Montreal seeing spike in cannabis intoxication among young children

Doctors at the Montreal Children's Hospital are sounding the alarm after a massive spike in the number of cases of cannabis intoxication among young children.

"Since legalization in October, we have had 26 cases, and in the under seven age group over the last little while, we've had nine cases - which has gone from one every three to four years to nine over a very short period of time. So this is certainly is alarming to us," Debbie Friedman, trauma director at the Montreal Children's Hospital, told CTV Montreal.

The big problem: kids are getting into their parents' edibles.

"They tell us, you know, 'We had brownies in the fridge, the kids have access to the fridge, he ate some, we became concerned, he became symptomatic, we brought him in.' So parents shouldn't be afraid to get medical attention," said ER physician and toxicologist Dr. Dominic Chalut.

Dr. Chalut added that it is important for parents to seek treatment if their child becomes ill.

"We're not there to call [youth protection] on all cases. It's like all ingestion, accidents can happen."

Some of the common symptoms of cannabis intoxication include: 

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Drowsiness or excessive sleepiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Anxiety, restlessness, changes in mood or behaviour
  • Difficulty walking or sitting up
  • Loss of balance or coordination

"The patients we've seen presented with some dizziness, vomiting. They can also fluctuate from a state of agitation to lethargy. They're not breathing enough, they need assistance, we pinch them, they don't respond to pain and two cases where they presented with seizures," Chalut said.

The two children who were brought to hospital with seizures needed to be intubated and admitted to the Children's intensive care unit.

Dr. Friedman said everyone needs to adjust to the new, post legalization reality.

"Whether it needs to have safety caps or safety locks that can't be opened by children, whether it needs to be stored in areas that aren't accessible and that they're very prudent if they're having friends over and they're using these products that they're not left around."

In a statement, Quebec's Deputy Health Minister Lionel Carmant said he is greatly concerned about the spike in kids ingesting cannabis edibles.

"We must remain vigilant vis-à-vis comestible products that contain mind-altering products such as cannabis edibles. It is clear to me that the risk of collateral intoxication is and will remain high. I call on all parents to exercise caution with these products."

There is fear the problem will only get worse.

Cannabis buyers are allowed to turn their weed into food products if they choose, but right now, edibles can't legally be purchased in stores (they are available at other websites online).

However, the Federal government has indicated edibles containing cannabis and cannabis concentrates would become legal for consumers in October.

The Children's trauma centre has put together a new brochure for cannabis users with children.