At least 11 children or adolescents have been confirmed as suffering serious medical events related to non-medical cannabis exposures in Canada between September and December of 2018, according to the preliminary findings of a Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program study released Thursday.
"This is a small number," said Dr. Richard Bélanger, a pediatrician who practises adolescent medicine in Quebec City and one of the study's lead investigators.
"But even though it's a small number of cases, those are children. And those are children that have been exposed to cannabis, so really parents and caregivers, people that are using cannabis that maybe do not have any problem with that, need to keep in their head that really, their children could access those products."
Bélanger said it's too early to tell whether pediatric exposures to cannabis have increased after the drug was legalized for non-medical use on Oct. 17, 2018, but said he and his colleagues plan to keep an eye on the issue, especially when sales of commercially-produced food products containing cannabis commence at the end of this year.
The Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program is a collaboration between the Canadian Paediatric Society and the Public Health Agency of Canada. The study, which was designed to measure the "minimum incidence of serious and life-threatening events associated with non-medical cannabis use in Canadian children and youth," is currently slated to run through October 2020.
From September to December, the study tracked 16 reported cases of underage cannabis exposures that caused a serious medical event. Eleven cases have been verified as meeting the researchers' case definition, of which five patients were female and six male. Those 11 patients ranged in age from seven months to 17 years old, and all 11 cases resulted in hospitalization.
Seven of the 11 confirmed cases involved unintentional cannabis exposure, and six of those involved the ingestion of edible cannabis. In all of those cases, the edible cannabis belonged to a parent, grandparent or other caregiver.Advertisement
Bélanger said the research team was "a bit shocked at the number that were related to the ingestion of edibles among children." But he acknowledged that Canada's new regulations for government-regulated cannabis edibles are designed to ban any products that might be considered appealing to children, which he said was in line with the Canadian Paediatric Society's recommendations to the government.
"Yes, we're really pleased [by] it," said Bélanger. "At the same time, how it will turn out, when it will be put in place in the provinces, we need to keep an eye on it."
On top of the accidental ingestion of cannabis edibles by young children, the physician also said some adolescents may be using edibles as their first-ever cannabis experience.
"(And) they are not totally knowledgeable in how to use them, and this is quite different from the buzz that you can have when smoking or vaping," he said.
In his own practice, Bélanger said he sees young patients who have been hospitalized with medical or psychological issues related to cannabis on a monthly basis.
"Most of [them] are adolescents who intentionally use cannabis, but they're not looking for any adverse impact," he said.
Updated on Thursday, June 27, 2019 at 10:39 AM CDT: Clarifies ages of children, adds fresh art.