Toddler's Marijuana-Cookie Ingestion Could Have Been Worse
Credit: Medical marijuana via Shutterstock

The case of the 3-year-old boy who ate his grandmother’s prescription marijuana-laced cookies could have had a much worse ending than a very long nap had the child consumed a drug other than cannabis, a drug expert says.

The California boy was taken to the hospital after he slept for 16 hours and his family noticed crumbs from the grandmother's cookies, according to an Associated Press story. He was observed at the hospital and released.

Cannabis is "one of the least toxic drugs that exists," said Dr. Stephen Ross, a professor of child psychiatry and addiction at New York University's Tish Hospital. Death from ingesting it would be unlikely even for a small child, he said.

But Ross said a child having access to any sort of drug, including marijuana, is certainly concerning, and the outcome could have been much worse if the child had ingested a drug such as an amphetamine, an opiate or alcohol.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that deaths among children due to accidental poisoning  — which includes drug overdoses as well as cases of ingesting cleaning products — nearly doubled over the past decade. There were 824 reported deaths in 2009, compared with 442 in 2000.

The increase was largely due to an increase in prescription drug overdoses in teens, the CDC said.

Because children’s brains are still developing, they are generally more sensitive to drugs in general, Ross said. In particular, drugs that are potentially addicting need to be kept out of children's reach, he said.

"I’m concerned about drugs that have addictive liability, that are used medicinally, that are not locked up,” Ross said.

Marijuana is not as addicting as other drugs, but the growing trend among states of decriminalizing marijuana means that people should be reminded to be just as careful with this drug as with others. "Unless it’s properly secured like other medicines, this will happen," Ross said.

While the exact effects of marijuana on children are unclear because no such medical experiments can be performed ethically, its main effects on children would likely be sedation or confusion. In adults, consuming large amounts of marijuana has been linked with psychosis, Ross noted.

He said no death has even been attributed directly to consuming marijuana. Deaths associated with the drug are the result of activities undertaken while on the drug, such as driving under the influence. 

Still, parents who suspect their child has consumed the drug should immediately take the child to an emergency room, Ross said, and the child should be observed for the duration of the drug's influence.

"Certainly, a child who had ingested it should be medically monitored to make sure they wouldn’t do anything that would be dangerous,” Ross said. "If a child becomes uncoordinated or their speech becomes slurry or they develop bloodshot eyes — those would be the overt signs that I’d be looking out for."

Pass it on: Ingesting marijuana is not likely life-threatening for children, but it’s important to keep all medical prescriptions, including marijuana, locked away.

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Editor's Note: The original version of this story stated that marijuana is not an addicting drug. In fact, marijuana is an addicting drug, though its potential for addiction is lower than many other drugs.