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Children accidentally consuming cannabis edibles is on the rise in Minnesota

2022 saw more than three times as many pediatric (up to age 5) cannabis edible exposures in Minnesota compared to 2021. Here's what you can do to prevent your toddler from getting into the gummies.

Delta Eight Gummies
Delta Eight gummies on April 11, 2022.
Theodore Tollefson / Post Bulletin file photo
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ROCHESTER — Toddlers love to put things in their mouths. Spare change. Small toys. And gummies.

As cannabis edibles are increasingly available throughout Minnesota, more and more children are getting their hands on the sugary products. According to the Minnesota Poison Control System, there were 94 children under age 6 who were reported to have accidentally ingested edibles in 2022. That’s a 334% increase compared to 2021.

Dr. Jon Cole, medical director of the Minnesota Poison Control System, said this spike doesn’t surprise him.

“Young children explore the world by just putting things in their mouth,” said Cole, who is also a father of four. “And the risk inherently increases when something that can be a poison looks appealing or better tasting.”

Other cannabis forms, such as dried plants, have remained relatively stable in Minnesota since 2017. In 2021, there were three times as many edible exposures in this age group as dried plant exposures.

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Minnesota’s steady increase in exposures mirrors the national trend. A new study published in the Pediatrics journal finds that in 2017, there were 207 reported cases, and in 2021 there were 3,054 cases, or nearly 15 times as many cases. Almost all exposures, 98%, occurred in a residential setting.

According to the study, authored by Marit S. Tweet, Antonia Nemanich and Michael Wahl, children can experience a range of clinical effects after ingesting edibles — the most common of which is central nervous system depression.

CNS depression, which typically presents as drowsiness, and in extremely rare cases can result in a coma, was documented in seven out of 10 exposures that were followed to a known outcome. Meanwhile, this is extremely uncommon in adults, Cole said.

Other side effects noted in the study include vomiting, agitation, loss of coordination and increased heart rate. Of all reported cases involving kids under age 6, 22.7% of patients were admitted to the hospital.

Cannabis edibles can affect children in this way for two reasons, Cole said: the THC dosage size was designed to intoxicate an adult versus a 30-pound toddler, and children’s brains react differently than adults to cannabis.

“The peak problem really is in ages 1 through 3 (years),” Cole said. “That's where kids are mobile and are curious enough to put stuff into their mouths, but their brains are sufficiently susceptible, where it can be really intoxicating to them. The closer they are to kindergarten, the safer their brain will probably be.”

There have been no deaths in Minnesota from pediatric cannabis edible exposure, Cole said.

While Cole said the issue of children being accidentally exposed to cannabis is serious, he underscored that severe poisoning is rare and that exposures are easily preventable. He recommended that parents and other caregivers treat cannabis products like any other medication: Keep it high up so toddlers can’t see it or get to it, and store it safely in a medication safe box or under lock and key.

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He also recommended that adults not use cannabis products in front of children, as kids are likely to mimic adult behavior.

“If we treat cannabis products the same as health medications and pain medications, the public health risk is exceedingly low,” Cole said.

Here’s what to do if there’s a potential cannabis exposure:

  1. First check to see if the child is breathing. If they’re not, Cole says to call 911 straightaway.
  2. If the child is breathing, call Minnesota Poison Control at 800-222-1222. Similar to 911, when users dial the number they are connected with a live agent who can answer questions and triage emergency situations. All phone agents are trained experts in poisoning. It’s toll-free and completely confidential. 

Cole encouraged parents and others to call Minnesota Poison Control at any time, even if they just have questions. He also emphasized that as an organization, Minnesota Poison Control has no opinion on the legalization of cannabis or any partisan ties.
“Our job,” Cole said, “no matter what the law is currently, is to give everybody solid evidence based on health advice and to keep everyone safe."

Related Topics: HEALTHMINNESOTAMARIJUANA
Molly Castle Work is an award-winning investigative journalist. She has investigated a range of topics such as OSHA and worker safety during COVID-19, racially-disproportionate juries and white-owned newspapers' role in promoting lynchings. Readers can reach Molly at 507-285-7771 or mwork@postbulletin.com.
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