More than 40% of human poison exposure calls to US poison centers in 2020 were about children who'd accidentally been exposed to cannabis, according to a new study, which shows an alarming rise in accidental ingestion of edibles in particular. The number of children under 6 who accidentally ate a cannabis edible rose a whopping 1,375% from 2017 to 2021. There were 207 reported cases in 2017, compared to 2,209 in 2020 and 3,054 in 2021, according to the study published Tuesday in Pediatrics, which analyzed data from the 55 poison centers across the country. "Honestly, we knew it was increasing ... [but] when we looked at the data nationwide, we were definitely surprised," study co-author Dr. Antonia Nemanich of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, tells CNN.
She says the increase is likely tied to children spending more time at home during the pandemic. Some 97% of cases involved edibles found at home, and 53% involved children ages 2 and 3, per NBC News and the Washington Post. But medical and recreational cannabis use also expanded during the study period. Thirty states had legalized medical cannabis in 2017, compared to 40 in 2021, while eight states and the District of Columbia had legalized recreational cannabis in 2017, compared to 19 five years later. Cannabis-infused candies, chocolate and cookies may also appeal to young children, along with the packaging. They may not recognize the product as containing cannabis and may eat more than the recommended amount for adults.
Over the 7,043 cases over five years, 23% of children were admitted to hospitals, while 36% were treated and released, per the Post. Severity of toxicity increased over the study period, with heart problems, breathing issues, vomiting, and confusion commonly reported. About 8% of patients needed intensive care, while 2% or so suffered seizures. Cannabis remains much less of an issue than, say, laundry detergent packets, which were cited in 10,743 poison exposure cases in 2020 alone, per the Post. Still, Nemanich says she hopes the research will lead to changes in the industry, such as plain, opaque, child-resistant packaging. "The problem is that ... [edibles are] marketed as if they're just any other tasty treat," she tells CNN. "The regulations haven't kept pace with the increased prevalence of the product." (Read more cannabis stories.)