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Hospitalizations on rise as toddlers mistaking edible marijuana products for candy

Calls for help for children unintentionally consuming edible marijuana products nearly tripled from 26 in 2021 to 77 in 2022, according to UVA Health’s Blue Ridge Poison Center.

Of those calls in 2022 – a total of 52 – involved children ages 5 or younger, with most of those kids requiring hospitalization, said Blue Ridge Poison Center. Calls among this age group more than tripled from 2021, when the poison center received 16 calls for kids 5 or younger.

Chris Holstege, MD, the poison center’s medical director and UVA Health medical toxicologist, said most of these cases are caused by toddlers mistaking edible marijuana products for candy. 

“As an adult, I cannot tell the difference between some of the edible cannabis products now emerging on the market because the products closely mimic available candies such as caramels and gum drops,” he said. 

The overall number of calls to the poison center for accidental consumption of marijuana edibles among children has increased sharply in recent years. There was only one such call in 2018, four in 2019 and 11 in 2020. These calls likely represent only a fraction of the cases occurring, as the poison center is not called every time a child accidentally consumes a marijuana edible.

These pediatric cases have occurred throughout Virginia, with 10 children requiring advanced care at UVA Health. Children who accidentally consume marijuana edibles can experience markedly rapid heart rates, low blood pressure, vomiting, confusion, hallucinations, profound sedation and seizures. 

“I worry that based on the current yearly trend increases associated with the rapid emergence of stores that sell edible cannabis products, we will continue to encounter increasing numbers of adverse events in Virginia with children who require hospitalizations,” Holstege said.

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