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What to Do if Your Child Eats a Marijuana Edible

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 31, 2022

Many marijuana edibles come as sweet or savory snacks that look just like regular candy, chips, or cookies. It's easy for a child to mistake them for ordinary foods. But these products aren’t safe for children. If your child eats a THC edible, they could get very sick. They might even need to go to the hospital.

Marijuana can be infused into almost anything, including:

  • Chocolate bars
  • Gummy candies
  • Cookies
  • Chips
  • Juices

These products tend to be things children like to eat and drink. If you use edibles, always keep them in a secure place where kids can't get into them.

What Is THC?

Marijuana comes from the Cannabis sativa plant. Its active ingredient is a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This is the chemical that causes you to feel “high.” It can also be used medically to treat conditions like seizures and chronic pain.

But it poses both short- and long-term dangers for children and teens. Young brains are changing and developing. Exposure to THC during this time can lead to problems with nerve connections that can affect memory and IQ and lead to a higher risk of substance misuse later in life.

One reason weed edibles are so risky is that they may contain very high levels of THC, even for adults. Many contain 10-15 milligrams or more of THC, while the recommended dose for an adult inexperienced with edibles is 2.5-5 milligrams.

Portion size can also be confusing. A 50-gram chocolate bar might contain 100 milligrams of THC, which translates to 10 doses for an adult experienced with using edibles. An adult would likely eat just a portion of the candy. But a child could easily eat a whole bar.

How Often Do Children Accidentally Consume THC Edibles?

Since marijuana has become legal in more states, more children are being exposed to the drug. One study looked at phone calls to poison centers about marijuana exposure in children between 2017 and 2019.

About half of the 4,172 calls involved THC edibles. Throughout the 2 years, the number of calls went up. And childhood exposures were twice as common in states that had legalized marijuana. The calls most often involved children ages 3-5.

Other research found that children under age 10 who consumed edibles were more likely to require hospitalization than older kids.

What Happens if a Child Eats Edibles?

If your kid consumes an edible or drink containing THC, they might experience the effects of marijuana intoxication or THC poisoning. Symptoms may include:

  • Intoxication
  • Changed perception
  • Slurred speech
  • A fast heart rate
  • Intense sleepiness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Paranoia, anxiety, or panic
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Poor coordination
  • Seizures

In serious cases, your child could hallucinate, develop low blood pressure, or have a slow heart rate. Rarely, they could go into a coma.

How Long Does an Edible Last in a Child?

While smoking marijuana produces a high in just a few minutes, it often takes 30 minutes to an hour for a THC edible to take effect. And it can take 3-4 hours to reach the full effects.

Your child’s symptoms may differ based on their height and weight, just like medications affect people differently based on their size.

What to Do If Your Child Consumes an Edible

If you think your child may have consumed an edible or drink containing THC, call the poison control center hotline at 800-222-1222 right away. Your child needs immediate help, even if they’re not showing any symptoms. It might take some time for the effects to show up.

Try to identify what type of edible they had and how much they consumed. You may need to figure out how much was in the package and how much is gone.

The 24-hour hotline will connect you to a local poison control center, where a trained representative can explain what you need to do. You can also contact them online. The calls and texts are anonymous.

If your child has symptoms like slowed breathing or seizures, call 911.

Can a Child Overdose on THC?

While no overdose deaths have been reported in children due to edibles, intoxication can be very frightening.

If their symptoms are serious, they might need to go to the emergency room. They may need oxygen or IV fluids to help get the THC out of their bodies.

How to Prevent Your Child From Accidentally Consuming THC

Because cannabis isn’t legal on the federal level in the United States, it’s harder to control how it’s bought and sold. For example, there are no federal rules requiring child-safe packaging for THC edibles.

In some states, like Illinois, products containing cannabis must be odor-proof and cannot show images of toys, cartoons, children, or animals.

Without federal regulation, adults who use edibles must be especially careful to keep them out of reach from children. The best approach is to store them as you would prescription medicines. Some steps you can take include:

  • Keep them in a locked cabinet or other area children can’t access
  • Store them in a child-proof container
  • If they come in packaging that makes them look like candy or treats, repackage them in medicine bottles or similar containers
  • Don't consume edibles in front of kids

If your child is going to visit a relative or friend, ask an adult in the household whether they have marijuana products in their home and if so, how they secure them.

If your child is old enough, have a conversation with them about the snacks they consume. Make sure they know to only take food or drinks from people they trust. Tell them to always ask before they eat or drink something they find.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Children’s Hospital Colorado: “Acute Marijuana Intoxication.”

National Capital Poison Center: “My Child Ate a Cannabis Edible.”

CDC: “Poisoning.”

Nationwide Children’s: “What Parents Need to Know About Edibles.”

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Edible Marijuana Dangers: How Parents Can Prevent THC Poisoning.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Edibles and children: Poison center calls rise.”

Boston Children’s Hospital: “Cannabis edibles: Keep kids safe from adult ‘treats.’”

Missouri Poison Center: "What to Do If My Child Consumes Cannabis."

Addiction Center: "Children Are Accidentally Consuming Marijuana Edibles."

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