COLUMBIA HEIGHTS, Minn. — The staff at "Love Is An Ingredient" in Columbia Heights has stayed busy this summer, to say the least.
"We've seen a lot more customers," CEO Mason Alt said. "That's for darn sure."
Since Minnesota legalized hemp-derived THC products July 1, Alt estimates that he's served anywhere from 8,000 to 9,000 people, selling chocolates, gummies, seltzers and other popular items.
"It has definitely been positive," Alt said. "Affordable, safe access is what I think most people in Minnesota are looking for."
Two months after the new law took effect, sellers and buyers find themselves navigating a new world of hemp-derived THC. So do families, who may buy the products themselves or know of households where they may be in close proximity to children.
Following state guidelines, Alt's products have child-resistant packaging and warning labels, and the front window of his storefront in Columbia Heights reminds customers of the 21-year-old age requirement.
"Any suspicion that there may be children involved -- if they're waiting outside or anything like that -- we haven't had it yet, but we've trained the staff to [look for] it," Alt said. "It's all about education. Educating your consumers about what to expect, and how to handle these products."
Still, THC incidents involving children have become more prevalent this year in Minnesota, after climbing steadily the past few years even before these products became regulated.
According to data provided by the Minnesota Poison Control System, there have been 73 THC edible exposures involving children 12 and younger so far in 2022, already surpassing last year's entire total of 63 and more than doubling the 2020 figure of 27 exposures. The American Association of Poison Control Centers, meanwhile, reports an exponential increase in these exposures over the past five years, jumping from 187 in 2016 to 4,354 in 2022, as these products have become more widely available in many states.
"It's terribly unfortunate, but it's not an overwhelming surprise," said Dr. Gigi Chawla, the vice president and chief of general pediatrics at Children's Minnesota. "It's something that our clinicians are well aware of as a risk for kids and families. They are cautioning families around the use of edibles or having them potentially accessible, or in areas where kids could get a hold of it."
Chawla said even one 5-milligram THC edible could have a serious impact on young children.
"You can see kids who experience some of the very significant effects that look like overdose. They can have confusion, difficulty walking, vomiting," Chawla said. "And if they're taking more than one, they could get to the point where they're really unable to wake up, have difficulty with breathing and get to the point where their heart rates are very low as well."
Chawla suggested that parents treat edibles like they would treat alcohol or household cleaning supplies, by locking them up and storing them out of reach.
She also said families may want to consider talking to their kids about these newly legal products before they head back to school in September.
"There certainly are kids who might have these in their homes or bring it to school, unfortunately, to share," Chawla said, "so just make sure you're having those conversations with your children about, please, don't take anything, eat anything, that you don't know more about or where it's coming from."
If you suspect your child may have ingested a THC edible, you can call the Minnesota Poison Control System at 1-800-222-1222. The American Association of Poison Control Centers website, poisonhelp.org, can offer resources as well.
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