Hospital Sees Surge of THC Ingestion in Children

Marijuana gummy candies | Image by Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Instances of young children testing positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, are becoming increasingly common at Cook Children’s Emergency Department in Fort Worth.

Accidental marijuana ingestion is being blamed for the rise in children aged 3 years and under who possess traces of THC in their urine. In 2019, eight children in that demographic tested positive. Since then, that number has risen each successive year, hitting 50 in 2023, or six times higher than 2019, according to a press release.

While the majority of patients who tested positive for THC were teenagers, there is a concern for the growing prevalence among young children because of the drug’s effect on smaller bodies.

“Cannabis has the potential to cause significant harm to children in this age range over any other age range. These are the kids who are going to have the most serious side effects. It has the potential to cause very significant toxicity in children,” said Dr. Anelle Menendez, clinical educator for the North Texas Poison Center.

“No amount of marijuana is safe for children. A child who swallows a marijuana product – edibles like gummies baked goods, or oil from a vaping cartridge – can become extremely sleepy or unresponsive. Their heartbeat could soar. They might struggle to breathe or have trouble crawling or walking,” reads the press release.

In 2022, The Dallas Express reported on four students under the age of 4 years old who had to be taken to the hospital following possible exposure to THC. Anisah Burks, a teacher at the school the children attended, was later arrested on multiple charges, including possession of a controlled substance.

Menendez said the North Texas Poison Center has seen calls related to cannabis exposure in children surge 1,000% between 2019 and 2023.

Klaressa Broughton, coordinator for the poison prevention program at Cook Children’s Center for Community Health, said the best safeguard is to avoid keeping cannabis in homes where children live. Failing that, it should be kept out of sight, out of reach, and locked away.

“I tell parents to be aware of who’s in their household,” Broughton said. “Do you have toddlers? Do you have teenagers? Keep in mind who’s in your home, and then create a plan to have safe storage instead of leaving those gummies out on the counter.”

If a child does ingest THC, immediately call 911 or the Texas Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

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