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July 17, 2023

Number of children hospitalized after ingesting marijuana has spiked in recent years, likely due to edibles

ER visits surged between 2019 and 2022, according to a report from the CDC

Children's Health Marijuana
Marijuana Edibles CDC Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press/Imagn Content Services

ER visits for children sick from ingesting marijuana has surged recently, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pictured are marijuana gummies, often the cause of such hospitalizations, on display at a dispensary in Detroit, Michigan.

Emergency department visits among children and teenagers sickened after ingesting marijuana have surged in recent years, the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. 

Cannabis-related ER visits spiked during the pandemic years compared to 2019, according to findings published last week. More than 500,000 incidents were reported among people under 25 years old. 

Though 90% of those ER visits involved people between the ages of 15 and 24, children under 11 experienced a 214% increase in cannabis-related ER visits. That is most likely due to accidentally eating marijuana edibles, like gummies. These findings are consistent with recent data from the National Poison Data System, which found that incidents of children under 6 years old ingesting edible cannabis increased by 1,325% between 2017 and 2021.

"It would be an unusual week if we're not seeing a child presenting to our emergency room with side effects from cannabis ingestion," Dr. Caleb Ward, a pediatric emergency care physician at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C., told NBC News. "Many homes in the United States now have edible cannabis products in them. They see products that look like candies or brownies, sometimes in cartoon packaging, and they're ingesting them not because they want a cannabis product, but because it looks fun."

The CDC recommends that adults store marijuana and other cannabis products safely away from children and teens in order to reduce accidental ingestions. Communities and schools can implement substance use prevention programs aimed at raising awareness of the potential dangers associated with youth marijuana consumption and ward against products that use cartoonish, colorful packaging. 

Some experts believe that the increase in marijuana use among young people is due to the proliferation of vapes and edibles. While teens may believe that edibles are less dangerous than smoking marijuana, they pose their own set of risks, including overdose, Time reported. 

The potency of marijuana has also been on the rise over the last several decades, which may contribute to the rise in ER visits and hospitalizations, according to American Addiction Centers

"Marijuana is readily accessible, in multiple forms, whether at a store, from a friend or relative, or online," Dr. Alok Patel, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health, told ABC News in December. "These are important conversations that need to happen alongside conversations about legalizing marijuana. While it's true that other substances are far more dangerous when ingested, this doesn't mean that marijuana is harmless... We still have a lot to learn about the long-term effects of marijuana use in the developing adolescent brain." 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 18.7% of people ages 12 and older used marijuana in 2021. Previous research has found that those who use recreational marijuana are more likely to be hospitalized or need emergency care than those who do not, and that marijuana use among young people is associated with mood disorders, suicidal thoughts and self-harm. 

Date from the CDC's new report showed that girls were hospitalized at a higher rate than boys, with the CDC noting that girls may have been more likely to use cannabis to relieve pandemic-related stress than boys. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued guidelines for parents and caregivers in order to help them understand the uptick in marijuana use among young people and the impact it can have on young brains and bodies. In particular, the AAP notes that cannabis use in adolescence and early adulthood can cause difficulty thinking, issues with problem-solving, problems with memory and learning, poor physical coordination and reaction time and difficulty focusing. 

Studies have found that marijuana use can impact academic performance, and that those who use marijuana are more likely to leave school early without obtaining a degree or diploma. Cannabis can also irritate the lining of the mouth, throat and lungs, which can trigger bronchitis and cause coughing and mucus production that can impair sleep. 

Parents should be concerned about potential marijuana use in children and teens if their child suddenly loses interest in long-standing hobbies, has slipping grades, spends less time with friends and family and more time alone, has a dramatic change in personality, comes home with bloodshot eyes or buys items with pro-marijuana messages, according to experts at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

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