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Cannabis-related ER visits rose among children during the pandemic

More kids went to the emergency room for cannabis-related incidents during the pandemic.
Cannabis-related ER visits rose among children during the pandemic
Posted at 4:35 PM, Jul 14, 2023

In the past few years, more children have gone to emergency rooms for cannabis-related issues, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

The CDC report released Thursday looked into cannabis-involved emergency department visits among people under 25 years old during the pandemic. It found a spike in visit rates within the time period compared to 2019, most significantly in children under 14.

Visit rates in people 10 years or younger "far exceeded" rates pre-pandemic, with averages ranging from 30.4 out of 10,000 visits in 2020 to 71.5 in 2022. That's compared to pre-pandemic levels of 18.7 in 2019 to 23.2 in 2020.

As for those ages 11 to 14, the average number of ER visits for cannabis were 69.8 in 2020 to 209.3 in 2022, compared to a pre-pandemic high of 138.5 in 2020. Girls were particularly having more emergencies, with a 111% average increase in the studied time period compared to boys' 24% rise.

When looking into the gendered differences, the CDC said females may be more likely than males to use cannabis to cope with stress, noting a 2021 study that found young females were more likely to use harmful coping mechanisms when stressed. 

Though all age groups saw a rise, more than 90% of the selected age range's cannabis-related ER visits occurred in those 15 to 24 years old. The group's average weekly cannabis-involved emergency visits rose by 8%, possibly due to self-soothing methods during the uncertain time of the pandemic.

SEE MORE: Companies accused of marketing cannabis food products to kids

The CDC said ER visit rates had been increasing significantly in the years before the pandemic among all the age groups except those 15 to 24, but this study found rates remained higher than those before 2019. 

Specific reasons for the higher rates are unclear, but age and the drug's expanded legalization could be adding to the higher rates, the CDC noted. Plus, its wider use and availability has made young people less likely to associate cannabis with risk, it said.

"These increases might stem from multiple factors, such as increased use as a coping mechanism for pandemic-related stressors, use of highly concentrated THC products, increased availability of cannabis in states with legal marketplaces, and increased unintentional ingestions associated with packaging that is appealing or confusing to youths," the agency said.

Last year, a study using data from the National Poison Data System found calls to poison control centers involving kids using cannabis had increased 245% since 2000. 

To reduce the emergency incidents in young people, the CDC says adults should create safer cannabis product storage, and it says communities should implement evidence-based programs to help residents cope with stress to prevent cannabis use.

It also says cannabis packaging should be changed. The note comes a week after the FDA and FTC said some companies with THC-infused products have been reckless in marketing and packaging techniques, with some products appearing easily mistakable for regular food.

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