NY poison center: 'Drastic' increase in calls related to young kids ingesting marijuana

Amy Neff Roth
Observer-Dispatch

The Upstate New York Poison Center is warning about a “drastic” increase in calls for young children who have ingested marijuana products — plants, oils, medical marijuana products and edible forms of pot.  

“We worry about young children and the frightening reaction they can have to marijuana,” said Dr. Christine Stork, the center’s clinical director in the center’s release. “These edibles can come in bright-colored packaging that look just like popular candy products. Kids can’t always tell the difference, especially for those who don’t read yet.”  

And the center is preparing for even more marijuana-related calls now that the state has legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana and is creating a recreational marijuana plan that will include retail sales, she added.  

What do the numbers show? 

Between 2011 and 2016, the center got between two and four calls a year about children under the age of 6 who had ingested marijuana, according to center data.

That number started to go up in 2017 and jumped to 55 in 2020 from 20 in 2019. In the first five months of this year, the center already received 43 such calls.

So far this year, 24 of those children required treatment at a health care facility, and 11 were admitted to the hospital, according to center data. Between 2011 and 2016, a total of six children in this age group were admitted to hospitals after ingesting marijuana.  

“It is hard to tell why our marijuana calls have been going up over the years,” Stork said, “but I think it is reasonable that legality in other states is partially responsible. Access to medical marijuana and also attitude and belief changes regarding THC cannot be excluded as well.”  

The actual number of children ingesting marijuana is likely to be higher. The center’s numbers only include cases in which someone called the center, not cases in which no treatment was sought or medical providers treated the child without consulting the center. 

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The Upstate New York Poison Center has seen a "drastic" increase in calls about young children who have ingested some form of marijuana, the center has warned the community.

What are edibles?   

A fair number of the cases involved edible marijuana — 25 of the cases this year and 20 of the cases last year, compared to only seven cases in 2019, the first year in which the center tracked data on marijuana edibles. Edible forms of marijuana can look like gummy candies, cookies and brownies. 

But one gummy can contain an entire adult dose, making overdose more likely for those who don’t stop at one, particularly kids, the center cautioned. Because children are smaller, they often have more severe symptoms and usually need to go to a health care facility. 

Children who ingest marijuana may experience low blood pressure, severe tiredness, trouble breathing and even coma, according to the center. But symptoms can be delayed so anyone who suspects a child may have ingested marijuana should always call the center, staff said. 

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Why now?   

The possession of small amounts of marijuana became legal March 31. But Dr. Michael Hodgman, the center’s medical director, said he doesn’t think much of this year’s increase is related to legalization.   

“I think this year mostly reflects the trends over the last several years: increasing availability in recreational states, exploding market for edibles in those states and easy transport of those products,” he said.  

Are there other concerns?  

Center staff also warned that “quite a few” calls have come in after children ingested CBD (another chemical found in marijuana and hemp), but that those numbers are not included in the THC totals.  

They also warned about the danger of something called Delta-8 THC, which officials called a “rising concern” for kids. Delta-8 is an isomer (or something molecularly similar to) of the psychoactive component in marijuana, Delta-9 THC, but was technically legal until May when New York banned it. It had been legal because it’s derived from hemp instead of marijuana.    

The psychoactive component naturally occurring in marijuana is Delta-9 THC. There also are trivial amounts of other THC isomers. Delta-8 THC is one of these isomers. It can be manufactured from cannabidiol rather easily. So as long as the CBD comes from hemp, it is a hemp-derived product and why it’s been marketed as legal. This is a sticky area not easily explained, with differences how products are viewed at federal level DEA and FDA wise and what is actually happening in individual states.  

“Delta-8 THC is psychoactive,” Hodgman said. “It appears to be less potent than Delta-9 THC but will get you high. With the removal of hemp derived products from the controlled substance act at the federal level, it is not surprising that enterprising manufacturers began to make Delta-8 THC and market this.” 

For help  

The number for the Upstate New York Poison Center is 1-800-222-1222.

Amy Roth is the health and education reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. For unlimited access to her stories, please subscribe at the top of the uticaod.com homepage or activate your digital account today. Email Amy Roth at aroth@gannett.com.

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