Most of the calls about manufactured cannabis products involved underage children. Twenty-seven percent involved children under the age of 10 and about a third (34.5%) involved youths between 10 and 20 years of age. Edibles were involved in about two-thirds of those calls.
“Children may be at particular risk for exposure to edible products, such as cookies or candy,” wrote lead author Julia Dilley, PhD, Oregon Health Authority, in JAMA Network Open.
“Although we did not see more serious health outcomes for manufactured product exposures compared with plant products overall, most cannabis plant exposures involved polysubstance use, whereas most cases for manufactured products were for those products alone, suggesting that exposure to manufactured products alone may be relatively more likely to generate adverse events.”
Dilley and her colleagues say cannabis products are riskier for children because they may not know they are consuming THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Even when they are labeled, research has found that the amount of THC in cannabis products is often inaccurate.
The study did not distinguish between medical and recreational cannabis. Interestingly, the rate of calls to poison centers from states where cannabis is legal was slightly higher than those where cannabis is still illegal, suggesting that legalization does not increase the level of safety.
“Market factors may drive the industry to continue developing novel products, which could present additional health risks. Applying regulatory controls to market-driven innovations in potency and additives is key. Novice cannabis users are often advised to ‘start low, go slow’; this guidance may be equally applicable to regulating new retail cannabis markets and products,” researchers said.
Some cannabis companies are intentionally marketing their products as candy and snacks to make them more attractive to children. The Food & Wine website reports the Wrigley Company recently filed three lawsuits against cannabis manufacturers, alleging they produced THC-spiked products that resemble Wrigley candies such as Skittles, Life Savers and Starbursts
“We take great pride in making fun treats that parents can trust giving to their children and children can enjoy safely,” a Wrigley spokesperson told Reuters. “We are deeply disturbed to see our trademarked brands being used illegally to sell THC-infused products.”
One cannabis company, THC Living, recently took a “snortable” cannabis candy off the market after complaints on social media. According to Leafly, the packaging and marketing of “Cannabis Bumps” were designed to make the powdered candy look like cocaine. Each package contained a hefty dose of 600mg of THC.