News and Events

The Israel Poison Information Center at Rambam Health Care Campus: Cannabis Poisoning in Young Children on the Increase

Publication Date: 7/10/2022

There is a global increase in the numbers of children suffering from cannabis intoxication or cannabis poisoning. The Israel Poison Information Center at Rambam Health Care Campus is also seeing an alarming increase among Israeli children.

Dr. Igal Louria-Hayon is studying the role of cannabinoids under various disease conditions in the Medical Cannabis Research and Innovation Center at Rambam HCC. Photography: Rambam HCCDr. Igal Louria-Hayon is studying the role of cannabinoids under various disease conditions in the Medical Cannabis Research and Innovation Center at Rambam HCC. Photography: Rambam HCC

Some of the content of this article (including quotes from Dr. Yael Luria) is a translation of a previously published article that appeared on the Mako Cannabis website.

Cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, derived from the Cannabis plant, is a psychoactive drug that affects how the brain works and impacts one’s mood, awareness, thoughts, feelings, or behavior. Native to Central and South Asia, the cannabis plant is used for recreational and medicinal purposes and in some cultures, for religious practices. Evidence also indicates that cannabis may help patients suffering from certain medical conditions and can also alleviate pain.

Young children under the age of 12 usually ingest cannabis unintentionally. They mistake "edible" marijuana (like gummy bears, brownies, lollipops, etc.) for regular food and eat it unknowingly. They sometimes find ‘joints’ – cannabis cigarettes – or cannabis oils in the home. Unintentional cannabis ingestion by children is a serious public health concern and is also growing in Israel.

Side effects of cannabis poisoning can include lethargy, difficulty walking and balancing, speaking, swallowing, seizures, and even loss of consciousness.

Dr. Yael Luria, Director of the Israel Poison Information Center at Rambam HCC, Haifa, explains: “We are seeing between 15–20 cases of cannabis poisoning in young children and toddlers annually. Here in Israel, the youngest to date was an 8-month-old baby. At this stage, doctors and scientists do not know the long-term effect of acute marijuana exposure on children. For a number of reasons marijuana affects children differently although their weight is a major factor, and a small amount of marijuana can have a significant affect. The nervous system of a child differs from that of an adult – likewise the effects of cannabis on the nervous system differs as well. Parents must keep cleaning materials, alcohol, batteries, and cigarettes out of their children’s reach and the same is true with cannabis.”

Treating cannabis poisoning may involve hospitalization but usually only palliative care is administered until toxicity is eliminated.

When asked about children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) being treated with cannabis, Dr. Luria continued; “That’s a completely different situation; their treatment and dosage is fine-tuned to their specific needs and they are monitored constantly.”

The use of cannabis for recreational purposes is prohibited in most countries; but it has been decriminalized in Canada, Georgia, Malta, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, and Uruguay, plus 19 states, 2 territories, and the District of Columbia in the United States and the Australian Capital Territory in Australia. However, cannabis has not yet been decriminalized for recreational use in Israel.

Israel is the first nation in the world to have regularization of medical cannabis for therapeutic purposes – a complex, unique, innovative, and original process.

More about the Israel Poison Information Center at Rambam HCC

The Israel Poison Information Center at Rambam HCC is a branch of the Ministry of Health providing a free, 24/7 telephone hotline for inquiries related to poisonings (clinical toxicology), drug information (clinical pharmacology), and the effects of drugs, chemicals, and other poisons including cannabis. The center provides the only one of its kind in Israel, providing expert advice on poisonings to the healthcare system and the general public. The center receives an average of 31,000 calls annually – 43% of which relate to children under six years of age.

While exposure to poisonous substances can happen anywhere, more than 90% of cases occur in the home when cosmetics, cleaning substances, plants, pesticides and other substances are ingested. If you suspect, or know with certainty, that your child has ingested cannabis, it is imperative he/she be taken to the emergency room immediately.

Medical Cannabis Research at Rambam HCC

The role of cannabinoids, in adults, under various disease conditions is being studied at Rambam HCC at the Medical Cannabis Research and Innovation Center, led by Dr. Igal Louria-Hayon. The center brings clinicians and scientific researchers together to collaborate on a variety of clinical cannabis applications, including cancer, hematology, autoimmune diseases, chronic pain, skin diseases, neurology, gastroenterology and diseases primarily affecting women. Rambam's physicians are currently treating more than 3,000 patients with cannabis in multiple indications, and are leading approximately 30 clinical trials in this field; all of which contribute to Rambam's extensive database for medicinal cannabis.

“We are establishing a multidisciplinary network of physicians and researchers, who will work on research both independently and in collaboration with pharmaceutical companies. This ensures that the center will be able to provide answers to research questions in the field of cannabis from the cellular level to the level of human experiments,” Dr. Louria-Hayon explains.