How can parents prevent children from ingesting edibles?

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Q: Marijuana is legal in our state, and I want to make sure my kids don’t take edibles. What are the best ways to prevent this?

A: Marijuana (cannabis) is now legal for medical and recreational use in many US states. This means that the availability of tempting treats containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is increasing. Unfortunately, so does the risk of accidental THC poisoning that these products present to children who obtain them.

Marijuana in all its forms can be dangerous for children and teens, both short-term and long-term. This is why it is important for parents to understand the amount of THC in edibles and how THC is absorbed by the body. Parents also need to know how to keep children safe.

Marijuana edibles often look like regular candy bars. Some popular THC-infused products include gummies, chocolate bars, lollipops, brownies, and cookies.

Despite their ordinary appearance, a single cookie or candy bar can contain many times the recommended dose of THC for an adult. Anyone who eats a whole THC food – especially a child – may experience overdose effects such as:

• Poisoning

• Altered perception

• Anxiety

• Panic

• Paranoia

• Dizziness

• Weakness

• Speech disorders

• Poor coordination

• Excessive sleepiness

• Apnea (not breathing for 10 seconds or more)

• Heart problems

For teenagers, regular marijuana use can impair memory and concentration and can impair learning. Regular marijuana use is also linked to psychological problems and poorer lung health. Even one-time marijuana use can impair motor control, coordination, and judgment, which can contribute to unintentional death and injury.

THC edibles take longer than smoked marijuana to take effect. An edible usually takes effect around 30-60 minutes after being eaten and digested.

Someone experimenting with THC edibles might not feel the effects as quickly as expected.

They may ingest large amounts of it to try to get high. This leads to an overdose.

THC edibles often closely resemble popular brand name candies and snacks. The packaging may be nearly identical, with the name changed slightly (think KeefKat or Pot Tart).

Some states now require products containing marijuana to have clear labeling with standardized serving sizes and THC content. Some states require child-resistant packaging.

But a study published in JAMA Pediatrics looked at unintentional marijuana exposures in Colorado and found that such packaging regulations aren’t enough to keep children safe.

Cases of accidental THC poisoning in children under 9 continued to rise after Colorado legalized marijuana use, even with packaging regulations. THC edibles were implicated in more than half of the cases.

To keep food out of the reach of children:

• Store them safely. If there are any marijuana edibles in your home, store them the same way you would store medications and other potentially toxic products. Make sure products are in out-of-reach or locked places. They must also be in childproof packaging or containers. Clearly label marijuana edibles and store them in their original packaging.

• Use with caution. Never consume marijuana edibles in front of children, whether for medical or recreational purposes. Viewing the products might create a temptation for children. Their use can also impair your ability to provide a safe environment. You should not drive if you have used marijuana edibles, especially with children in the vehicle. Using THC can reduce your reaction times.

• Avoid buying edibles containing THC in packages that look like real candy. And be sure to put them back in an out of reach place immediately after use.

• Talk to family members, friends and caregivers. In the Colorado study mentioned above, the sources of accidental marijuana exposure were most often a parent. But grandparents, other family members, neighbors, friends and babysitters were also sources. Ask anyone your kids spend time with if they use marijuana edibles. If a parent, friend or caregiver does, make sure they put them away safely. Make sure they don’t use them in front of your kids or looking at them.

If your child eats a marijuana edible by accident, find out what he ate and how much. Look at the edible’s packaging to see how much THC it contains. Call the toll-free poison control hotline – 1-800-222-1222 – as soon as possible for quick help. If your child’s symptoms seem severe, call 911 or go to the emergency room right away.

Talk to your children about the potential harmful effects of marijuana on their developing minds and bodies and help them make health decisions for themselves. Emphasize the particular risks of marijuana edibles. Treat these discussions the same way you would discuss other recreational substances that are legal but potentially harmful to children, such as alcohol, tobacco, and e-cigarettes.

Dr. Kevin Osterhoudt serves on the AAP Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. For more information, visit HealthyChildren.org, the AAP’s website for parents.

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