According to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, unintentional cannabis poisoning among children is on the rise in some Canadian provinces, especially following the legalization of edible cannabis products. Looking at the provinces of Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia, between January 2015 to September 2018, an average of two children were hospitalized every month due to cannabis-related issues. This jumped to a shocking average of 15 children between January 2020 to September 2021, when edibles were legalized.
Edibles are cannabis-infused foods or beverages. They are commonly sold as baked goods or candies, and are visually similar to normal food items. As such, federal law demands that edibles be packaged plainly to avoid enticing children or being confused with other sweets. Additionally, edibles cannot contain more than 10 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. When children ingest edibles, their symptoms can be severe and life-threatening. In some cases, doctors have treated children who experienced seizures or respiratory arrest.
In May of 2022, a Montréal mother advised parents to teach their children about drug safety after her daughter and two other elementary school students were hospitalized for accidentally eating drug-laced candy. The children consumed candy from the floor of their school bus, and all three children fell ill and reacted severely to the cannabis.
While the culprit was not identified, the children’s school has since began raising awareness on the issue to prevent future reoccurrences. Students are educated against consuming unknown food products that they encounter and are instructed to hand them over to adults. Parents have also been advised to teach their children about the consequences of ingesting drugs.
There are various safety measures in place to protect children from accidentally ingesting cannabis. According to Health Canada, cannabis products must be packaged in child-resistant containers. In addition, labels on the packaging must include the standardized cannabis symbol, warnings about the impact of cannabis on health, and include specifically what the product is comprised of. The packaging should not include any popular characters or animals that can draw the attention of children.
Despite these precautions, with the rise in availability of edible cannabis products, many parents are on edge as Halloween approaches. However, in reality, there are very few documented cases of children encountering such dangerous treats during Halloween. While the consequences of children consuming cannabis are adverse, the chances of encountering drug-laced candies during Halloween is quite low.
For the events where children ingest drugs, the incident usually happens due to coincidence. Notably, on October 16, 2022, a Missouri, US, mother found cannabis gummy worms in her child’s Halloween stash. The police identified the case as standalone—the candies were not intentionally handed out to the child.
Regardless, it is safe practice to educate children on being cautious and to avoid consuming treats without investigating their origins and nature.