By Ariana Araiza, Cronkite News
The number of children who mistake edible marijuana for candy is on the rise, with panicked parents calling Arizona poison control centers for help. Nearly 60% of 394 pediatric cannabis incidents last year required a hospital visit, experts said.
Children who eat cannabis can suffer mild symptoms such as becoming drowsy, having trouble walking or acting “inappropriately,” according to Bryan Kuhn, a pharmacist and toxicologist at Banner Health Poison Center in Phoenix. But, it can be worse.
At times, “they’re so drowsy that they can’t be awakened or … their breathing pattern is slower than normal, or in the most rare and serious circumstance, they can develop seizures,” Kuhn said.
Nearly 400 cannabis-related pediatric cases were reported to poison control centers in Phoenix and Tucson, said Maureen Roland, R.N. managing director at Banner Health.
“A high percentage do end up in the emergency room, and a minor amount end up” in intensive care, Roland said.
Accidental poisonings have been on the rise in Arizona since recreational marijuana was legalized in 2020, similar to other states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Since marijuana use has been legalized in some states, accidental marijuana poisonings in children have increased, sometimes requiring visits to the emergency room or hospitalization,” a CDC report says.
It’s illegal in Arizona to sell edibles that might entice children, and packaging is designed to make it difficult for children to open.
Still, as with other common, potentially dangerous household products, parental education is an important part of prevention – including placing cannabis out of reach and being aware of troublesome marketing that ends up targeting children.
“If you do have these products in your home, they are a drug, they are medication, so you need to treat them as such,” Roland said.
Ann Torrez, executive director of the Arizona Dispensaries Association, pointed out that state law makes it illegal for edibles to mimic products like children’s candies or snacks. Cannabis contains THC, the substance that delivers the “high” in marijuana.
“There’s no gummy bears, gummy worms at all in the adult-use market in Arizona,” Torrez said. “If you see that type of product, you know it’s coming from an illegal or an unregulated product.”
Manufacturers and dispensaries also must place edible marijuana into child-resistant packaging under Arizona law.
Arizona and 17 other states where recreational marijuana is legal have passed laws that require child-resistant packaging, according to The Network for Public Health Law. However, no federal standards exist and state standards vary. Only three states require plain packaging while three different states require packages that can show whether they’ve been tampered with. Thirteen states ban visuals or text on packages so as to minimize the appeal to children.
But Arizona does not require clear or opaque packaging, tamper-evident packaging or package designs to prohibit words or images that might appeal to children, according to the network.
The Arizona Department of Health Services conducts random dispensary inspections to check whether the laws are being followed.