For the second time in six weeks, students at the Henderson K-12 Inclusion School in Dorchester were sent to the hospital after consuming cannabis edibles.
Four middle school students were taken to a hospital in ambulances as a precaution Tuesday after they apparently ingested cannabis-infused chocolate, district and police officials said.
Boston Public Schools spokesman Max Baker declined to say whether the students Tuesday experienced any medical symptoms, saying they were taken to a hospital “out of an abundance of caution.”
“The health and well-being of all students and staff are our top priorities,” Head of School Stephanie Sibley said in a letter to families, urging parents to discuss drug use with their children. “As caring parents and guardians, you play a crucial role in helping influence your student’s decisions around substance abuse.”
On March 21, three Henderson students were taken to a hospital after they consumed what appeared to be cannabis-infused edibles, officials said. After that incident, district officials said in a statement that they were “deeply concerned.”
After that incident, the district called on parents and caregivers to talk to their students about risks associated with consuming such products.
On Tuesday, school staff determined the students had ingested edibles and notified the students’ families, BPS safety services, Boston Emergency Medical Services, and Boston police. The students were seen by the school nurse before being taken to a hospital for further medical care, Sibley said. An investigation is ongoing.
Sibley said drugs and paraphernalia are prohibited on school grounds and that staff will conduct searches if necessary. Students who bring illegal substances to school will face disciplinary action, she said.
Marijuana has been legal for recreational uses for adults age 21 and over since 2016, when Massachusetts voters approved a ballot measure. Since cannabis stores opened in 2018, marijuana edibles have become more accessible in the state, and policymakers have launched public-awareness campaigns about the importance of keeping cannabis products locked and out of children’s reach.
Teenagers who ingest a lot of cannabis may feel uncomfortable, lethargic, nauseous, paranoid, dizzy, or dreamy, but likely aren’t at risk for serious medical complications, said Dr. Eric Ruby, a pediatrician in Taunton who certifies patients age 17 and under for medical cannabis treatment, largely for autism, anxiety, and seizures.
“You cannot kill yourself with an overdose of cannabis — you can with alcohol, and you can with prescription drugs,” Ruby said. To reverse the effects of cannabis, he said, “You just need time and hydration.”
People may be more prone to overdo consumption of edibles, which are often small, candied and highly potent, rather than through smoking or vaping cannabis, because edibles can take 45 minutes to take effect after ingestion, Ruby said. For a patient who has over-consumed cannabis, hospitals can administer intravenous fluids to keep them hydrated and monitor their vital signs, he said.
Roxann Harvey, a former Henderson parent whose niece attends the school, said she hoped the school would educate students about edibles and build trusting relationships with them, rather than enact metal detectors and cameras in response to these incidents.
“If a child is consuming an edible, I wonder what they want to escape from and how we can help versus immediately discussing searching students to implement disciplinary action,” Harvey said.
The school has made headlines several times in recent years for episodes of violence, including an assault on the principal and multiple fights, including one in which an intervening teacher was hurt. School safety has been a top concern among families; a recent poll by MassINC Polling Group found three-quarters of BPS parents surveyed supported police and metal detectors in schools.
Courtney Feeley Karp, who serves on the Henderson’s parent council, said the district needs to provide more mental health and restorative justice services for students in response to Tuesday’s incident.
“I do not think the answer is a police presence,” Karp said. “Our school does need more resources from the district to address these safety concerns. I hope it’s in a thoughtful, community-building way and not in a reactionary way.”
Districtwide, there has been at least one other student incident related to edibles. On March 6, a student at the Maurice J. Tobin K-8 School in Roxbury also was taken to the hospital after a group of students ate chocolate that could have contained marijuana, police said.
District officials should respond with empathy rather than punishment, said Sarah Coughlin, director of partnerships and community engagement for Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Community Health Improvement. Having spent years overseeing an alternative-to-suspension program for Charlestown High School students with chronic marijuana use issues, Coughlin said the district needs to help students learn healthy coping skills to manage the trauma, depression, and anxiety that often causes them to turn to cannabis in the first place.
“When people are using at such a young age in middle school, they’re screaming out for something and we need to pay attention to that,” Coughlin said. “I don’t think we’re doing a good enough job. We’re in a mental health crisis in the state, honestly, and we need to be all hands on deck.”