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Big Rise in Emergencies Involving Synthetic Weed Among Kids, Adults
  • Posted May 8, 2024

Big Rise in Emergencies Involving Synthetic Weed Among Kids, Adults

Calls to U.S. poison centers regarding so-called synthetic cannabis jumped 88% between 2021 and 2022, as use of these legally sold products rose, research shows.

Synthetic cannabis contain varying forms of the active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): delta-8 THC, delta-10 THC and THC-O acetate. 

They're banned or regulated in 14 states, but even then people can order them online. In other states they can be easily found in locations like gas stations and small convenience stores. 

Users often discount the health threat from the products, dubbing them "diet weed"or "hemp products,"according to a team led by Dr. Hannah Hays. She's medical director of the Central Ohio Poison Center and faculty at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus.

"Many people don't realize how toxic these products can be, especially to young children. One in four children needed to be hospitalized after exposure,"Hays said in a Nationwide Children's news release. 

"If someone vapes, smokes, eats edibles or drinks infused beverages with delta-8, delta-10 THC or THC-O, all of those products should be stored up, away, and out of sight and reach of children, preferably in a locked container," she stressed. "These products should never be used in front of kids who might mistake them for food or drinks that they are allowed to have."

Hays' team looked at 2021-2022 data from the National Poison Data System (NPDS), which is maintained by America's Poison Centers.

A total of 1,746 calls regarding synthetic weed were received by poison centers in 2021, but that number nearly doubled to 3,276 during 2022, the study found.

Almost a third of the calls (31%) involved kids age 5 and younger, and this age group comprised more than half (58%) of all cases in which the person was so sick they were admitted to a hospital's critical care unit. 

A quarter of all synthetic cannabis-related calls to poison centers involved children ages 6 to 19, and 40% involved adults ages 20 to 59, Hays' group reported. 

In the vast majority of cases, calls happened after someone used synthetic weed at home. 

How can these products affect the body? According to the study, "the most common clinical effects were mild central nervous system depression (when signals from the brain and spinal cord decrease) (25%), rapid heartbeat (23%), and agitation (16%)," according to the hospital news release. Depression, confusion, hallucinations, delusions and movement disorders were also often cited.

In 16% of cases, these types of symptoms were so severe the person needed inpatient hospital care, the researchers said.

None of this needs to happen, especially among kids, Hays' team said. 

The packaging used for these products can be shiny and colorful -- fooling kids into thinking they are treats, researchers said. So, if adults in a home do use synthetic weed, its imperative that it be kept far out of the reach of children.

It's probably also a good idea not to use synthetic cannabis in front of kids. Keeping the national Poison Help Line number (1-800-222-1222) in your phone contacts is probably a smart move, too. It provides free, confidential advice from experts, 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

For kids and adults alike, more needs to be done to educate Americans that synthetic weed is not harmless.

"The current patchwork of state regulations has led to an environment that allows for easily available products that may have unlisted contaminants, inaccurate labels and packaging that can be appealing to children"study co-author Dr. Christopher Gaw said in the news release. 

"We need clearer regulation of these products with better oversight and enforcement," said Gaw, a pediatric emergency medicine doctor and faculty member of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's.

The study was published April 30 in Clinical Toxicology.

More information

Find out more about synthetic cannabis at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: Nationwide Children's Hospital, news release, May 7, 2024

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