Kids Eating More Cannabis, Says Illinois Poison Center

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A 6-year-old boy was taken the emergency room after appearing argic and cold. He had eaten several biscuits containing adult quantities of THC the ingredient in marijuana that induces a – given to him by his babysitter while his parents were at work. The boy stayed in the hospital overnight before making a full recovery.

This is just one 244 incidents involving children aged 5 and under eating cannabis edibles reported to the Illinois Poison Center in 2023. Since marijuana was legalized in the state 2020, such instances have risen sharply. Before legalization, only 37 cases were reported in 2019. The figure more than tripled to reach 147 in 2020 when licensed cannabis edibles became widely available, increased to 206 by 2021, slightly decreased to 184 by end of 2022 and then escalated to mark a new high at 244 by end of year-end-2023.


Growing Worries Among Experts

Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple from the State Medical Cannabis Advisory Board strongly encourages medical use of marijuana but also sternly warns against its unsupervised consumption by children. Mendoza Temple recounted her own experience as a child when she accidentally ate her mom’s medication, pushing her mother into inducing vomiting immediately. She highlights that it is absolutely critical for adults do not leave cannabis edibles easily accessible especially considering they can be visually attractive for kids.


Noteworthy Cases

Last year’s poison center reports included increasing instances where drugs ended up with unintended consumers. In one instance, an unresponsive child whose visiting grandparents could not find their baggie filled with eight medicinal cannabis gummies resulted in hospitalization after testing positive for THC through urine test but completely recovered shortly. In another severe case, a 3-year-old kid was hospitalized with seizures after consuming cannabis gummies that his mother had kept on her purse from a wedding function.


Legal and Safety Factors

In Illinois it’s illegal for weed use to be the sole or primary reason for parents losing their parental rights unless their behavior poses an “undue risk” to youngsters. When settling divorces, for example, court judges may bring into consideration cannabis consumption or minor access to weed among other aspects.

Cannabis industry professionals queried by the reports know of no instances where parents were criminally accused due to kids ingesting marijuana but one case in Ohio saw father accused with child endangerment, after his 5-year-old child consumed a THC gummy and was rushed to a medical facility with overdose symptoms.


Cross-country Trends and Risks

Cross-country, exposure rates for children aged 5 and under skyrocketed by 1,375% from 2017- 2021 manifesting as increased number of hospitalizations. Cannabis exposure incidents flagged with the Illinois Poison Center more than doubled from 505 in 2019 to 1,045 in year-end-2023. Above one-third of these incidents included youngsters aged between six and19 years old.

A new risk has surfaced in recent years, an influx of hemp derived pot imitations such as synthesized delta8 THC and delta10 versions contrary to original delta9 THC. Though hemp – defined as cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC was legalized federally in the year of 2018 with the legislative intent that it is non-intoxicating, manufacturers have found ways to extract intoxicating cannabinoids from hemp.


Regulatory Gaps and Suggestions

Last year, 27 out of 40 instances where the size of the package was recorded exceeded 100 milligrams of THC, the authorized limit for certified cannabis. This suggests these were possibly procured from unregulated smoke shops and gas stations selling hemp products.

The inability of Illinois lawmakers to either control or ban these products resulted in no action whatsoever. Certified cannabis undergoes mandatory testing and labeling and is meant solely for those aged 21 and over whereas hemp items continue to be unregulated with no legal age restriction. A few companies voluntarily impose age bans and testing.

However, despite precautions exposures do occur utilizing certified as well as uncertified products as per Dr. Michael Wahl Medicine Director at the poison center, he suggests that adults handle edibles with care – stowing them securely out of sight and reach from kids maintain them away from kitchen stored not in common containers but childproof packaging.


Possible Health Impact on Minors

About one-third out of 3,358 cases reported to US poison centers for delta8 THC exposures in year-end-2022 were children under five years old while another quarter were individuals between 6-19 years old. The bulk consisted mostly of young adults. These numbers are a significant cause of concern among healthcare officials despite not matching up against the opioid crisis statistics which saw over 15,000 non-fatal exposures being reported in Illinois during year-end-2022 with over 3,000 opioid related deaths registered statewide that same year compared to nil death reports due to cannabis via the poison center.

Gentler symptoms linked with cannabis include dry mouth red eyes accelerated appetite while graver symptoms may range from paranoia boosted pulse elevated blood pressure disorientation hallucinations poor coordination. Mostly numerous kids experience CNS depression varying between drowsiness multiple times comatose conditions.


Treatment Measures

Common treatments comprise rest monitoring intravenous fluids eating. It’s rare but some cases require oxygen therapy occasionally along with intubation. Monitoring of breathing, seizures and vomiting is critical. Be it hemp or regular cannabis Wahl mentioned, “There isn’t any antidote so (if conditions are less serious) it’s a matter of waiting till the body metabolizes it and resumes normal status.”


The final word

Cannabis edibles are usually desirable to youngsters because they’re sweet or savory. These products can have serious, even life-threatening, side effects for kids consume them. Hence, parents and caregivers must take care and put such items beyond children’s reach, to avoid unplanned intake and possible health threats.

Celina Brooks

Celina Brooks from Mussoorie is a Writer & Researcher. She earned her Engineering degree in IT from Rutgers University. She is a technology enthusiast but loves writing and talking about local news as well. She is a jolly person with 2 children.

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