11 Teens Hospitalized After Consuming THC-Laced Gummy Bears
In the early hours of Friday, July 7, 2017, police responded to a call to rescue eleven teens from Fishers, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis. These teens--5 girls and six boys—had taken a very small dose of an edible marijuana product. In fact, each of these children had ingested only ½ of one THC-laced gummy bear. When police arrived, the teens were complaining of rapid heart rate, leg pain, blurry vision, and hallucinations. Nine of the teens were 18-years-old, and two were 19-years-old.
Changing attitudes present new problems.
We live in a time when public opinion about cannabis usage is shifting dramatically. Currently, 29 States in the United States have some sort of legal use of marijuana for either recreational or medical purposes, and 14 more states are considering decriminalization of marijuana this year. No matter your stance on the issue of legalization of marijuana, increased mainstream usage presents a real danger to our children.
What they’ve learned in Colorado, and why THC-laced gummy bears are illegal there
In 2012, Colorado, the aptly-named “Mile High State” was the first in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana usage without a prescription. Legal pot shops sprung up overnight all over the state. Approximately 50% of all legal cannabis sales in Colorado are sales of so-called “edibles”---candies, cookies, brownies, beverages and more—designed to be eaten, rather than smoked. Lawmakers sensed right away that there could be a danger to children, and passed legislation that required all edibles to be labeled to reveal that they contained THC, the hallucinogenic compound in marijuana. However, Colorado’s laws on labeling and child-resistant packaging have been ineffective in preventing an increasing number of young kids ending up in the emergency room after accidentally consuming marijuana. According to a study published by the JAMA Pediatrics, the state of Colorado saw a 150% increase in childhood exposure to THC in the two years following legalization.
The study — led by a doctor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus — found that emergency room visits and poison-control calls for kids 9 and younger who consumed pot in Colorado jumped after recreational marijuana stores opened. About twice as many kids visited the Children’s Hospital Colorado emergency room per year in 2014 and 2015 as did in years prior to the opening of recreational marijuana stores, according to the study. Annual poison-control cases increased five-fold, the study found.
The study found that labeling and childproof packaging did little to protect young children from ingestion, and that the median age of children both seen at the children’s Hospital of Colorado ER and children who were serviced by the Poison Control Center was 2 years old—much too young to understand the inherent dangers in visually appealing edibles, and way too young to read warning labels.
How Colorado is re-thinking THC-laced gummy bears
So the state that blazed the trail (pun intended) toward legalization of recreational marijuana, five years after their move toward normalization of the once-taboo substance, has once again begun to restrict and criminalize the sale of some THC products. One week ago, on July 1, 2017, Colorado’s latest attempt to protect children from accidental exposure went into effect. The new law makes it a crime to sell pot-infused candies in certain shapes, such as gummy bears, gummy worms, and chewy candies shaped like fruits. Lawmakers hope that this regulation will help to prevent accidental overdose by children who are drawn to their familiar shape.
Lawmakers have yet to address the problem of inconsistency with dosing. In the case of the 11 teens from Fishers, Indiana, each only ingested ½ of a gummy bear, and yet ended up overdosed. Most edible THC cookies, brownies, and candy bars for example, contain several servings. But realistically, what child eats part of a cookie or candy bar? The highly concentrated nature of many THC edibles makes them especially dangerous.
A growing problem
The incident this week is only one in a very long string of accidental THC overdoses linked to edible “candies”. In August, 2016, 19 people were sickened at a quinceañera party in San Francisco when they at marijuana-laced gummy rings. Thirteen of the 19 people hospitalized were between the ages of 6-18 years-old.
In March of this year, a 5 year old in Ohio was hospitalized after eating a THC-laced gummy bear he found in his parents’ dresser drawer. And in May, a Ramapo, New York man was arrested after his 10 year-old son was hospitalized when he ate a THC-laced candy he found in his dad’s car.
Marajuana is not harmless.
It is easy to see that the stories of injury and death from marijuana use are growing. As more and more states choose to ignore the Federal prohibition against cannabis, and usage is becoming more main stream, it’s time for us to have a responsible talk about this growing problem. Many in the pro-pot movement argue that marijuana is “natural” and therefore healthy. But the growing incidence of THC overdoses speaks to the contrary. No matter your personal opinion about legalization, we must all work together to protect the youngest among us.