Edible Pot Is Sending Colorado Kids To Emergency Rooms In Record Numbers

Edible marijuana is sending Colorado kids to emergency rooms in alarming numbers, thanks largely to parents not keeping their stashes out of reach of kids, as well as attractive packaging that makes kids think they're getting into candy, KWTV (Oklahoma City) is reporting.

Back in 2014, Colorado legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Before that time, the number of kids admitted to emergency rooms in the Centennial State each year averaged about 1.2 per 100,000; now that number has nearly doubled, to 2.3 per 100,000.

The problem is marijuana-infused food products (called "edibles" in the industry), explains Dr. Zane Horowitz, medical director of the Oregon Poison Center at Oregon Health & Science University.

"Before, when marijuana came in leaf form and was rolled into cigarettes or joints, children didn't really eat those things. But when you have cookies and brownies and gummy bears, and tomato sauce and everything else made from marijuana derivatives, it looks just like food but it's laced with a drug that can create a very scary experience for a 2-year-old."

The vast majority of pot edibles are fashioned to resemble candy or other sweet treats: brownies, gummy candies, lollipops, chocolate bars, and the like, says Dr. Genie Roosevelt, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist with the Denver Health and Hospital Authority.

"Edible marijuana products look very much like a regular food product, and so they're very attractive to kids because it's candy and baked goods, and also very palatable."

There are a couple of problems with this situation.

First, even adults don't always understand edibles when it comes to dosing, according to a 2014 report in the Cannabist. An entire chocolate bar, cookie, or brownie may have enough THC (the psychoactive component in marijuana) for multiple doses and is not intended to be eaten all at once. Adults who have consumed too much edible pot have found themselves having heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, intense paranoia, and other undesirable effects. However, it is impossible to fatally overdose on marijuana, and the effects dissipate over time.

Second, kids' bodies metabolize foods differently than adults do. So while an adult who eats too much pot is probably in for a rough few hours, at worst, for kids the situation is much worse, says. Dr. Roosevelt.

"We have seen some very sick children who have been put on a ventilator and admitted to the ICU. It sedates them so much that it interferes with their ability to breathe."

Colorado marijuana edibles kids.
Some Colorado kids have gotten into adults' marijuana edibles and wound up in the ICU. [Image via Aryut Tantisoontornchai/Shutterstock]

The problem can be mitigated by adults being responsible with their stashes and keeping them where kids can't get to them, says Dr. Roosevelt.

"Lock your stash away. Lock your medicines away. Lock your liquor away. Lock your rat poison away. You have to make your house child-proof. I can't imagine that any parent, even if they're a cannabis proponent, would think it's a bad idea to protect their child from inadvertent exposure."

Colorado law requires marijuana edibles to be packaged in child-proof packaging, but kids have shown to be resourceful and can often figure out how to get around that.

Roosevelt would like to see pot manufacturers make edibles look less like candy and other treats and, thus, less attractive to children. Further, Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), would like to see pot edibles packaged in single-serving sizes, so both adults and kids wouldn't have the chance to eat too much.

The findings showing the increase of kids in Colorado emergency rooms due to accidental ingestion of marijuana were published on July 25 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.

[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]