More than 300 child abuse deaths in last decade linked to THC

We frequently hear about children hospitalized or poisoned by marijuana edibles, but we don’t often hear about the significant number of children who died of child abuse or neglect associated with THC! 

The totals compiled by Parents Opposed to Pot reached a new milestone — 302. Our tracking begins on  October 30, 2012, and continues through early 2023. 

Texas released its 2022 maltreatment fatalities report in March.  Of the 182 child abuse deaths last year, 73 of the perpetrators were active marijuana users.  In contrast, only 12 used alcohol, 10 used cocaine and 6 used opiates.

How the problem evolved over time

Soon after legalization we started tracking child abuse deaths which mentioned marijuana in media reports found online.

Since that time, Parents Opposed to Pot compiled news stories from 45 states and the District of Columbia. In 2014, the  deaths mainly involved neglect — children left alone — dying in fires, hot cars, bathtubs and swimming pools. Each of these occurrences pointed to the inability of pot users to be on task watching their children.  

The nature of these deaths changed over time, because stories of violent abuse outpace neglect as a primary cause of the death. Although parents commit the crime about 75% of the time, the abusers can be babysitters, relatives or mothers’ boyfriends.  In many cases, it’s an abusive, pot-using boyfriend who harms and kills a baby.  Most of these children are 5 and under.

The violent deaths also reflect a significant number of cases of marijuana-induced psychosis, including delusional parents who believed their babies were possessed by demons.  One of the most shocking cases was when a Texas father stabbed his 16-month-old son outside of an apartment complex.

“Violent neglect” includes deaths from guns and driving under the influence of THC, when the negligent offender is the parent or caregiver.  Stories of death from violence and “violent neglect” now make up 54% of child deaths. 

Pregnant women using pot



The increase in pregnant women using marijuana in recent years also shows up in our statistics.  According to our chart, 60 children who died from THC exposure comprise 22% of the victims. In most cases, the mothers had been using marijuana while pregnant.   When a pregnant woman uses pot, the baby is more likely to be premature and of low birth weight. 

Some of these babies died shortly after birth, because of low birth weight, suffocation, or both. An 11-day-old baby in Illinois died of THC toxicity of the liver and adrenals, as reported in a case study.

False information plays a role, with some marijuana businesses  recommending marijuana use to pregnant woman for morning sickness. That’s why the Drug-Free America Foundation started a platform to educate on the problem of marijuana and pregnancy.

It’s just the tip of the iceberg

Most kids who get into edibles don’t die.  However, a few children under age five have been killed from ingesting THC.  The most recent tragedy happened in Virginia, when a 4-year-old boy who his mother’s Delta-8 THC gummies. 

Children have been in the line of danger when marijuana labs exploded.  From our chart, only two of the 19 children who died in fires were BHO (Butane Hash Oil) fire victims. (Over 100 adults have died in BHO explosions over the last decade.)  A baby died from sleeping next to a bathroom BHO lab in Colorado, and another baby died in California.  Some children suffered from severe BHO burns, even in Michigan which legalized medical marijuana in 2008.  Recently a 22-year-old California man endangered his younger siblings by making BHO in the home.

Comparing our lists to national statistics, we guess that slightly more than 5% of hot car deaths in the last decade involved marijuana.  But — remember — that’s only when investigations led to the discovery of marijuana. 

Our data only includes news stories found online.  The few states missing from the tally include Alaska and Hawaii (too far away), Rhode Island and Delaware (too small). Some states are much more likely than others to report if marijuana was found at the scene of a child abuse death, so this report can’t be considered the complete data.  Often the marijuana connection is not revealed until after the cases go to court.   

Marijuana is the leading substance in child abuse deaths!

Heavy drinkers and cocaine users may become violent, and heroin addicts may overdose, but it’s today’s marijuana which shows up most often when caregivers kill their children. (Our list includes deaths from marijuana used with other drugs.)

Only a handful of states spell out the substance abuse associated with child abuse deaths in their reports.  The three states that track substances associated with child deaths – Arizona, Florida and Texas – routinely find marijuana is the substance of abuse most closely associated with child abuse deaths. 

We predict that the 40 percent of child abuse deaths involving marijuana in Texas would approximate the national rate. About 64 percent of child abuse deaths in Texas link to substance abuse.  This percentage mimics worldwide reports that child maltreatment fatalities involve substance use or abuse 64 percent of the time. 

Substance abuse may be a bigger predictor of child maltreatment than any other factor.  Prevent Child Abuse America needs to convey this message. The federal government should begin tracking it. 

How we noticed the problem

During the first month of commercial marijuana in Colorado, January 2014, three child abuse deaths were in the Denver news.   A mom stood trial for the hot-car deaths of two toddlers while she had been toking in her boyfriend’s van.  In another incident, a two-year-old died in a fire while his parents smoked pot in another room. Although these stories made local news, the national media ignored the stories, focusing on the money!

When Colorado commercialized THC in 2014, all legal and social stigmas attached to cannabis use vanished.  Those who opposed legal pot in 2014 worried about teen pot use, but quickly discovered another problem – parents using pot.  Plus, legalization increased the chances that a babysitter, boyfriend, aunt, uncle, or even grandparents, would become stoners!

Although children are the real victims, parents are victims of misguided claims about marijuana as a “harmless herb.”   Parents who use cannabis may have impaired judgment and priorities, hindering their ability to supervise their children. If memory is impaired by cannabis, parents or babysitters tend to forget about the time. In extreme cases, love of the drug replaces the love of the children.