Commentary: Marijuana edibles dangerous to children

Mary Lee

By Dr. Mary Lee

Every day, over 300 children in the United States ages 0 to 19 are treated in an emergency department for poison exposures. For children younger than 6 years old, 99.4% of these exposures are unintentional. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, medication is the leading cause of poisoning in kids—leading to the death of a child every 12 days. These accidental ingestions most commonly occur when parents either fail to store medications safely or assume that child-safety caps and devices will deter kids from getting into them.

Last week, a new Delaware regulation went into effect allowing the sale of medical marijuana products resembling baked goods and candy. This regulation, approved by the Delaware Division of Public Health, poses a substantial new threat to Delaware’s children who may confuse and accidentally ingest these products.

According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, unintentional cannabis ingestion by children is a serious public health concern, well documented in numerous studies and case reports. Younger kids between 2 and 4 are the most susceptible to accidental ingestion, and their little bodies are dramatically impacted by adult-sized doses. Kids who accidentally ingest THC usually must be admitted to the hospital overnight and need to be monitored closely in the intensive care unit because of life-threatening side effects.

Allowing medical marijuana edibles in the form of baked goods and candies may have benefits for adults who want to mask an unpleasant taste or have difficulty consuming medical marijuana in other forms. As pediatricians, we can empathize with this situation because we, too, rely on flavorings and other creative ways to help kids take their medicine. But allowing the wholesale manufacturing and distribution of medicine disguised in the form of baked goods such as a cookie or brownie significantly increases the likelihood of an accidental ingestion and puts children at risk.

A majority of states that, like Delaware, have medical marijuana programs but have not legalized recreational marijuana do not allow edibles in the form of baked goods and candy. For example, Delaware’s neighboring states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland limit edible forms of medical marijuana to tablets, capsules, lozenges, drops, syrups, oils, and ointments. This is a common sense approach that opens new avenues for adults to consume medical marijuana without increasing the risk to children.

Our state has a strong history of prioritizing the well-being of children in its public policy. Past medical marijuana regulations from the Division of Public Health have protected kids—allowing for pediatric use only in specific patient populations for whom there is strong evidence and need. However, this recent change fails to consider the severe unintended consequences this policy has on children. This regulation must be reconsidered.

We urge the Division of Public Health to reconsider this policy change and restrict medical marijuana edibles to more traditional forms appropriate for medical use before even one child falls ill. Medical marijuana is a medication. We must continue treating it as one.

Mary Lee, MD, FAAP, is Physician-in-Chief of Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children