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More Than a Sugar High: Pot Edibles Are Putting Kids in the Hospital

gummy candy pot edibles

We originally shared this story in April 2022. But recent events and the upcoming holiday made us feel like it was time for a quick update.

Kids Still Overdosing on Edibles

NBC12 reported that at a high school in Richmond this week, four students had a medical emergency related to edibles. Though rumors circulated that there was fentanyl involved, many were shocked to find that all the symptoms were THC-related.

While THC overdoses are almost never fatal, they can lead to extreme discomfort, psychosis, and injury. "This is not benign, it's dangerous," Chris Holstege, MD, said. THC overdoses can happen very easily, especially when a dose can be as small as a gummy bear.

“It’s a dangerous time to be taking some of these products,” said Hosltege. “We don’t know exactly what’s in them.”

The Added Risk of Edibles

Many of us remember a different time: To get high, you smoked pot. That meant lighting up a weird-looking cannabis (marijuana) plant to unleash the THC compound inside. Now you can get those mind-altering effects by eating a gummy candy or small square of chocolate. Easy to buy, easy to eat, modern-day cannabis looks innocent. No smoke involved. But what if your kid finds this pot packaged to look like popular candy and cereal brands? The danger of a pot edibles overdose is real.

Poison hotlines and ERs are seeing more and more kids with an edibles overdose.

“Cannabis edibles are risky for children. A child will just see a delicious brownie or lollipop and eat the whole thing. They’ll eat all of the gummy bears when an adult dose might be as little as one gummy,” says Kristin Wenger, education coordinator for the UVA Health Blue Ridge Poison Center.

For Kids & Adults, Pot Edible Overdoses On the Rise

Even adults have difficulty figuring out safe amounts of pot edibles. Wenger points to the difference between smoking and eating cannabis as part of the problem.

“When you ingest cannabis, the THC takes longer to take affect — an hour or more. Plus, the effects last much longer," Wenger explains. "Someone new to edibles might eat a dose, like half of a brownie. Nothing happens. So an hour later, they eat another half a brownie. Now the effect is way too strong. And they may experience nausea, vomiting, and hallucinations.”

In recent years, the UVA Blue Ridge Poison Center has received several calls about Virginia children accidentally eating THC-laced edibles.

Across the U.S., in the past year, poison centers have received 2,362 calls for exposures to delta-8 THC, according to the Food and Drug Administration.  

Health Alert for Edibles With Delta-8 THC

Here's why the FDA has put out a health alert about cannabis edibles with delta-8 THC.

Of those poisoning calls:

Pets are finding edibles too. Animal poison centers have seen “a sharp overall increase in accidental exposure of pets,” the FDA reports.

Kristin Wenger, UVA Health Blue Ridge Poison Center

Pot Edibles Can Make Kids Really Sick

Kids who overdose on cannabis edibles often need hospital care because they experience severe symptoms like:

Some pets who’ve eaten THC-laced food need to get fluids through an IV.

You May Not Realize Your Edibles Have THC

Delta-8 THC occurs naturally in hemp. (Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants. But they have different types and levels of THC.) Hemp has very low levels of THC (not enough to make you high) so it’s legal to grow. Pot edible makers use chemicals and methods to create a higher concentration of delta-8 THC to produce the high, or psychoactive effect.

Hemp is also a major source of CBD. This cannabis compound doesn’t get you high but does have powerful effects on the brain. It's even used in an FDA-approved drug to treat a rare form of epilepsy. More people are using unregulated CBD like a supplement to treat pain, anxiety, and other conditions. There have been reports of people getting sick from overeating CBD products like gummy candies. These can cause an edible overdose as they can come packaged with THC and harmful chemicals.  

Why So Many Overdoses from Pot Edibles?

Wenger shares three main reasons for edible overdoses:

pot candy edible lookalike
It’s easy to see why kids can confuse pot edibles with regular candy. Source: Virginians for Safe Cannabis

Avoid a Pot Edibles Overdose: Lock Them Up

Just like medicine or other harmful products like nicotine, always keep cannabis, cannabis concentrates, and edibles stored out of sight and reach of pets and children.

Child Ate Pot Edibles? Call the Poison Center

“Even with something like a concentrated laundry detergent pod, parents often have guilt when a child gets into anything. But parents need to remember that when they call the poison center, they are talking to people who are also parents and had children who did things they didn’t anticipate,” Wenger says.

“We won’t scold you or report you. Our role is to help you make sure your child is going to be ok.”

The UVA Health doctors and nurses who staff the Blue Ridge Poison Center can call ahead to a hospital. This way, staff will be ready for your child’s arrival.

Wenger adds, “As a poison center, we don’t take a stand on whether edibles should be legal and easy to buy. We just want the public to know the truth so they can make the decisions best for them.”

Pot Edibles Overdose?

Call the Blue Ridge Poison Center to talk to a UVA Health doctor or nurse. Available 24/7, they have up-to-date knowledge about health effects from delta-8 THC and other cannabis products.

Fido Overdose on Your Pot Edibles?

Your pet ate something it shouldn’t have? Call poison center experts too at 800.222.1222. While not trained in pet poisonings, they can connect you to an animal poison center. Calls to animal centers are not free. But a call could save an even more expensive trip to the vet.

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