800% Increase in Cannabis Poisoning in Young Children After Legalization

Cannabis edibles.

Ontario saw nine times more emergency department (ED) visits per month for cannabis poisonings in young children under the age of 10 after Canada legalized recreational cannabis, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open. While single hospitals have reported on child cannabis poisonings before, this is the first study to look at an entire region.

“We saw more frequent and severe ED visits due to cannabis poisoning in children under 10 following the legalization of cannabis, and the legalization of edible cannabis products appears to be a key factor,” said lead author Dr. Daniel Myran, a family physician, public health and preventive medicine specialist, and postdoctoral fellow at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa Department of Family Medicine.

The research team looked at all ED visits in Ontario during three periods; pre-legalization, after flower-based cannabis products and oils were legalized in October 2018, and after commercial cannabis edibles (e.g. gummies and chocolates) and other products were legalized and became available for sale in late January 2020.

During the entire study period (January 2016 to March 2021), there were 522 ED visits for cannabis poisoning in children under 10. The average age of these children was three years, nine months.

While there were no deaths, 171 (32.7%) visits required hospitalization and 19 visits (3.6%) required intensive care unit (ICU) admission. ED visits for cannabis poisonings increased the most after commercial edibles were legalized, and more of these visits required hospitalization compared to the other two periods (39% compared to 25%).

Study results:

Pre-legalization (January 2016-September 2018)

  • Total ED visits: 81
  • Average number of ED visits per month: 2.5
  • Percentage of ED visits that were hospitalized: 25%

Legalization of cannabis flower, seed, and oil (October 2018-January 2020)

  • Total ED visits: 124
  • Average number of ED visits per month: 7.8
  • Increase in average monthly ED visits compared to pre-legalization: 3 times
  • Percentage of ED visits that were hospitalized: 24%

Legalization of edibles and other products (February 2020-March 2021)

  • Total ED visits: 317
  • Average number of ED visits per month: 22.6
  • Increase in average monthly ED visits compared to pre-legalization: 9 times
  • Percentage of ED visits that were hospitalized: 39%

The researchers noted that cannabis legalization in Canada overlapped with the COVID-19 pandemic. They found that while ED visits for pediatric poisonings of any kind decreased in Ontario during the pandemic, visits for cannabis poisonings increased during this time. After commercial edibles became available, nearly 10% of all ED visits for poisonings in children in Ontario were related to cannabis.

“Canada’s approach to legalization was intended to prevent increases in child cannabis poisonings through policies limiting the strength of cannabis edibles, requiring child resistant packaging and education for parents and caregivers,” said Dr. Myran. “Unfortunately, the rates we saw in our study suggest the approach has not met that goal.”

“As more places around the world consider legalizing recreational cannabis, we need to learn how to better protect children from cannabis poisoning,” said Dr. Myran. “More education is a start, but we may need to consider other measures to reduce cannabis edibles’ appeal to young children, such as much stricter limits on what edibles can look and taste like after they are removed from their packaging.”

If your child has accidentally consumed cannabis, contact the Ontario Poison Control Centre at 1-800-268-9017. Cannabis poisoning in babies, children, and youth is a medical emergency. Call 9-1-1 if your child is ill and/or has difficulty breathing. Caregivers can prevent poisonings by keeping cannabis products in a locked container away from other food and drinks, and out of children’s reach. Learn more about the risks of cannabis and how to prevent unintentional poisoning.

Reference: “Unintentional Pediatric Cannabis Exposures Following Legalization of Recreational Cannabis in Canada” by Daniel Myran, Nathan Cantor, Yaron Finkelstein, Michael Pugliese, Astrid Guttmann, Rebecca Jesseman and Peter Tanuseputro, 7 January 2022, JAMA Network Open.
DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.42521

Researchers at ICES, Bruyère Research Institute, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction and The Hospital For Sick Children (SickKids) also contributed to this study.

Funding: This study was funded by ICES and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research

Data sources: ICES, Canadian Institute for Health Information, Ontario Ministry of Health

CannabisChildrenPublic HealthToxicology
Comments ( 6 )
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  • Joe Moama

    Nothing will ever prevent a kid’s dumbass parent from being a dumbass parent. Perhaps it is time to actually put responsibility onto them instead of blaming ‘the system’ or ‘duh government’?

  • Greg

    Fear-mongering much? “Cannabis “poisonings”? I guess more accurately describing it as accidental ingestion wouldn’t be scary enough to suit the anti-cannabis agenda. Cannabis isn’t “poison” and there is no way to fatally overdose. Just call it what it is… parents failed to secure their THC edibles and the kids felt high for a little while and then fully recovered.

  • Eric M Jones

    “Poisoning”? Nobody died. I imagine many people died of the effects of alcohol and pharmaceuticals, and I would BET SERIOUS MONEY that none of the kids were harmed in the slightest. What crap! This article is just BS.

  • Ed Payne

    Pure propaganda cannabis does not and can not poison you. Have you ever even tried to open a edible pack. It’s honestly the hardest to open packet in the world after a few minutes I usually just get scissors and cut it open don’t give me this horse crap about poisoning kids.

  • Matthew

    how many kids end up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning?? How many kids died from alcohol poisoning and how many died from a cannabis overdose?

  • Skoobie

    Another load of BS. The magic green herb is a medicine. Your pills are the poisons. I’ve known plenty of folks who consumed the magic green herb as kids. They all were fine.
    BS scare tactics de-legitimize the truth about OTHER drugs that ARE poison, leading the kids (who you will NEVER fool) to distrust any of the legitimate warnings. Meth, Heroin, Xanax, etc. to name but a few.
    You, “Dr.” Myran, make the REAL drug problem MUCH WORSE.