When consumed unknowingly, cannabis can pose serious health risks — especially to children and pets. While all cannabis products (including homemade products) should be stored safely, it is of particular importance for ingestible products, such as edibles, beverages and oils. While dried cannabis flower needs to be heated in order for the effect-causing cannabinoids (such as THC) to become active, the cannabinoids in ingestible products have already been activated, meaning their accidental consumption can have more serious health implications.
Over the past several years in Ontario, there has been a noted increase in children requiring hospital admission after unintentionally consuming cannabis. The risk to children is significant. Because they are smaller, the amount of THC in their bodies is more concentrated than it would be in an adult. Most accidental consumption by children happens with edibles and beverages, which children may mistake for non-infused products and which are processed by the body more unpredictably than other cannabis products. Though cannabis is legal in Canada, unregulated cannabis is still accessible and many ingestible products from the unregulated market are often in packaging that resembles that of non-infused candy.
According to the Ontario Poison Centre, the symptoms of cannabis poisoning in children can vary, depending on what they consumed and how much, as well as their size. Symptoms can be serious, including:
- Loss of balance
- Difficulty breathing
- Slurred speech
- Muscle weakness
- Slowed breathing
- Seizures (in rare cases)
Pets that have unintentionally consumed cannabis products can exhibit many similar symptoms as children with cannabis poisoning. In rare cases, if the dose was significant, cannabis poisoning can be fatal for dogs and cats. And it’s not just cannabis edibles that pose a risk to pets; animals may also accidentally consume extract products and joints, including roaches (the remains of joints).
Avoiding unintentional cannabis ingestion and harm means storing cannabis in the same manner as medications and hazardous household products:
- Clearly labelled
- Up and out of reach
- Inside child-resistant packaging
- Stored in a locked container or cabinet
Homemade edibles, beverages and topicals should also be clearly labelled and kept in a locked container. Proper disposal of cannabis products (including roaches) is also important. Avoid disposing of cannabis products in a place accessible by children or pets.
If you suspect a child has ingested cannabis, dial 9-1-1 immediately or call the Ontario Poison Centre toll-free at 1-800-268-9017. It’s helpful to write down the time, any symptoms you notice and how much you suspect has been ingested. Keep any packaging handy if you have it. If a pet has consumed cannabis, call your veterinarian or nearest animal hospital.