Virginia Introduces Online Reporting System to Monitor Cannabis Exposure in Minors

Virginia health officials are intensifying efforts to prevent illegal cannabis exposure among children with the launch of a new reporting website.

Late last month, State Health Commissioner Karen Shelton issued a letter to clinicians about “adverse events in children” who consumed CBD or THC. The reported symptoms include vomiting, hallucinations, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, altered mental status, and anxiety, with some cases requiring hospitalization.

The letter urged local health departments to document and report cases of minors hospitalized due to cannabis consumption using a “special surveillance system.” Shelton explained, “After a hospitalization or cluster is reported, VDH staff will gather details about the illness, possible exposures, and lab results.”

Since 2019, data from the Vermont Department of Health indicates a rise in emergency visits among children under 17 due to cannabis exposure. The figures show an increase from 52 visits in 2019 to 377 in 2023.

However, this data covers only emergency room visits and not all incidents. Vermont Department of Health spokesperson Cheryle Rodriguez stated, “To better assess the impact of adverse events related to THC or CBD consumption among children, the special surveillance system was established for direct reporting to VDH.”

The new surveillance initiative includes an online portal for reporting future “THC and CBD adverse events.” The portal features a detailed questionnaire about the affected individual, the illness, symptoms, the consumed product, and its source.

This initiative follows legislative efforts to limit cannabis access for minors. In late March, Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed two bills (Senate Bill 448 and House Bill 698) that would have legalized adult-use cannabis sales. Youngkin expressed concerns about the impact of cannabis commercialization on children, citing a 400% increase in calls to U.S. Poison Control for children overdosing on edible cannabis products since 2016.

Youngkin also argued that legalizing adult-use cannabis makes it harder to control illegal cannabis. He stated, “States that have attempted to regulate the black market for cannabis have generally failed,” noting harmful contaminants found in illegal cannabis in New York.

“Legalization does not eliminate illegal black-market sales nor guarantee product safety,” the governor added. “Expanding access to cannabis, given the current enforcement and regulation inconsistencies in Virginia, endangers health and safety.”

The issue of minors accessing cannabis products has grown, sometimes affecting larger groups. Last October, four students at Armstrong High School in Richmond, Virginia, experienced “medical distress” after consuming hemp-derived edibles, prompting the school to ban all candy and baked goods.

Following Youngkin’s veto, some supporters criticized the decision. Former NFL player and bill sponsor Sen. Aaron Rouse stated, “Gov. Youngkin’s stance on Virginia’s cannabis sales dilemma is unacceptable. This legislation would have combated the illegal market and ensured access to safe, tested, and taxed cannabis products.”

Virginia Mercury interviewed Virginia Commonwealth University forensic science professor Michelle Peace, who emphasized the need for better testing of hemp-derived products. “Understanding the extent of the problem is crucial,” said Peace, who has conducted vaping and cannabis research. Her recent study analyzed vape devices confiscated from Virginia schools, finding that 82% contained nicotine and 18% had high THC concentrations. “Proper attribution of what the child consumed is essential,” she added.

In March, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science (DFS) released a report on reliable methods for testing THC in blood and urine samples, funded by a $290,353 grant from the Department of Justice. Researchers identified different cannabinoids using liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry, experimenting with various blood and urine samples.

While adult-use cannabis was legalized in Virginia on July 1, 2021, this only covered cultivation, possession, and gifting. Medical cannabis, legalized in March 2017, has expanded over time. However, a report from last November indicates that many medical cannabis patients are purchasing medicine out of state due to cost.

This new reporting website is a significant step in Virginia’s ongoing efforts to monitor and mitigate cannabis exposure among minors.


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