Accidental cannabis poisoning in young children is a serious public health threat, a group of doctors is warning.
The sharp rise of such poisoning in young children, due to accidental ingestion of cannabis edibles, is becoming an increasingly worrying trend and that adults who order the drug online are “unaware” of the potential danger.
The Temple Street Children’s Hospital doctors involved in research into the accidental consumption of edible cannabis are warning that accidental cannabis poisoning in young children from edibles causes significant morbidity.
They believe that this is a serious evolving paediatric public health threat with child protection issues and say that recognition and notification of all cases presenting to our emergency departments is imperative.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 147 million people worldwide use cannabis, making it the world's most widely cultivated, trafficked, and abused illicit substance, and it is the most abused controlled drug in Ireland.
Paediatric cannabis poisoning
In this month’s Irish Medical Journal, co-author author Claire Mattimoe of Children’s Health Ireland, Temple Street, describes the first series of paediatric cannabis poisoning reported in Ireland, in which six young children presented to the hospital’s paediatric emergency department this year.
Ms Mattimoe said that “acute encephalopathy and sometimes, respiratory depression are increasingly reported due to accidental ingestion of cannabis edibles”.
She added: “While an average adult inhaled cannabis dose is 5 to 20 mgs of THC, 10 to 50 times this dose can be ingested in edibles with at least a 30 minute time delay for initial effect.
“Adults who order cannabis edibles online for personal consumption are frequently unaware of the danger for young children who often consume several sweets initially.”
THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis and one of at least 113 total cannabinoids identified in the plant
Of the six cases, five were under the age of six, and she pointed out that “two cases were discharged from the Emergency Department after 12 hours. Four cases were admitted to the ward with one requiring care in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Autonomic instability occurred in three cases and resolved early.
“All cases were referred to Tusla.”
Long-term health effects
Ms Mattimore pointed out that the research points to an emerging problem that has been described in other jurisdictions, where cannabis use has been decriminalised or under-enforced, while “long-term health effects on children are yet to be discovered”.
She warned: “Cannabis is increasingly perceived as harmless and the use of edibles amongst adults is becoming socially acceptable. Young children are at risk through accidental ingestion.
“The new Adult Cautioning Scheme (introduced in 2020 and which the author argues promotes decriminalisation of cannabis) will accentuate evolving child protection issues of this emergent serious public health threat.
“Recognition and notification of all cases presenting to hospitals is imperative and education of our staff and parents.”