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Cannabis Poisoning: Myth vs Fact

by Angel Ferrer 4 min read

cannabis and marijuana poisoning

Poisoning from Marijuana: What's True & What's Not

In recent years, poison control centers have publicly noticed a rising trend in cannabis-related calls. Largely spurred by the continued and widening legalization of cannabis (for medical and recreational use), this trend is expected to continue.

But are these calls warranted, and is (or can) cannabis result in poisoning?

While the spike in cannabis-related poison control calls may seem worrying, it’s important to remember that the reported numbers are nothing compared to the reports about other substances like aspirin and household chemicals—commonly bleach, chlorine, and of course, Tide Pods. Further, there have been no cases where cannabis was determined to have been the direct cause of death.

Calls about children ingesting cannabis number a few hundred per year (on average) in California, a state of thirty-eight million people. For comparison, calls about other legal and illegal substances can range in the tens of thousands. 

See more: Cannabis & Autism

However, this didn’t stop the Los Angeles Times from publishing a fearmongering story out of context. The headline “More California kids are having pot-related health scares, poison control officials warn” caused undue panic amongst families who were in no real danger. The article said that “state and local officials say they are alarmed” by the increase in calls.

Regulations Now Include Child-Proofing

Previously, most edibles came in colorful packaging that was visually eye-catching and appealing. More recently California and other states that have legalized cannabis use for adults have put laws in place that require manufacturers to make product packaging less attractive and appealing to children.

This level of regulation was partially driven by the epidemic of children eating Tide Pods due to their candy-like appearance. Thousands of poisonings were reported, and several people died as a result of ingesting the detergent pods.

As a result, all cannabis products sold in California (for example) must also come in child-resistant containers. That said, the main responsibility still lies with the parents who should refrain from leaving their cannabis lying around and should instead abide by the classic warning “keep out of reach of children.”

Knowledge Check: Cannabis & Anxiety

Comparatively Few Cannabis Calls

Dr. Stuart Heard, the executive director of the California Poison Control System has been quoted saying that “[cannabis] is not all that harmful, but it’s not harmless.” Dr. Heard stated that most symptoms associated with children consuming cannabis are actually caused by the stress and fear as opposed to the compound itself.

Poison Control reported that the number of calls involving cannabis ingestion in people nineteen and younger in the state of California rose from 347 in 2015 to 588 in 2017—the year it became legal for adults to possess marijuana. Half of those calls were in regard to children aged five and below.

Dr. Heard pointed out that, when you look at the big picture, the calls about cannabis are actually rather low. He said there were over fifteen thousand calls to poison control centers in 2017 regarding the ingestion of analgesics—most commonly aspirin, Tylenol, and Advil—by people who were aged nineteen and below.

Each year up to ten thousand children ages five and below get into analgesics per state. Furthermore, there were up to twelve thousand calls PER STATE reporting the ingestion of household cleaning products by individuals ages nineteen and below—ten thousand of which involved kids aged five and below 

Raw number and volume of poison calls aside, there’s another big difference in why some calls are more significant than others: whether or not the substances reported can actually kill you or result in long-lasting and critical side effects. Cannabis results in neither.

Poison Control’s Cannabis Advice

Dr. Heard described cannabis-involved poison control calls as akin to someone who is having a panic attack. You might feel “too high” and like you’re going to die…but rest assured, unless you have some other underlying health or medical condition, the cannabis is NOT going to kill you and will eventually wear off.

The main approach poison control centers are trained to take with cannabis “overdoses” are to reassure the caller that the symptoms will improve with time but that they may call their doctor or go to the ER if they feel it necessary (never hurts to be cautious).

Learn More: Can you Overdose on Cannabis?

He noted that for calls involving children, poison control would always recommend they go to the emergency room and seek immediate medical supervision to avoid any potential harm. If the call concerns pets, poison control refers them to ASPCA’s animal poison control center.

Closing Thoughts

With the increasing use of cannabis across states where it is legalized has come an increase in reported medical emergency calls from individuals who think they may be overdosing on cannabis. However, the data and research has demonstrated that while you might feel like you are dying, in the absence of any other underlying health conditions you will feel better over time as the effects wear off.

The legally available cannabis is often much stronger than the stuff you (may) have had prior or when you were younger. And with the availability of vaping and concentrates you can get a much more impactful experience by using much less than you may be used to.

As such it’s always advisable to take it easy when vaping new concentrates, oils or strains.