A new study has looked at cases of cannabis poisoning over the last several years, and found that when it comes to manufactured cannabis products – especially edibles – teens and children are the ones most at risk of needing the help of US poison centers.
The team reports that between 2017 and 2019, there have been about 28,630 exposures to cannabis that were reported to US poison centers. Almost two-thirds came from exposure to plant materials rather than manufactured products, with the vast majority of the plant material reports coming from adults and in combination with other substances such as alcohol and other drugs.
The situation is different when it comes to the manufactured products such as cannabis concentrates, vaporized liquids, and edibles, where adults no longer cross the 50 percent of cases threshold. In fact, 2,505 cases of poisoning from manufactured products involved children under the age of 10, and 3,206 involved youths between the age of 10 and 20. That’s 27 percent and 34.5 percent of the total cases.
The researchers highlight that for edibles, the number of cases was higher, with children under the age of 10 being the largest fraction of people poisoned with 36.6 percent of all cases. Candy and cookies laced with pot or its extract are more likely to be accidentally ingested.
“Children may be at particular risk for exposure to edible products, such as cookies or candy,” the researchers wrote on the paper published in the journal JAMA Network Open. “Although we did not see more serious health outcomes for manufactured product exposures compared with plant products overall, most cannabis plant exposures involved polysubstance use, whereas most cases for manufactured products were for those products alone, suggesting that exposure to manufactured products alone may be relatively more likely to generate adverse events. This is consistent with studies of acute health effects”
The cause of these adverse effects could be due to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, or other substances used in the products. The e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI) outbreak in 2019 is a case of the latter. And the now blooming cannabis industry needs to keep in mind potential risks to consumer’s health.
“Market factors may drive the industry to continue developing novel products, which could present additional health risks. Applying regulatory controls to market-driven innovations in potency and additives is key. Novice cannabis users are often advised to “start low, go slow”; this guidance may be equally applicable to regulating new retail cannabis markets and products,” the researchers added.
Cannabis is not legal across the US, but it is in multiple states. As the industry becomes larger and more profitable, many – including ice-cream manufacturers Ben & Jerry's – are calling for extending legality across the country and, crucially, expunging prior cannabis convictions which remain racialized against Black people, even in states where cannabis is legal.