Ottawa

Kids will find cannabis edibles irresistible, experts warn

As the legalization of cannabis edibles approaches, health practitioners are anticipating an increase in the numbers of kids accidentally eating cannabis-infused gummies, chocolates and baked goods.

Colorado, which legalized cannabis in 2014, saw more pot-related ER visits involving children

Edibles aren't yet legal in Canada, but health care experts are already expecting a rise in the number of kids who accidentally ingest cannabis.

As the legalization of cannabis edibles approaches, health practitioners are anticipating an increase in the numbers of kids accidentally eating cannabis-infused gummies, chocolates and baked goods. 

Dr. Bhaskar Gopalan, chief of emergency at the Queensway Carleton Hospital, said cannabis ingestion could affect children in profound ways. 

When you consume too much of the cannabis plant's primary ingredient, THC, it can cause paranoia, panic, dizziness and hallucinations — symptoms that even adults struggle with, Gopalan said. 

"It's the same symptoms with kids," he said. "But the problem with kids is that they're not able to convey what their symptoms are."

For many children who do ingest cannabis, the treatment can be as simple as observation at a hospital until the effects wear off. To date, Gopalan said there have been no fatalities attributed to cannabis toxicity alone.

"It wears out of your system and you're usually fine," he said. "But imagine an eight-year-old child ingesting some edible cannabis and having a six-hour experience of hallucinating, anxiety, paranoia — it can be quite damaging for the kid's psyche."

Heather Hudson, a nurse educator with the Ontario Poison Centre (OPC), said parents should seek emergency care if they notice their children behaving oddly and suspect cannabis might be the reason.

Extreme drowsiness and slowed breathing could be a concern, she said.

"We do worry about kids getting into products that contain cannabis," Hudson said. "They may have a fairly significant reaction where they become quite drowsy to the point where you may not be able to rouse them very easily."

Illegal edible products seized by police. Health Canada says it will be developing regulations around edibles in the next year and that the Cannabis Act already prohibits products that appeal to children. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Health Canada has said it will legalize edibles in late 2019 after consultation with public health agencies and provincial and territorial governments. 

A spokesperson for the organization said the regulations around edibles will aim to address the safety risks associated with the products, including accidental ingestion among kids. 

According to federal Cannabis Act, pot products are not allowed to have "an appearance, shape or other sensory attribute" that could appeal to young people, and must be packaged in child-resistant containers that are appropriately labelled. Health Canada says it will be developing regulations around edibles in the next year.

Dr. Bhaskar Gopalan, chief of emergency at the Queensway Carleton Hospital, is warning parents to keep cannabis edibles secure and away from children. 0:51

Accidental ingestion rose in Colorado

Cases of accidental cannabis ingestion among children are rare in Canada. A spokesperson for the children's hospital CHEO said they've only seen one case since January 2015. 

However, in Colorado, where cannabis edibles are legal, health-care visits involving accidental ingestion did rise after legalization, according to a paper published by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in the U.S.

In 2014, when recreational cannabis became legal in the state, the emergency room at the Children's Hospital Colorado saw 14 cases of accidental ingestion, according to the report. 

There was even a jump in 2009, when the state expanded the legalization of medical cannabis. That year, eight children showed up to the children's hospital emergency room, while in the previous four years, the hospital had seen no cases at all. 

Researchers also found that cannabis-related calls to poison control centres have risen by around 30 per cent in states where cannabis is legal. As a result, the OPC is anticipating an increase in calls in Ontario as well, Hudson said. 

A Health Canada spokesperson said the organization is keeping tabs on any cases of accidental ingestion involving kids, and is coordinating with regional poison control centres to monitor cannabis-related calls. 

My child has ingested cannabis — what do I do?

If you suspect that your child has ingested cannabis, do not induce vomiting, Hudson said. It's an ineffective way of ridding the body of contaminants, and it may cause damage to the child's airways and soft palate. 

"Instead, give the child some sips of water to drink, or clear fluids," she said. "Something to help flush the substance from the mouth so you're able to assess whether they can drink or swallow."

Call the Ontario Poison Centre at 1-800-268-9017.

If your child is having difficulty breathing or appears to be in medical distress, call 911, Gopalan said. 

"If you think you're having a life-threatening emergency, call 911 and then ask questions later," he said. "No one is going to fault you for calling 911."