Medical marijuana, like any other medication, presents a safety risk to children who ingest it accidentally. But medical marijuana poses some unique risks:
- Access to medical marijuana is relatively new and therefore so are accidental poisonings. Parents, emergency workers, and others may not be aware of the exposure or familiar with the signs and symptoms of overdose in children.
- Medical marijuana often contains higher concentrations of active chemicals than non-medical or recreational marijuana, which makes accidental ingestion more dangerous to children.
- Medical marijuana comes in many forms, some of which don’t look like medicine at all, including cookies, brownies, soft drinks, and candy.
- Medical marijuana is not required to be labeled or packaged in child-safe containers.
- The controversy and stigma that surround medical marijuana may make people less likely to mention it to medical staff attending a sick child. And accidental poisonings may be under-reported.
Researchers from Colorado published a study in July 2013 JAMA Pediatrics comparing marijuana poisoning in kids before and after medical marijuana became legal in that state. They found no cases of marijuana poisoning in the period before legalization and 14 cases in the period following. All the children recovered without permanent health problems.
Another study published in the June 2014 Annals of Emergency Medicine compares the number of calls to poison control centers about kids accidentally exposed to marijuana. In states without legalized marijuana, the rates did not change from 2005 to 2011. Call rates increased by 30 percent in that same time period in states that had decriminalized marijuana.
If you use medical marijuana (or legal recreational or illicit marijuana, depending on your state), keep it well out of the reach of children. Parents should be aware of the potential risk and learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of accidental marijuana ingestion.
Symptoms of marijuana poisoning in children may include:
- Excessive sleepiness
- Trouble walking
- Shallow or slow breathing
If you think your child has swallowed marijuana (whether it’s medical marijuana or not, legal or illegal) call the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. The Poison Center has one central number that will reach your local poison control center. Calls are answered by a nurse or pharmacist who specializes in poison information, and all information will be kept private.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, November 2019
- Medical marijuana should be kept out of the reach of children—as with any other medicine.
- Symptoms of marijuana poisoning may include sleepiness, dizziness, and shallow breathing.
- If you suspect accidental ingestion of marijuana, call the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.
- Accidental poisoning rates have increased in states with legalized marijuana.