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Warning after increase in calls to our poison center for marijuana use in children

Image of child with a gummy in hand

FOR RELEASE: June 1, 2021

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The Upstate New York Poison Center has seen a drastic increase so far this year in the number of calls to our poison center for children & teens who have been exposed to marijuana products (i.e. edibles, the dried plant). The highest number of calls have been for marijuana edibles. Our data shows our calls have nearly tripled for children & teens under 19 years old who ingested these so called “Cannabis Candies” from January through May this year over the same time frame last year. The majority of these calls were for kids 5 and under.

“We worry about young children and the frightening reaction they can have to marijuana. These edibles can come in bright-colored packaging that look just like popular candy products. Kids can’t always tell the difference, especially for those who don’t read yet,” says Dr. Christine Stork, clinical director of the Upstate New York Poison Center. “With the state legalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use & coming up with a plan for future retail sales options, we are preparing to handle an even further influx of calls in the coming years.”

Many edibles look and taste just like candy, cookies and brownies. One “pot gummy” can be a dose, and many times people don’t stop at one, leading to an easy overdose, especially in children. Edible products have a higher concentration of marijuana. Because of a child’s smaller size and weight, symptoms can be more severe and usually require a trip to a healthcare facility. Marijuana use in children can cause low blood pressure, severe tiredness, trouble breathing, even coma.

We compared our data from 2011- 2020 for children six and under who swallowed marijuana (oils, the plant, edibles) and found a sharp increase starting in 2016 and an increase in more children being admitted to a healthcare facility (see image below).

Graph of calls for ingestion of marijuana

*Image showing the drastic increase in calls to our poison center for children swallowing any form of marijuana (HCF stands for Healthcare Facility) 

Another rising concern for our poison center, is the introduction of the Delta-8 THC products. These products were recently banned in New York State. They can also cause severe problems, particularly in children.

Our poison center is staffed by trained Registered Nurses & Pharmacists who have completed training on how to handle a poisoning call for marijuana and Delta-8 THC and when to send someone to a healthcare facility.

 We urge you, if you are over 21 and choose to use these any of these products:

  1. Keep them up, away, and out of sight of children
  2. Save our number 1-800-222-1222, just in case
  3. If you suspect a child has swallowed any form of marijuana, call us. Symptoms/reactions sometimes are delayed

In the case of a poisoning or for information purposes, call the Upstate New York Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. We are open 24/7, 365 days a year. Each year our center manages more than 50,000 calls from health care providers, 911 operators, hospitals, industry, schools, and the general public in our 54-county service area.

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About Upstate New York Poison Center

Housed inside Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, the Upstate New York Poison Center is dedicated to reducing the number, cost and severity of poisonings within its designated 54-county service area as mandated by New York State Law. The Center is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to both health professionals and the general public at 1-800-222-1222.

About Upstate Medical University

SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, is the only academic medical center in Central New York. It is also the region's largest employer with 9,460 employees. Affiliated with the State University of New York, Upstate's mission is to improve the health of the community through education, biomedical research and health care.