The number of children, especially younger ones, who accidentally ate marijuana candy has risen sharply over five years as cannabis became legal in more places in the United States, according to a study published Tuesday.
More than 7,000 confirmed cases of children under the age of 6 consuming marijuana candy were reported to the country’s poison control centers between 2017 and 2021, rising from about 200 to more than 3,000 per year.
Nearly a quarter of the children ended up hospitalized, some seriously ill, according to a new analysis in the journal Pediatrics.
And those are just the reported cases, said Dr. Marit Tweet, a medical toxicologist at the Southern Illinois School of Medicine, who led the study.
Cases of children eating marijuana products like candy, chocolate, and cookies have coincided as more states allow medical and recreational use of cannabis. Currently, 37 states in the United States allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes and 21 regulate its recreational use for adults.
Tweet called for increased parental vigilance and more laws to make marijuana products, often packaged to look like candy and snacks, less attractive and accessible to children.
From more than 7,000 reports, the researchers were able to trace the results of nearly 5,000 cases. They found that almost 600 children (8%) were admitted to intensive care units, most of the time with depressed breathing or even in a coma. Nearly 15% were admitted to non-critical care units and more than a third were seen in emergency rooms. The most common symptoms were drowsiness, breathing problems, rapid heart rate, and vomiting.
The results are not surprising, said Dr. Brian Schultz, a pediatric emergency physician at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. He previously worked at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC, where he and his colleagues treated children who had used marijuana almost daily.
Reports and hospitalizations increased during the last two years of the study, during the COVID-19 pandemic. More kids were home, with more opportunities to find treats, Tweet said. With the more widespread legalization of marijuana, parents may have felt less stigma about seeking help, she added.
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