A mass marijuana overdose sent 19 Bay Area residents to the hospital in early August after consuming super-potent THC-laced gummy candies, authorities said.
The victims, including both adults and children, were poisoned in San Francisco at a 15-year-old girl’s quinceañera, a birthday celebration popular in Latin American communities. Police said they were taken to multiple area hospitals and treated for THC overdoses.
All 19 recovered in a matter of hours and were released. Cannabis is non-fatal and causes no serious long-term health problems, but excessive THC consumption can cause extremely unpleasant side effects, including nausea, vomiting, and intense panic attacks.
Victims experienced confusion, dizziness and dilated pupils
Doctors in the San Francisco incident reported that the victims suffered from confusion, dizziness, and dilated pupils. The gummies were still being tested, but doctors and police said they believe the candies contained high amounts of THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana.
Most of the victims are minors, the youngest 6 years old, authorities said. It was unclear whether they ate the gummies intentionally, but it’s unlikely the children knew what they were consuming.
Similar incidents have raised concerns in Colorado, Washington, and other states where cannabis is legal – including California, which allows the drug for widespread medical use and will likely vote in November to legalize it for recreation. Critics say cannabis gummies are especially appealing to minors.
Colorado’s ban on certain edibles
That has led lawmakers in Colorado to impose tight packaging and labeling requirements on marijuana edibles, as well as a ban on candies made to look like animals, people, or fruit – the sorts of shapes most likely to attract children. The rules for recreational pot in California, which were signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, have similar provisions.
The problem appears to be on the rise, but unintentional overdoses requiring hospitalization remain extremely rare, especially among children. Emergency rooms in states with legal pot have reported increases in ER admissions but say the numbers are still much lower than they are for other types of poisoning.
THC overdose admissions have increased roughly 19 percent each year since legalization in Colorado, but fewer than 300 cases have been reported since 2009, three years before voters legalized cannabis there.
Bay Area authorities said they had launched an investigation into the source of the marijuana candy and how it ended up at the party. They did not initially arrest anyone or name any potential suspects, and did not say whether they thought the incident was a crime.
Police didn’t say how potent the candies were, but overdoses of this scope typically involve extremely high THC concentrations. Children are especially vulnerable to negative effects and often require short-term hospitalization. Adults who eat edibles unwittingly are also at increased risk.
California’s Department of Health said its agents collected all uneaten food from the party and would continue testing it to confirm the presence of marijuana compounds. All 19 victims were released from hospitals by Aug. 8, local officials said.
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