Photo by Margo Amala

Child Welfare Laws Can Ensnare Cannabis Using Parents

Halloween and the subsequent holiday season present a unique challenge for a parent who consumes cannabis edibles: between the fearmongering campaigns and stigma surrounding use, it becomes next to impossible to be transparent about accidental ingestion. Because of the pressure associated with losing custody over a plant, parents who consume cannabis are often extra cautious. But accidents do happen, and even the most cautious and responsible parent will face a time when they have a close call. 

As a mother to a tiny human, I can attest to the unpredictability of what a child will do in any given situation. Children are constantly exploring, often in ways you don’t expect; even if you make every move to ensure safety, the little ones find a new approach to destruction. If a child is old enough to comprehend, having a series of conversations about the difference between medicating and eating candy or baked goods can be a start. 

When the child is too young to understand the concept, it can be tricky, to say the least. Ana (not her real name) let cannabis-infused brownies cool off on the counter while she completed chores outside, and in her absence, her 3-year-old son swiped half of a serving while she was outside.

Luckily, Ana baked the medicated edibles in cupcake tins for easy dosing, so she was able to figure out how much he consumed. Aside from his speech becoming slower and goofier, her son didn’t experience any negative effects. Ana said her son slept well that night, and she hasn’t witnessed any long-term effects from the experience.

None of the parents TNS spoke to experienced outside intervention – in every instance the guardian avoided a hospital trip, so there was no investigation by a social worker or child protective agency. But for those who can’t avoid the trip for whatever reason risk a possible inquiry, which could lead to losing custody.

While each state has individual guidelines for child custody intervention, mandated reporters (individuals who are responsible for the care of children, such as doctors and therapists) are obligated to make calls if a child tests positive for illegal substances.

Exposing a child to illegal drugs is considered child endangerment in 14 states, and the exposure to Schedule 1 substances is a crime in 8 states.

Amanda Reiman, Ph.D. MSW said a lot of factors would contribute to the decision to remove a child from custodial parents. Reiman told TNS it is important for parents and caregivers to understand how the laws differ in each state, because harsher penalties may exist (even where it is legal for adult use).

“Factors such as the safety of the home, the condition of the child (food, clothing, cleanliness, etc.), and any history of domestic disturbance would be considered in addition to the accidental ingestion,” Reiman said.

Critics of cannabis exaggerate the availability of edibles, diminish the precise dosing required by law, and ignore regulation efforts of the industry.

But what is also missing from the conversation is how many consumers prefer and even need to use edibles to medicate. Having your child understand the many different applications are important, but so does understanding the different cannabinoids. A comprehensive understanding of plant medicine can go a long way as a preventative method.

Plant medicine education must start at home, however, because anti-marijuana campaigns are still a part of D.A.R.E. education in schools throughout the country(some areas are demanding the reinstatement of anti-marijuana education as part of adult-use rollouts). Dr. June Chin recommends explaining to your child how local and federal laws impact adult use if they are old enough to understand. Chin told TNS it is important to talk to preteens and teens about how legal status doesn’t translate to safe use.

“If your kids are older—preteens or teens—acknowledge that even though the legal age in your city, state, province, or country is 18, 19, or 21, they should wait until their brains are fully formed,” Chin told TNS.

Neuroscientists say human brains are fully formed around 25 years of age, Chin points out, and there is little research on the long-term effects of accidental cannabis ingestion with children. Medically speaking, however, Chin says the plant’s chemical compounds interact differently with a child’s underdeveloped systems.To combat the underage (non-medical) use of cannabis, Chin suggests openly discussing cannabis, instead of painting it as an illicit or forbidden substance.

“The conversations around cannabis in your home should be as normal as telling kids to stay out of the medicine chest and to not take medicine that isn’t meant for them,” Chin said. 

Even the most progressive discussions about plant medicine can’t prevent accidental ingestion. Brook (not her real name) gave her 12-year-old what she thought was a CBD gummy, but the package was mislabeled. After consuming the 50 mg THC edible, the 12-year-old began feeling the sensation like she was moving when she was still. 

Being a long-time user of herbal medicine, Brook felt confident in her ability to avoid the hospital. Brook gave her a nutrient-rich smoothie, put her in an Epsom salt bath, and then laid her down to listen to binaural beats afterward. Despite her daughter saying it was the best sleep of her life, the experience soured her from using cannabis ever again. 

Chin says the best approach to avoiding accidental ingestion is to treat the plant the same as you would prescription drugs, cleaning products, or toxic substances.

Taking further measures like investing in lockable storage is recommended, as is proper labeling with home-baked and store-bought items. There should be no situation where cannabis is accessible to a child, Chin points out, regardless of how many conversations you have. 

But with over 70% of people working from home most or all of the time due to the pandemic, and children not being in school for the majority of the last two years, accidents are more likely to happen in every area of the household. May (not her real name) was working at home creating a photoshoot for her client – a brand selling THC-infused gummies. When May wasn’t looking, her 6-year-old daughter grabbed a 10 mg gummy from the photoshoot.

Brook’s daughter asked what was wrong with her because she felt cold and overwhelmed. Because cannabidiol (CBD) can neutralize and reduce the efficacy of THC, Brook gave her daughter a serving of water-soluble full-spectrum hemp elixir and saw major improvement within minutes. After visibly relaxing and communicating how she felt better, Brook’s daughter ate 6 pieces of cinnamon toast.

Parents are forced to deal with these scary adverse reactions at home with DIY remedies like inhaling certain terpenes, taking naps, eating, and walking. Until federal laws and stigma surrounding the plant change, parents won’t be able to freely visit the hospital without worrying about custodial rights.  

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