Kids Are Being Hospitalized for Consuming Hemp Products: Congress Should Make It Illegal
If you live in one of the 37 states where marijuana has been legalized, you have likely seen the number of cannabis shops in your area multiply quickly. Even small, rural towns contain three to five shops. We see billboards that warn drivers not to “drive high” — assuming that a lot of residents are high. (This is a much different message than what the Reagan administration taught kids: “Just say no” to drugs.)
But even if you don’t shop at cannabis stores, parents need to be aware that kids are able to buy hemp in other places — including gas stations. For example, hemp gummies are increasingly popular — many people buy them thinking that they help relieve their anxiety. But manufacturers sell them in packages that attract kids, resembling popular candy brands like Sour Patch Kids and Trolli. As a result, according to a recent in-depth Wall Street Journal article, the calls to poison-control centers over hemp illnesses have skyrocketed over the past few years — from four in January 2021 to hundreds every month of 2022 and 2023 for which there is information, according to America’s Poison Centers. More than half of those calls were for children because they became sick after eating hemp that looked like candy. In addition, almost 80% of those who contacted America’s Poison Center due to hemp illness between January 2021 and October 2023 ended up going to the hospital.
Children who consume hemp can become nauseous, their eyes become red and irritated, they get sleepy, can have trouble breathing, and their heart rate can increase. Those who experience severe side effects have seizures, become comatose, and may require a breathing tube and a ventilator. The long-term effects of cannabis on children are unknown. Many kids don’t buy the hemp products themselves but are handed one by another child, thinking it’s just a piece of candy. Such examples in the WSJ as well as a recent Fox News article about six children in Florida who were recently hospitalized after eating cannabis gummies at the Lauderhill Boys & Girls Club afterschool program.
Many of these hemp products have little to no restrictions because Congress legalized hemp in 2018 through the Farm Bill. That bill defined hemp as cannabis plants that have less than 0.3% Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the intoxicating ingredient in cannabis plants. Delta-8 THC (often called “weed lite”) has become especially popular.
There are no federal rules governing hemp products, and states that have passed laws have had difficulty enforcing them. In July, the FDA and Federal Trade Commission sent cease-and-desist letters to six companies that sell Delta-8 products that look like Doritos, Cheetos, and Nerds ropes. Kids can buy Delta-8 candies online for $1.00.
The FDA says it needs Congress to pass a new law that will allow it to regulate cannabis products. In the meantime, many on the Hill are seeking advice from cannabis experts and companies. Unfortunately, there are many powerful lobbyists that, instead of trying to regulate and restrict cannabis, are working hard to legalize it nationwide. Congress should stop companies from marketing hemp to children as soon as possible — possibly adding such a regulation to the 2024 Farm Bill. You can contact the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry at FarmBill2023@ag.senate.gov. Tell them to make it illegal for companies to market cannabis products to kids.