Children's Hospital Colorado

Acute Marijuana Intoxication

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What is marijuana? 

Marijuana* (also known as cannabis, weed or pot) is a plant that is commonly used for its psychoactive effects. It is also used medicinally for conditions like chronic pain, cachexia and seizures.

There are various ways to consume marijuana, which include inhalation through smoking or vaporization, and ingestion in edible forms such as baked goods, candies and beverages. Exposure of marijuana products to kids and teens in Colorado has increased since the increased availability of both medical and recreational marijuana in Colorado. 

* Parents and caregivers: Marijuana should be treated as any other drug or medicine, and should be kept out of reach of children. Learn more about safe storage.

What is acute marijuana intoxication?

Acute marijuana intoxication occurs when a person experiences immediate adverse effects from marijuana. This typically occurs after smoking or ingesting marijuana products, and can occur at all ages, and to naïve and chronic users. 

What causes marijuana intoxication or "getting high"?

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinoid (commonly known as THC) is the main psychoactive component in marijuana and is responsible for most symptoms seen after marijuana use. This is the chemical that causes the marijuana "high."

THC affects many different areas of the brain, which leads to the symptoms of marijuana intoxication like increased appetite, changes in mood, sleepiness and balance problems. Learn more about marijuana from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) in their marijuana fact sheets.

How do the symptoms of smoking differ from ingestion?

After smoking or inhaling marijuana, the onset of symptoms is quick (within 5 to 30 minutes), but symptoms typically do not last long (a couple of hours).  

In contrast, after ingestion of marijuana in the form of food or beverage, the onset of symptoms can take as long as one to four hours, and symptoms can last for several hours.

How does this differ in younger kids?

The most common overdose incidents in children occur when the drug has been combined with food in an "edible" form of marijuana. This is because marijuana ingested in this manner can have a stronger and prolonged effect, especially in children under the age of 12 years old. 

In these instances, kids mistake "edible" marijuana (like gummy bears, brownies, lollipops, etc.) for regular food and eat it unknowingly. Small children are at higher risk based on their size and weight.  Because edible products have very high amounts of marijuana, the symptoms are more severe on a small child. Many young children who consume marijuana edibles require hospital admission due to the severity of their symptoms. 

What are the long-term effects of marijuana on children?

The long-term effect of acute marijuana exposures on children is unknown, as it has not been systematically studied. Because we don't yet have the research and science findings to know the full effects, doctors do not fully understand marijuana's long-term effects on children after acute exposures. Read tips from our experts on how to talk to your child about marijuana.

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Cinnamon Dixon, DO, MPH/MSPH

Cinnamon Dixon, DO, MPH/MSPH

Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Pediatrics

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Amanda Egan, NP, RN

Amanda Egan, NP, RN

CPNP-AC

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Cassandra Fishbein, CPNP-PC

Cassandra Fishbein, CPNP-PC

CPNP-PC

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Paul Szefler, MD

Paul Szefler, MD

Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Pediatrics

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