ATLANTA — Poison control centers are issuing a warning to parents after seeing a spike in calls from families because their young children have gotten a hold of Delta-8 gummies.
The products in many forms look like candy, especially to kids, but they contain Delta-8 THC, a derivative similar to the main ingredient in marijuana – which can cause a mild high. For young kids, the effects can be dangerous.
"It's really unclear how sick these children are going to be, and that's one of the hardest parts -- the uncertainty," Dr. Maneesha Agarwal with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta said.
Agarwal confirmed she's seen an uptick in young kids coming to the emergency room after mistakenly eating Delta-8 gummies and other edibles.
"These children can come in and they can be just a little bit loopy, but some of them come in with significant alteration in their mental status," Agarwal explained.
Delta-8 THC exists naturally in the cannabis plant in only small quantities, and it's easy to find in convenience stores, vape or hemp shops as well as online.
Currently, there's an ongoing legal battle over Delta-8 as states including Georgia grapple with state and federal law. A lawsuit filed last month wants Delta-8 to be specifically identified as legal under Georgia law after a Gwinnett County District Attorney claimed the sale or distribution of such products was illegal.
The lawsuit claims the DA is interpreting "hemp" and "hemp products" incorrectly. Stores in Georgia have been able to sell hemp products that do not contain more than 0.3% of THC under the 2018 federal Farm Bill.
Delta-8 is known for causing a mild high, and in 2021, poison control centers started tracking Delta-8 calls. In the metro, those numbers have recently risen.
"When we're leaving products that look like candy, taste like candy, smell like candy, these are going to be magnets for children," Georgia Poison Center Director Gaylord Lopez said.
According to center data, only four calls for Delta-8 came in from January to March in 2021. In 2022, numbers total 53, the majority of calls concerning kids five years old and younger.
"A five-year-old is not purchasing," Lopez said. "They're finding them on the counter, they're finding them on dresser nightstands, they're in the kitchen curious."
Such products have not been evaluated by the FDA, and officials have expressed concern about the marketing which can be especially appealing to kids.
Lopez is not only concerned about the acute effects on children, which can include hallucinations or paranoia for an extended period, but also the uncertainty of longterm effects.
"Not only am I worried about things when you take it in that moment, I'm really concerned about the effects that can happen down the road," he said. "And when you're talking about these impurities being used, you really have to be on the lookout."
According to Agarwal, it's especially difficult to give answers to concerned parents in the emergency room given the lack of research on Delta-8.
"We just don't have the data to know if this is going to be a couple of hours or a couple of days," she said, referring to how long Delta-8 could stay in a child's system. She added some cases have required hospitalization and have escalated with children needing to be admitted into an intensive care unit.
Doctors advise parents who think their child has been exposed or eaten Delta-8 products to call poison control: 1-(800) 222-1222. If a child is extremely lethargic or struggling to breathe following Delta-8 consumption, head straight to the emergency room.