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'I thought I had lost her': Doctors warn of marijuana edibles’ danger for kids

marijuana edibles
Posted at 8:46 PM, Jan 15, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Californians love their legal marijuana. The highest number of cannabis users in the country live in the Golden State, nearly 7 million people, according to Statista, an internet data company.

But medical experts and a parent with a seriously impacted child whom ABC 10News spoke to agree that just because marijuana is legal doesn't necessarily mean it's safe.

"My daughter accidentally ingested marijuana, and it nearly killed her," says concerned parent Amina Serir.

"Marijuana is a very dangerous drug for children," says Dr. Natalie Laub, a child abuse pediatrician at Rady Children's Hospital.

When asked about the idea that marijuana is not addictive, Dr. Roneet Lev, who is an emergency and addiction physician, adamantly dismissed that claim.

"That's absolutely wrong. Marijuana is addictive. If you look at youth in treatment centers, the number one drug that they're in addiction treatment for is cannabis," the addiction expert says.

Serir is the mother of two beautiful daughters. She says she nearly lost one of them to a cereal that looks just like the harmless store shelf brand, except "jacks" is spelled with a Z. According to lab tests obtained by Team 10, the product her child ate contained THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

"They were very attractive," Serir says.

Serir is a swim teacher and routinely takes snacks to practice, and while she doesn't use marijuana in any form, someone added the THC edible to the snack bag. It took only a few minutes for her daughter to complain about drowsiness and stomach pain. Serir says she still doesn't know who added the package to the snack basket.

Soon, Serir was on the phone with the poison center, which directed her to go to the hospital immediately.

When little Maya was admitted there, she slipped into a 30-hour coma, according to the pathology report.

"That was the biggest fear of our lives. I thought I had lost her," Serir says.

Serir says the effects of the THC the lab found in the cereal have been long-lasting for her daughter.

"It was hallucinations. My daughter had her eyes wide open, and she could see bugs and snakes and spiders and had terrifying moments through the night... Throughout the day where she didn't know if she was in reality or in her dreams," Serir says.

Neither the makers of the Apple Jackz THC edible nor the retail association representing legal marijuana in California have responded to Team 10's inquiries.

The two nationally renowned San Diego doctors studying the issue say since legalized marijuana came on the market, child cannabis poisoning has skyrocketed. There were 200 hospital cases in 2023 alone.

"Every single shift, multiple times a shift, I see marijuana-associated problems," says Dr. Lev. "And the reason is potency. You know that '70s marijuana doesn't even exist anymore, so legal doesn't mean safe."

In Oct. 2023, four children at Escondido's North Broadway Elementary School were sent to the hospital after eating snacks believed to be laced with marijuana.

The school district told parents via email, "edible cannabis products are easily mistaken for regular candy or food. Cannabis food products such as gummy bears, lollipops or brownies are designed and package to look like popular brands of regular candy or baked goods."

In Los Angeles, paramedics were called to transport eight children to the hospital after suspected gummies were consumed on another school campus last spring.

"So it appears that it just... probably is medical marijuana, but we cannot say that for certain until the police does a complete investigation," a firefighter told KABC last spring.

Dr. Laub is a renowned expert on marijuana and how it affects children. One of her published works in the Journal of American Medicine says it can take as little as 5 milligrams of THC to hospitalize a toddler. Additionally, she says half of the kids coming to Rady Children's Hospital after ingesting marijuana are admitted, and 10% are sent to the ICU.

"We were seeing a handful of kids a year, three to five children in an entire year, having cannabis or marijuana poisoning," says Dr. Laub. "Now we are seeing hundreds of children a year test positive for marijuana coming into the hospital very sick."

Dr. Laub described some of the symptoms she's seen associated with marijuana poisoning.

"We start to see them having trouble breathing. We start to see them have trouble with electrolytes, so they start to vomit so much," Dr. Laub says. "Cannabis is very, very dangerous for children. Cannabis makes children very sick. Cannabis can cause children to die even at small doses."

Dr. Lev says parents need to be mindful of their personal stashes.

"One little 5-year-old girl got into her mother's gummy bears. Her eyes were rolling in her head. She was admitted to the ICU, waiting a day or two to detox before she could get home, and her mom didn't intend that. She was mortified, appropriately embarrassed," Dr. Lev says.

Doctors who have witnessed the effects of marijuana poisoning in children are now attempting to change the narrative that marijuana is safe in an effort to fight the marketing that leaves the impression that the drug is just candy with a kick.

"The drug is not being kept locked away. The drug is not in a childproof container. The drug is left in a kitchen junk drawer. It's left in a bedside table. It's kept on a windowsill. It's left where children can get it," says Dr. Laub.

Serir welcomes the movement to change the narrative surrounding marijuana.

"We should ask ourselves that question: Is this really meant for adults that are over the age of 21, or is it targeting younger children? Because that's when it becomes really scary," she says.

Those hard lessons may change what the medical world now thinks about the safety of marijuana.