by Corryn Wetzel New Scientist, posted 27 07 2023
The risk of cannabis poisoning in children increased fourfold after the drug was legalised for medical or recreational use in different locations, primarily due to edibles.
Cases of cannabis poisoning have increased following the legalisation of the drug, an analysis of more than two dozen studies has found. The risk of poisoning went up fourfold for children, who typically ingest the drug through gummies and other foods laced with it.
Most people with cannabis poisoning aren’t at risk of dying, but in serious cases, too much cannabis can lead to trouble walking, talking and breathing. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the major psychoactive component of cannabis that gets users high, can also lead to abnormal heart rhythms, comas and seizures. In mild cases, cannabis poisoning can be limited to nausea and confusion.
To find out if there was a link between cannabis legalisation and poisoning events, researchers reviewed 30 already-published studies from the US, Canada and Thailand. The studies focused on the legalisation of medical cannabis, which is prescribed by a doctor, or the legalisation and decriminalisation of recreational cannabis.
The results showed that in most cases where marijuana legalisation occurred, there was a following rise in reported cannabis poisoning cases. On average, the risk of cannabis poisoning more than doubled for people of all ages and quadrupled in kids.
The impact was most dramatic where cannabis-laced foods, or “edibles”, were legal. A separate study published earlier this year found that, in 2021 in the US, there were 3054 cases of edible cannabis poisoning in children under 6, compared with just 207 cases in 2017.
“It’s not surprising that poisoning… increases when it is made more freely available,” says Nicholas Buckley at the University of Sydney in Australia. “What is surprising is how much it has gone up.”
One reason for the increase could be availability: easier access means more opportunities to ingest too much of the drug. Colourful packaging and child-friendly marketing are also a concern. “We don’t generally allow manufacturers to make and package medication or potentially toxic products that look like candy or food,” says Buckley. “Why should this have been an exception?”
To reduce the risk of cannabis poisoning, the researchers recommend that parents learn about the risks and signs of cannabis poisoning, use child-proof packaging and store products far from kids’ reach.
Addiction DOI: 10.1111/add.16280
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