Legal Cannabis in Colorado Means More Kids Ingesting Accidentally

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

If a child sees a brownie, cookie, or a piece of candy on a kitchen counter, he or she is likely to grab it and eat it. But in states that have legalized marijuana, there is a chance that sweet treat could present a real risk for young ones.

Jan Hoffman of The New York Times writes that a study published on in the journal JAMA Pediatrics has found that rate of marijuana ingestion by children has risen 150% since 2014 in Colorado — the year that recreational marijuana use was legalized and marijuana products, like candies, were introduced into Colorado homes.

When children find the treats and eat them, the results can include lethargy, agitation, vomiting, imbalance, and possibly a trip to a hospital or a call to a poison control center. A small number of children have been admitted to an intensive care unit and intubated.

In 2009, the rates of accidental cannabis ingestion by kids began to climb due to the federal government policy of not prosecuting users and suppliers who followed Colorado's medical marijuana laws. Patients who were prescribed medical marijuana often took it in the form of baked goods.

In 2012, when voters in Colorado decided to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, researchers predicted the rates of accidental exposure in youngsters would increase.

"But we were not prepared for the dramatic increase," said the senior author of the study, Dr. Genie E. Roosevelt, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Denver Health Medical Center.

Although only 163 cases of accidental exposure were reported between 2009 and 2015, Dr. Roosevelt says the effects are meaningful and capable of being prevented.

Dr. G. Sam Wang, lead author of the study and staff member at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, explained to Kathy Walsh of CBS Denver that he had seen a trend.

"In 2009, we saw one child here with a marijuana exposure that we know of in the emergency department. And in 2015, we saw 16," said Wang.

Wang continued by saying that most of the marijuana products are not packaged in child-resistant containers. Kids are left unsupervised and with lax product storage issues, kids can get into real trouble. Children who come to his hospital could have a minimal symptom like sleepiness or could have a dangerous indication like difficulty breathing.

As more states are passing or considering laws legalizing recreational cannabis use, more stringent measures may be needed to keep it out of the hands of young people. Over half the states in the US currently have laws in place that allow people to use marijuana for medical reasons. Four states have also legalized cannabis for recreational use, reports LiveScience's Agata Blaszczak-Boxe.

Researchers are concerned that the legalization of pot in Colorado could put teens' health at risk. Smoking and vaporizing cannabis introduces as many carcinogens as cigarettes, according to Roosevelt.

Namrata, reporting for The News Independent, writes that only nine cases of children ingesting marijuana products were reported to the area's Poison Control Center in 2009. That number rose to 47 cases in 2015.

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