Guest bloggers: Laurie Mosher & Danielle Burns, Atlantic Canada Poison Centre
When cannabis became legal for sale in Canada in October 2018, the IWK Regional Poison Centre braced itself for an increase in calls about kids being exposed to the drug through homemade cannabis food products. Cookies, brownies, candy and butter made with the drug are just some of the “new” types of poison risks to kids. We expected these calls would come because they did in other places where cannabis legalization has occurred (i.e. Colorado) over the past few years.
And the calls have indeed come. In 2021, the Poison Centre recorded an 83% increase in the number of cases regarding children eating cannabis edibles—a trend that continues to increase every year since legalization.
How do young children gain access to cannabis?
Here are some examples of common scenarios where kids have accessed cannabis, consumed it and required follow up care at the hospital:
- A child found and ate a cannabis chocolate bar in the glove compartment of the car.
- A family friend was visiting, hung his coat on the back of a kitchen chair and a toddler found a cannabis sucker in the jacket pocket and ate some of it.
- A babysitter found a container of cookies up in the cupboard and not knowing they contained cannabis, shared this snack with the child in her care.
- A young child began staggering, and the mother realized that the leftover cannabis cupcake from the plate on the kitchen counter was missing.
In many of the cases we receive calls about at the Poison Centre, parents/caregivers only realize that children have consumed cannabis when the children start acting strange with symptoms.
So why is cannabis food dangerous for young children?
Cannabis in the form of food products is very toxic for children for several reasons:
- Eating cannabis can have a much stronger and prolonged effect than from smoking it. Effects from cannabis edibles can be felt an hour after ingestion, and last up to 4 hours.
- Children have smaller bodies and even a small amount of a drug like cannabis can have more significant effects than in an adult body.
What can happen if a child eats a cannabis food item?
Despite their ordinary appearance, a single cannabis cookie, brownie or bar can contain several times the recommended adult dose of the drug. It doesn’t take much for a child to experience overdose effects that range from intoxication, altered perception, anxiety, panic, paranoia and dizziness to weakness, slurred speech, poor coordination, difficulty walking with risk for head injury, apnea, breathing problems and extreme drowsiness that can lead to coma.
How can we keep kids safe from cannabis in the home?
- Keep cannabis products locked up, labelled, and away from children. We recommend keeping all cannabis products in a lock box (or locking cash box), which can be found at many hardware and stationary stores.
- Never consume cannabis products in front of children.
- Ask visitors to your home if they have cannabis or other dangerous substances with them. If so, make sure it is placed in a high or locked area of your home, away from the sight and reach of children.
- When visiting another home with your children, ask the home owners if there are cannabis or other dangerous substances that your children could access.
What should I do if my child has eaten a cannabis food product?
If you think your child has consumed a form of cannabis food, call the Atlantic Canada Poison Centre immediately. The Centre's help line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as a confidential source of information on poisons and poison exposures for people of all ages (children and adults). It is staffed by nurses and pharmacists, supported by on-call physicians, who are specialists in poison information, including medication and non-medication related inquiries. In NS and PEI call 1-800-565-8161, in NB call 811 or 911, and in NL call 1-844-POISONX.
All children who are exposed to cannabis should go to hospital for assessment. Do not wait until child feels unwell, because symptoms can be delayed and occur rapidly.