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Should I worry about marijuana edibles in my kids’ trick-or-treat candy haul on Halloween?

Eliana Segal, MD


It's rare for candy laced with marijuana and other drugs to end up in a child's trick-or-treat basket on purpose. However, many marijuana (cannabis) edibles look very similar to regular candy and could easily be confused for Halloween treats. Cannabis can be harmful for children of all ages. It's important to check a child's treat haul before they eat anything.

As more states legalize recreational cannabis, we have seen a rise in young children hospitalized after eating marijuana edibles. Whole packages of edibles often contain extremely large amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis). The amounts they contain can be several times the typical adult dose of cannabis.

Here are some ways you can help protect your child from THC overdose.

Don't judge a treat by its packaging.

Packaging for some "copycat" marijuana edibles closely mimic the fonts, logos and overall look of traditional candy or treats. The symbols on the labels noting that products contain THC are often small and placed in hard-to-see spots. Be sure to inspect your child's treats closely. Here's an example of a copycat THC edible:

Symbols that edibles contain THC circled in bottom corners.
Photo credit: Ponmali Le, MD

Safely store cannabis & THC edibles

Be sure any edibles and other substances harmful to children are kept out of reach. Store them in a locked cabinet, for example, and never left out in plain sight. Don't eat edibles in front of children, since they look so much like popular candies marketed to children. Also avoid storing THC-containing products with the other everyday household foods that do not contain THC.

Be aware of the signs & symptoms of THC overdose

The THC in cannabis affects several parts of the body, including the brain. THC overdose can cause symptoms such as confusion, agitation, slurred speech, poor coordination, severe sleepiness or even seizures and comas. THC overdose also can affect a child's heart and breathing. Those symptoms might include slow heart rate, low blood pressure and slowing or shutting down a child's natural drive to breathe. A large number of children who overdose on edible cannabis end up in the emergency room. Many are admitted to pediatric intensive care units.

The effects of eating cannabis-containing foods are often delayed. The more serious symptoms may not show up until 3-4 hours after eating them. The effects from of ingested cannabis generally may last for up to 12 or 24 hours after consuming them.

During my medical training, I have witnessed several THC overdoses in pediatric patients. One child did not fully wake up for a solid 36 hours after ingesting the cannabis edible. They were unconscious for so long that extra head imaging was needed out of concern for brain trauma.

Remember that teenagers can be harmed by marijuana edibles too, even if not by overdose.

Because teenagers' brains are not fully developed, the use of cannabis and other drugs can lead to substance use disorder and dependency. Edible use is easier to conceal than other forms of marijuana consumption such as smoking. So, clues that a teen is using cannabis edibles may be hard to spot. Some of these clues include neglecting responsibilities, social isolation, mood changes, decline in academic performance and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy.

Reckless behaviors often accompany cannabis use. This may include unprotected sex or driving high, for example. Teens are also at increased risk of long-term mental health complications such as psychosis, paranoia, anxiety, depression and issues with memory and thought processing.

Know steps to take if you think your child may have experienced a marijuana overdose.

If you are think a child may have overdosed on edible cannabis, call the number for poison control: 800-222-1222. This is a national number which will automatically dispatch you to the poison control center nearest you. You can also get online help through the American Poison Centers website.

However, if you are concerned that the child's symptoms seem severe, do not hesitate to call 911 and get your child to the nearest emergency room to seek appropriate medical care.

More information

Editor's Note: Dr. Segal's pediatric resident colleagues, Jacqueline Goldman, MD, Ponmali Le, MD, Sabrina Libretti, DO, and Catelyn Rueger, DO, also contributed to this article.

Eliana Segal, MD

Eliana Segal, MD, is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Pediatric Trainees. She is a third-year pediatric resident at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital in Valhalla, NY, who plans to practice pediatric emergency medicine.

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American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright @ 2023)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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