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Virginia health officials launch surveillance system to monitor cannabis effects in kids

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia health authorities have implemented a new surveillance system to track the effects of cannabis consumption in children, aiming to mitigate the risks associated with the exposure to THC and CBD among young individuals.

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Reports have emerged indicating instances of children falling ill after ingesting products containing THC and CBD, chemical compounds found in cannabis. Concerns over the accessibility of such products to minors have prompted the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to take proactive measures to address the issue.

Since cannabis possession for individuals aged 21 and older in Virginia was legalized in July 2021, there has been a growing concern regarding its inadvertent consumption by children. Despite efforts by Virginia Democrats to establish a legal cannabis market earlier this year, Governor Glenn Youngkin vetoed the proposed bill, citing concerns over public health and safety.

“The proposed legalization of retail marijuana in the Commonwealth endangers Virginians’ health and safety,” Youngkin said in a statement. “Attempting to rectify the error of decriminalizing marijuana by establishing a safe and regulated marketplace is an unachievable goal.”

Symptoms observed in children who have consumed THC and CBD products include hallucinations, vomiting, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, an altered mental state and anxiety, according to the VDH. The department has issued a request urging healthcare providers to report any instances of cannabis-related hospitalizations in minors, as well as clusters affecting multiple children.

People who experience adverse effects of cannabis can report it to the VDH through an online portal, where they will be prompted to provide specific information about the products, including when and where they purchased it, and what the packaging looked like.

This new system is based on VA code 12VAC5-90-80, Section H, which requires suspected or confirmed cases of diseases and effects to be reported to the state.

Dr. Chris Holstege, Director of the University of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Poison Center, highlighted the alarming trend of children mistakenly consuming cannabis products, often disguised as regular candy. He emphasized the importance of ensuring public safety, particularly with the increasing availability of cannabis edibles.

“We want to make sure as these products are being sold, we’re selling them in the best way possible to keep the public safe, both adults and children,” Holstege said.

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The Blue Ridge Poison Center has witnessed a significant rise in cases of children being hospitalized due to cannabis ingestion since its legalization. In 2020, the center reported 150 cases, which surged to over 250 in 2021 and exceeded 500 in 2022. Dr. Holstege underscored the need for transparency in product labeling to enable people to make informed choices.

“It’s also a question of if they’re selling CBD, is there other substances in there, other cannabinoids, like Delta 9 and THC,” Holstege said. “Part of it is consumer safety, when consumers are buying products they know exactly what they’re getting.”

Patient and product testing services through the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services have been made accessible to facilitate the VDH’s efforts in understanding the composition of cannabis compounds in these products. Individuals who suspect they have consumed THC or CBD products are encouraged to report their experiences through the VDH’s online portal.



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