There is a troubling rise in children overdosing on edibles.

They look like candy. They are unregulated. With names like “Trips Ahoy” in a cookie package, some kids are falling victim to the marketing while others, hungry to experiment, are sharing with their friends. The result, kids are going to the hospital by the dozens while parents, educators and doctors are sounding the alarm. 

On April 19,  Ebonique Kemp received a phone call from Chicago’s Uplift High School, where her 14-year-old twins are freshman.

“The school said they are on the way to send twins off to hospital due to some gummy bears going around that were edible,” she said. “So I’m freaking out a little bit thinking, ‘What is going on?’ ‘How did the kids get a hold of it?’” she said. “I was nervous. I was scared. I was panicking a little bit.”

The twins got the gummies from a fellow classmate. In total, five students were transported by ambulance to local hospitals after ingesting what police described as edible marijuana gummies. when Kemp arrived at the hospital and saw her children she said they were still shaken up.

“They had an IV in them,” she said. “My heart was broken then and it really just crushed me.”

Kemp said the teens were vomiting and complaining of chest pain and weakness in their limbs hours after ingesting the edibles.

“It was given to them as candy. That was the misunderstanding. It was so called candy, but it was actually an edible,” Kemp said.

Unlike products that come from a licensed dispensary, these contain a near chemical twin of the psychoactive ingredient in regular marijuana known as THC. It’s called Delta-8 and extracted from hemp – another form of cannabis plant. The products are not regulated by the government and are often found at smoke shops or convenience markets.

The WGN Medical Watch team visited a half dozen stores in the city to see the selection available and the packaging.

A shop just a short walk from Uplift High School sold ”Zkittles,” Watermelon Sours and even Oreos that look exactly like the real thing. All contained varying amounts of Delta-8, as listed on the packages. What wasn’t listed? Complete ingredients or a manufacturer.

Lurie Children’s Emergency Medicine Physician Dr Jennifer Hoffmann has seen an uptick in edible overdoses among adolescents and teens.

“Really no amount is safe for a teenager to take,” she said. ”It takes about half an hour to an hour to experience the effect of an edible.  Some teens take too much right away leading to an overdose.”

All of the edibles were located behind the counter or in a glass-enclosed case. Most stores we visited had “21 and older” signs posted on the door. Still, the products are making their way into the hands – and mouths — of kids.

“You can imagine how a child might pick this up and think it’s candy,” Hoffman said.

Downstate Illinois in the Sesser-Valier School District, what looked like a package of popular cookies a child unknowingly picked up from their parents’ car, was actually a Delta-8-containing product. Nine elementary school students consumed the edibles and one ended up in the emergency room.

“If parents have edibles in the home, it’s important for them to be locked in the same way you might lock a dangerous medication,” Hoffman said.

Signs and symptoms of an edible ingestion in a child or teen include.

  • Altered perception
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor coordination
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Impaired judgment that can put kids at risk for unintended injuries, even death.

“Especially if they drive in a car after using edibles,” Hoffman said.

Even a single gummie can cause problems in a child. Each medicated sour and Skittle look-a-like contains 60 mg of Delta-8. A Jolly Rancher gummies aren’t even marked medicated other than the obscure symbol in the corner of the package.

If your child or teen does get hold of an edible, Hoffman said you should call poison control.

“They can provide important guidance whether it is safe to monitor the teen at home or if they need to come into the hospital,” she said.

Several Illinois legislators are calling for stricter package labeling, product testing and regulation of hemp-derived consumer products — including age restrictions — while others are pushing for a ban of the products all together.