Virginia Launches Reporting Website for Tracking Cannabis Exposure to Minors


Health officials in Virginia are taking steps to prevent children from being exposed to or getting their hands on illegal cannabis products.

Late last month, State Health Commissioner Karen Shelton sent a letter informing clinicians about “adverse events in children” who consumed CBD or THC. “Reported symptoms for these adverse events have included vomiting, hallucinations, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, altered mental status and anxiety,” Shelton stated in the letter. She also noted that some of those children were hospitalized.

The letter asked that local health departments keep track and report minors who are hospitalized due to cannabis consumption with a “special surveillance system.” “After a hospitalization or cluster is reported, VDH staff will collect information about the illness(es), possible exposures, and laboratory results,” Shelton explained.

Since 2019, Vermont Department of Health data shows that emergency visits in children under 17 have increased. In 2019, this included just 52 emergency room visits, but this increased steadily to 29 visits in 2020, 207 in 2021, 328 in 2022, and 377 in 2023.

However, this data only covers visits to the emergency room and not all incidents overall. “As a result of these data, the special surveillance system was established in order for VDH to receive these reports directly and better assess the impact of adverse events related to consumption of products containing THC or CBD among children in the Commonwealth,” Vermont Department of Health spokesperson, Cheryle Rodriguez, told Virginia Mercury.

This new surveillance initiative includes an online portal to report future “THC and CBD adverse events.” It includes an in-depth questionnaire about the person affected, the illness and symptoms, the product that was consumed, and where it was obtained.

The portal was implemented by legislators attempting to curb cannabis access for minors. Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed two bills (Senate Bill 448 and House Bill 698) that would have legalized adult-use cannabis sales in late March. “The most concerning consequence of cannabis commercialization is its impact on adolescents and our children,” Youngkin said in a statement. “As cannabis has become legalized and commercialized, calls to U.S. Poison Control for children who have overdosed on edible cannabis products have increased by 400% since 2016.”

Youngkin also claimed that it’s more difficult to control illegal cannabis when adult-use is legalized. “States that have attempted to regulate the black market for cannabis have generally failed,” he stated, adding that illegal cannabis in New York has tested positive for a variety of harmful contaminants “including tests for E. Coli, salmonella, accurate THC, and heavy metals.”

“It also does not eliminate the illegal black-market sale of cannabis, nor guarantee product safety,” the governor said of legalization. “Addressing the inconsistencies in enforcement and regulation in Virginia’s current laws does not justify expanding access to cannabis, following the failed paths of other states and endangering Virginians’ health and safety.”

Minors getting access to and consuming cannabis products has increased in recent years, and in some cases has affected larger groups of kids. Last October, four students from Armstrong High School in Richmond, Virginia, were in “medical distress” after consuming hemp-derived edibles. This led to the school issuing a complete ban of all candy and baked goods, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

After Youngkin’s adult-use cannabis bill veto, some supporters spoke out criticizing the move. “Gov. Youngkin’s dismissive stance towards addressing Virginia’s cannabis sales dilemma is unacceptable. Public servants are obligated to tackle pressing issues. This legislation would have combated the illegal market & ensured access to safe, tested and taxed cannabis products,” said former NFL player and bill sponsor, Sen. Aaron Rouse.

Virginia Mercury recently spoke with Virginia Commonwealth University forensic science professor, Michelle Peace, who said that better testing of hemp-derived products would help. “It’s important to know how pervasive the problem is,” Peace said, who has previously conducted vaping and cannabis research. Her most recent study includes an analysis of Virginia students between kindergarten and 12th grade. She has tested vape devices that were confiscated by various schools, and found that out of 369 items, 82% of them contained nicotine and 18% contained high concentrations of THC. “At the end of the day, there needs to be proper attribution as to what the child actually consumed,” Peace said.

In March, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science (DFS) released a report that studied reliable methods of testing for THC in blood and urine samples. The DFS received $290,353 from the Department of Justice in 2020 to conduct the study. Researchers showed a method of identifying different cannabinoids using liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry. This included separating THC metabolites and experimenting with different blood types such as bank blood, antemortem blood, postmortem blood, and also urine samples.

Adult-use cannabis was legalized as of July 1, 2021, but this only included cultivation, possession, and gifting. Medical cannabis was legalized in March 2017, and has expanded over time. However, a report published last November shows that many medical cannabis patients today are going out of state to purchase medicine because it’s more affordable elsewhere.



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