INDIANAPOLIS — More and more Hoosier children are receiving medical treatment after they ingest cannabis-laced edibles, according to the Indiana Poison Center.
“We've definitely seen a sharp increase, especially over the last seven to eight years,” said Dr. Blake Froberg, director of the Indiana Poison Center. “We're seeing more kids that, as they explore their environment, get into these and then end up needing medical care.”
In 2018, the Indiana Poison Center received eight calls on children under age 12 who were sickened after eating marijuana-laced products.
They took in 144 such calls in 2022, the most recent year for which data is available.
The same thing is happening across the nation.
In 2022, poison centers throughout the U.S. received 6,379 calls for children under 12 who consumed cannabis edibles — nearly seven times the number of calls they received in 2018.
Froberg said these calls have exploded as neighboring states legalize recreational marijuana. Michigan legalized marijuana in 2018, Illinois in 2019 and Ohio legalized in December.
"It's much more available than it used to be," Froberg said. "On top of that, there's a lot more of these edible products that, you know, to somebody who doesn't know what's in them, thinks that they look like a piece of candy or a cookie, or a bag of potato chips."
In recent months, police and school officials have been warning parents of the dangers of cannabis edibles and kids.
- In May, 11 children were sent to the hospital or home with parents after a student shared cannabis-laced gummies with classmates at Mt. Vernon Middle School.
- In 2021, the Edinburgh Police Department warned parents to look out for these drugs after officers seized more than six pounds of THC edibles that looked like "Nerds" candy.
- In September, Washington Township Schools told parentsabout an incident where edible candy laced with an unknown drug was distributed to multiple students at Eastwood Middle School.
- And in 2022, a Lawrence Township mother told WRTV that a classmate gave THC-laced candy to her 12-year-old son and other students at Fall Creek Middle School.
Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department detectives have been seeing a steady rise in the number of children overdosing on cannabis, Sgt. Nicolle Flynn said.
"I would say in the last three to four years there has been a pretty significant spike," Flynn said. "It's becoming much more of a casual use thing that has become more normalized. So there's just there's just a lot more of it."
Flynn is a supervisor in IMPD's child abuse unit. She said detectives investigated 10 non-fatal child overdoses in 2023; THC was found in eight of the young victims.
"They are manufactured to look like candy," Flynn said. "It is extremely easy for children to pick that up, especially toddlers who can't read. They don't know what's in there."
Flynn said IMPD is changing the way its officers handle calls involving lethargic or unresponsive children.
"We're having officers, when they're responding with medics and they see that a child is not acting appropriately, to treat that as a crime scene right away just in case it is an overdose," Flynn said.
The cannabis products often are made to look like gummy bears, Nerds and other popular name brand candies. A single piece contains an adult-sized dose of THC, Flynn said.
"Because children are so tiny, their systems are not able to process narcotics the way that the parents or the caregivers are," Flynn said. "A toddler, those drugs are going to enter their system and immediately start causing pretty significant issues for them."
Dr. Froberg said the drugs can have frightening effects on children.
"The biggest thing that we see is kind of a change in their mental status," said Froberg, who is also a pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. "They get really sleepy. They may even get to a point where they're unresponsive."
Larger doses of THC can lead to breathing problems in children.
"If you feel like your child has ever gotten into one of these products," Froberg said, "they need to be in medical care where they can be monitored."
Symptoms can last 12 to 48 hours, Froberg said. The good news, he said, in children who consume cannabis often recover fully with time and the proper care.
And it's not just the illegal THC products.
Froberg said child overdoses are being caused by CBD products that are being legally sold in Indiana as well as the products purchased out of state.
Flynn said anyone who uses cannabis products should store them in a safe way, like they do for cleaning supplies or prescription drugs: Keep them locked and high up on a shelf where children can't reach them.
"Obviously, the easiest answer would be just to not have drugs in your home but we know that that's probably not realistic for a lot of folks. We know addiction is a huge problem," Flynn said.
If you think your child has been exposed to THC or any other toxic substance, you can contact the Indiana Poison Center at 800-222-1222. A trained nurse or pharmacist will help you to decide if you need to go to a hospital.
MORE | Indiana remains 'an island of prohibition' as surrounding states legalize marijuana. Some hope that changes | Ohio voters approved recreational marijuana. Here's why Hoosiers won't get the chance | Neighbor states reap tax money as Indiana resists legalizing marijuana | New survey shows majority of Hoosiers favor Marijuana legalization |
Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at email@example.com or on X/Twitter: @vicryc.