Child Welfare Concerns Increasing across the Country over Ingestion of Cannabis

Published on: 

As access to edible cannabis increases for adults across the United States, children are also becoming more exposed as well.

The number of accidental ingestions of cannabis products by children has increased sharply in the past several years, according to a report released in early January 2023 from the American Academy of Pediatrics (1). The report, published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at data from the National Poison Data System from 2017 to 2021 on exposure to edible cannabis products in children younger than six years old (2).

“In 2017, 207 cases of accidental marijuana ingestion were reported. In 2021, there were 3,054, an increase by more than 1,000%,” read an article covering the study (1). Furthermore, when comparing 2017–2019 to 2020–2021 there was also an increase in intensive care unit (ICU) and non-ICU hospital admission as well an increase in major and moderate effects of cannabis ingestion (1).

“It is important for providers to be aware of this in their practice and it presents an important opportunity for education and prevention,” concluded the report (2). According to state and nationwide census data, the number of Americans with access to legal recreational cannabis rose from 68.9 million in 2017 to 134.4 million in 2021 (1).


Other recent news articles have also highlighted young children and cannabis ingestion. For example, calls to the Mississippi state medical center rose from two in 2019 to 36 in 2022, almost half were concerning children ages 0 to 12 (3). "It’s hard to overdose on marijuana, but some of these gummies contain very large doses and some kids are eating a whole lot of them," said Jenna Davis, the managing director of the Mississippi Poison Control Center. The center also warned that calls will continue to rise as more dispensaries open across the state.

Davis also said that symptoms of overdoses can include central nervous system depression, rapid heartbeat, vomiting, confusion, difficulty walking and drowsiness, and in extreme situations, respiratory distress and seizures (3).

Last year, a woman in Virginia was charged after her four-year-old son died two days after eating tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) gummies. Investigators allege the woman did not seek medical help fast enough and an autopsy revealed extremely high levels of THC in the boy’s body. The lack of childproof packaging, resemblance to candy, and unregulated amounts of THC contributes greatly to the danger posed to children, the article said (4).

Earlier this month, a woman in Arizona had her name removed from the state’s child abuse registry after the Arizona Court of Appeals found her cannabis use did not amount to child neglect—she had a medical cannabis card prescribed by a doctor (5,6). In 2019, she used cannabis to combat morning sickness symptoms and was added to the registry after her newborn tested positive for cannabis. “This is of national import," the woman’s lawyer said (5). “No other states have won a court ruling as clear as that handed up by the Arizona Court of Appeals.”