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Sedation, Seizures, Respiratory Depression: Why Cannabis Edibles Are Unsafe for Children

January 31, 2022

The danger of cannabis for teens and young adults isn’t limited to unexpected adulterants that might lace the leaves. The day after a 13-year-old Hartford public school student died from fentanyl poisoning, five 12-and 13-year-old New Haven students were sent to the Emergency Department after consuming chocolates containing delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana. “It’s frightening to realize we have to tell our children to be cautious even when offered candy or snacks from friends or classmates because they don’t know what might be in them,” said Dr. J. Craig Allen, Vice President of Addictions for Hartford HealthCare and Medical Director of Rushford, part of the system’s Behavioral Health Network. The New Haven students, who have all recovered, vomited after eating the THC-laced candy. The incident, Dr. Allen said, illuminates the importance of prevention education and awareness campaigns like the state’s You Think You Know project. “People of all ages, especially kids, need to understand the potential harms of consuming substances obtained on the streets or over the internet,” he said. “Pills, powders, weed, a marijuana edible or even a drink can be infused with fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine or other substances that can be dangerous. There’s no regulation so you don’t know what you are getting.” While levels of THC ingested in the New Haven edibles is unknown, he said no amount of the substance is safe for anyone under the age of 21. “Across the country, particularly in states with legalized recreational marijuana, we are seeing higher numbers of kids and adolescents hospitalized for cannabis-related anxiety, nausea, cyclical vomiting and even psychosis,” Dr. Allen said. For younger children, exposure to cannabis like that in edibles may lead to sedation, seizures and respiratory depression. Although no deaths have been reported, some youth have required respiratory support and treatment in an intensive care unit. Parents who have THC products in the home should consider storing them in a lockbox, but the first line of defense, Dr. Allen said, is speaking openly and honestly with kids about the dangers of substances.