THC Edibles That Look Like Candy: What Parents Need To Know

Many cannabis edibles look like snacks and candies that kids are used to eating. Here's what to know if your child ingests or overdoses on THC candies by mistake.

Macro of Assorted Fruit Flavored Gummy Bears or Cannabis Edibles Isolated on White Background
Photo: Getty

Many states have legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use. And while that may be a welcome sign of changing times for many adults, there is no question that marijuana, including THC candy and snacks, is not appropriate or safe for kids. Unfortunately, with the long-awaited legalization of this controversial drug, many unethical vendors are using this historic moment to their advantage. Some THC edibles makers are targeting the national appetite for novelty THC items and creating products that look virtually identical to popular brands of candy and snacks like Doritos and Skittles. The problem? It can lead to a child's overdose of THC edibles.

Between 2017 and 2021 U.S. poison control centers reported that the number of kids who consumed edibles increased from 207 to over 3,000 nationally. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics indicates that edibles are now a household safety hazard and should be treated like any other medication, toxin, or unsafe item that a child may try to consume.

THC Candy Puts Kids at Risk For Overdose

"Many cannabis edibles companies are overstepping on marketing in an egregious way, putting consumers at risk and infringing on the trademarks of well-known and trusted confectionery brands," Christopher Gindlesperger, the senior vice president of public affairs and communications for the National Confectioners Association, said in an email to 7 News Boston.

One terrible consequence of these aggressive and misleading marketing tactics is that kids get sick and end up in hospitals. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there were 4,172 cannabis exposure cases in kids under the age of nine between 2017 and 2019. Roughly half of those, 45.7 percent, were associated with THC edibles.

In 2021, the New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a consumer alert over the growing problem of kids overdosing on THC edibles. In it, she wrote that in 2020, "more than 70 percent of calls related to marijuana edibles to the Poison Control Center involved children under the age of 5." James also pointed out that in states where recreational THC edibles and related products are legally sold, an adult serving of edible cannabis contains 5 milligrams of THC, but the knockoff Cheetos has more than 600 milligrams of THC. "If a child were to consume the entire bag," James wrote, "the child would be consuming 120 times the maximum legal adult serving in those states."

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The National Confectioner's Association is stepping into the national conversation around these knockoff brands selling THC edibles. The NCA is proposing a set of regulatory guidelines to help prevent THC edibles from being attractive to kids and the theft of trademarked designs. Among the many regulations that the NCA is proposing include a few limitations that may help kids stay safe such as:

  • Restricting the amount of THC in an edible.
  • Restricting descriptive language to exclude words traditionally associate with confections such as "candy," "gummy," and "snack."
  • Requiring opaque, plain packaging that is not attractive to kids.
  • Clear warning labels to alert consumers that the product contains THC and should be kept out of reach of kids.

What Happens if a Child Eats a THC Candy or Edible?

"The child can become intoxicated but not the same way an adult would. If a child is young enough, we are talking about large dosages per body weight of THC, which can cause children to become unresponsive. A myriad of symptoms can occur, including change in mental status, inability to ambulate, or a kid being totally unconscious or unresponsive," Dr. Joshua Nogar, Director of Emergency Medicine & Medical Toxicology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center (Queens, NY) tells Parents.

As THC edibles become normalized thanks to both the legalization and monetization of medicinal and recreational cannabis, more and more kids are experiencing accidental ingestion and exposure.

"We are indeed seeing a heightened volume of infants, children, and teens coming into our emergency department with THC intoxication," Monica Shekher-Kapoor, M.D., Attending Physician Pediatric Emergency Medicine Cohen Children's Medical Center (Queens, NY) tells Parents.

"Kids are naturally curious, which can lead to accidental and intentional ingestion. Clinically, presentation of THC ingestion varies, with a range of potential signs and symptoms, including, but not limited to, confusion, sleepiness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, agitation, paranoia, loss of balance, increase heart rate, and elevated blood pressure. In severe situations, we have seen patients with seizures, delirium, and coma," says Dr. Shekher-Kapoor.

What Should a Parent Do if a Child Eats THC Edibles?

Dr. Nogar explains that "many edibles have high amounts of THC, up to 100mg per gummy or chocolate, and that is a lot of what we see; chocolates or gummies and 100mgs of THC is more than enough to incapacitate an adult, let alone a child." He says that many of the kids he sees treated are kids between the ages of two and four who were exploring and ingested THC edibles. "Hospitalization is very common because these kids are practically unresponsive for 12 to 24-hour periods."

Parents should seek immediate medical attention when they notice the following in their children:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Changes in speech
  • Neurological changes
  • Loss of consciousness

"First and foremost, if a child has access to edibles, any signs and symptoms mentioned above should trigger a red flag for parents that it may be associated with edible ingestion," Dr. Shekher-Kapoor says. "Parents should contact their local poison control. Most likely, poison control will advise going to a local emergency department. Poison control is staffed by highly trained health professionals who can help parents better understand immediate steps to take."

Unfortunately, there are no standardized rules or regulations on how THC edibles can be designed, manufactured, and sold. This lack of regulation means that unscrupulous cannabis companies will likely continue to make lookalike products of brand-name snacks and candies that kids know and love. And that means that unless parents create safety measures in their homes, more kids will get sick.

Steps that parents can take to keep kids safe from THC exposure, poisoning, and overdose include:

  • Keeping all cannabis products out of reach of kids.
  • Not consuming products around kids, and making sure there is a sober adult to help watch over kids when you are using.
  • Not purchasing lookalike products your child would likely mistake for the real thing.
  • Using childproof containers to lock up all THC products to prevent your child from accessing them.
  • Keeping an emergency list of phone numbers, including Poison Control (1-800-222-1222), your family doctor, and 911.

Parenting is a hard gig, and for many, relaxing with cannabis has become as normalized as drinking alcohol. But that doesn't mean that cannabis is safe or appropriate for kids. If you have questions about keeping your family safe while using cannabis products, talk to your family doctor or check out California's Department of Cannabis Control for helpful tips.

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