DOI: 10.1097/pec.0000000000003145 ISSN: 1535-1815

Presentation, Management, and Child Protective Service Reporting of Children Who Test Positive for Cannabis in an Emergency Room Setting

Alexandra Dubinin, Mario Bialostozky, Andrew Richardson, Natalie Laub
  • General Medicine
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology and Child Health


Rates of cannabis ingestion among young children are increasing. Small studies have evaluated symptomatology of these children. The literature lacks research regarding factors influencing medical management. Our goal was to 1) understand circumstances leading to exposure over time and 2) gain insight into factors that may influence emergency room management and Child Protective Services reporting over time.


Retrospective cross-sectional study on children younger than 10 years with cannabis-positive urine drug screens in the emergency room setting. Single-factor analysis of variance and Fisher exact tests were used to assess for trends. Two-tailed t tests and Fisher exact tests were used to compare management of children presenting to the emergency room with chief complaint (CC) “ingestion” versus those without.


Of the 179 children, the mean age was 3.7 years and 48% were boys. We observed a significant increase over time in cannabis-positive children. The most common location of exposure was the primary residence (54%), with parents as the most frequent users (46%). In the emergency department, the most common CC was ingestion followed by altered mental status and fatigue. Children with an “ingestion” CC were managed with less testing than those with other CCs. They received fewer needle sticks (43% vs 91%), less imaging (5% vs 56% computed tomography heads), and fewer procedures (0% vs 8% lumbar punctures). Children with “ingestion” CC were less likely to be reported to Child Protective Services.


Pediatric cannabis exposures are increasing and have a wide array of clinical presentations that complicate emergency room management. Parental report of cannabis ingestion seems to impact and reduce potentially unnecessary testing.

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