centers. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2016 Nov;54(9):840-846. 

Gourdet C, Giombi KC, Kosa K, Wiley J, Cates S. How four U.S. states are regulating recreational marijuana edibles. Int J Drug Policy. 2017 May;43:83-90.

Heizer JW, Borgelt LM, Bashqoy F, Wang GS, Reiter PD. Marijuana Misadventures in Children: Exploration of a Dose-Response Relationship and Summary of Clinical Effects and Outcomes. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2018 Jul;34(7):457-462.

Illinois General Assembly. Sec. 55-21. Cannabis product packaging and labeling. Accessed 4.21.22.

Kaczor EE, Mathews B, LaBarge K, Chapman BP, Carreiro S. Cannabis Product Ingestions in Pediatric Patients: Ranges of Exposure, Effects, and Outcomes. J Med Toxicol. 2021 Oct;17(4):386-396. 

Richards JR, Smith NE, Moulin AK. Unintentional Cannabis Ingestion in Children: A Systematic Review. J Pediatr. 2017 Nov;190:142-152.

The Great State of Alaska. Alcohol & Marijuana Control Office: 3 AAC 306- Regulations. Accessed 4.12.22.

Tsutaoka B, Araya-Rodríguez G, Durrani T. Edible Marijuana Labeling and Packaging. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2018 Feb;57(2):227-230.

Wang GS, Le Lait MC, Deakyne SJ, Bronstein AC, Bajaj L, Roosevelt G. Unintentional Pediatric Exposures to Marijuana in Colorado, 2009-2015. JAMA Pediatr. 2016 Sep 6;170(9):e160971.

 

Poisoned?

Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • Keep all cannabis products away from children.
  • Do use cannabis products that look like common branded food items.
  • Do not use cannabis products around children.

This Really Happened

A 2-year-old boy became unusually sleepy and lethargic after a playdate. His mother took him to a hospital, where he began to have seizures. Doctors placed a breathing tube, and the boy was transferred to a larger Children’s hospital where tests showed that he had THC in his system. His mother later realized that her toddler had ingested her cannabis gummies that contained 75 milligrams of THC. After a 36-hour hospitalization, the boy fortunately made a full recovery.