Fewer Children Seeking ER Treatment for Cannabis Ingestion

Cannabis-Related Pediatric Emergency Department Visits by Month. Source: Virginia Hospital Association

by James A. Bacon

The number of pediatric patients visiting hospital emergency rooms in cannabis-related incidents fell 21.5% in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period the year before, a decline that some attribute to bipartisan legislation regulating the production, sale, and potency of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana-related products.

A Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association analysis shows that the volume of cannabis-related visits among pediatric patients had been trending higher over the past several years, peaking in late 2022 and early 2023 before dropping sharply in June 2023.

“This law was introduced to protect Virginia children and families from being harmed by ingesting unregulated, intoxicating products that can pose serious health risks,” said Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, who sponsored the bill to regulate THC-infused products. “So, it is certainly welcome news to see that this policy change appears to be having a positive effect in terms of declining pediatric emergency department visits due to cannabis exposure.”

“We will continue to monitor this data, and as appropriate, consider further legislative action regarding retail THC products,” said Senator Barbara Favola, D-Arlington County, who supported the legislation.

Health impacts on children who consumed products with THC — which range from gummy candies, chocolate bars, lollipops, cookies, and brownies to cupcakes, popcorn and ice cream — “have included vomiting, hallucinations, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, altered mental status and anxiety; some hospitalizations have occurred,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Karen Shelton in a recent letter informing Virginia clinicians about the surveillance program to track the number of adverse incidents.

Bacon’s bottom line: As much as I support the regulation of THC in products that might be consumed by children, I find it a bit premature to declare victory. The decline assuredly does look impressive. But two things to note: first, March t0 June 2022 saw a drop of comparable magnitude before trending back upward. Second, the decline in 2023 occurred in June, before the law went into effect in July. Perhaps the dip can be explained by the fact that vendors were adapting to the law in advance knowing that it was coming. But that’s no more than a surmise.

I’d like to see a sustained trend before getting too excited about the data. Still, the numbers do look promising. We can all celebrate a rare bipartisan effort.