Gummy candy at a teen’s birthday party is being blamed for sending 19 people, most of them teens and children, to the hospital over the weekend in San Francisco, in what appears to be a mass marijuana overdose.
Doctors reported symptoms including dizziness, confusion, and dilated pupils in patients who ate gummies likely tainted with THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. Most of the patients were 18 years old or under. The youngest: 6.
Poisoning of children by accidental marijuana ingestion is rising in the United States, particularly where the drug is legal, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, which analyzed childhood marijuana poisonings in Colorado relative to the rest of the country. Since 2009, US poison centers outside of Colorado have seen an average 19 percent annual increase in pediatric poisonings from marijuana; the increase was 34 percent in Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2014.
In California, where the birthday party took place, marijuana is legal only with a prescription for medical use. Authorities still don’t know where the suspect candy came from and are still waiting for lab results confirming they contained THC, the Associated Press reports. But some of the sick partygoers did test positive for the chemical.
In absolute numbers, incidents of marijuana poisoning in children remain relatively low — fewer than 300 incidents were reported at Colorado poison control centers and hospitals in a seven-year period. Still, the preventable exposure is enough to concern state legislators. In 2015, they passed a law requiring childproof packaging for marijuana products and last month they outlawed marijuana candies in shapes — like animals, people, or fruits — that might be more likely to attract children.
Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the effects of marijuana, which may have long-term developmental consequences, according to the surgeon general’s warning. THC dose can vary wildly in edible marijuana products, which can make accidental consumption even more dangerous.
All of the patients had been discharged from the hospital by Monday morning. The department of public health is continuing to test all food eaten at the party until it confirms the source of illness.