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Doc stresses need to educate adults on 'significant negative side effects' impacting kids who consume cannabis accidentally


Since the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada, the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto has seen a sharp uptick in the number of cannabis poisonings and related ICU admissions among children.

A study in the journal Clinical Toxicology observed intoxication severity for emergency room visits at the hospital among children up to age 18, comparing cases in the nine years prior to the bill that legalized recreational cannabis in Canada was tabled in 2017 and cases in the two years that followed.

The study found that in the years following legalization, intensive care visits among children tripled, and indeed quadrupled among children young than 12.

"The main findings are that there's been an increase in the severity of the poisons in children who were presented to SickKids emergency department with cannabis intoxication," Dr. Yaron Finkelstein, lead researcher and emergency pediatrician told CTV News.

"The monthly number of cases did not significantly change, but the severity did.”

The research also showed a rise in the number of children admitted to emergency with altered mental states and respiratory issues.

While older children are more likely to consume cannabis by inhalation, the study noted edible use more than doubled after legalization and was significantly tied to the emergency visits for children under 12.

"Those that are really the sickest . . . are typically young toddlers who ingest edibles," Dr. Finkelstein said. "If you put cannabis in a brownie, in candies, chocolate chip cookies, those are visually attractive to young children and they're also typically very concentrated, and that's why we have more severe cases."

Dr. Finkelstein stressed that the public needs to be better educated about how cannabis can affect children differently than adults. He noted that while rare in adults, children can experience more significant negative side effects from cannabis including respiratory depression, behavioural changes, seizures, balance and coordination problems and sometimes even coma.

"Obviously, when [cannabis] is legal, it's more abundant in the home, but many people are not aware that it can cause severe poisoning, especially to young children so the awareness of that is key," Dr. Finkelstein said.

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