Rate of small children exposed to marijuana up 147.5% – study

Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi
Cases of children accidentally consuming marijuana have rapidly increased since a wave of legalization and decriminalization of marijuana in various states, with more than 75 percent of cases involving children under the age of three.

While the marijuana legalization debate has mostly surrounded the risks and benefits of marijuana usage for adults, a study released on June 8 by Nationwide Children’s Hospital has shown an alarming increase in the number of small children being exposed.

READ MORE: Smoking marijuana is 114 times safer than drinking alcohol – study

THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is often found in especially concentrated doses in marijuana confectionaries and can cause severe effects for small children.At high doses, the ingredient can produce serious anxiety attacks and psychosis-like symptoms. Self-reported incidents of nearly 2,000 children ingesting marijuana were analyzed using data from the National Poison Data System, a clearing house for self-reported incidents. The study was published online on Tuesday in the medical journal Clinical Pediatrics.

The study found that marijuana exposure among children under the age of five rose by 147.5 percent between 2006 and 2013, when 11 states legalized marijuana. In states where medical marijuana was legalized before 2000, the rates increased by 610 percent.

"The high percentage of ingestions may be related to the popularity of marijuana brownies, cookies and other foods," said Henry Spiller, a co-author of the study, who is a toxicologist, and director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "Very young children explore their environments by putting items in their mouths, and foods such as brownies and cookies are attractive."

More than 18 percent of children who were exposed were hospitalized. The study found that while most exposures resulted in minor clinical effects, some children went into a coma or suffered from decreased breathing, or seizures.

The study’s authors say that while the number of children exposed was relatively low, the rapid increase is a cause for legitimate concern.

"Any state considering marijuana legalization needs to include child protections in its laws from the very beginning," Dr Gary Smith, the senior author of the study and director of the Center for Inquiry Research said. "Child safety must be part of the discussion when a state is considering legalization of marijuana."

READ MORE: Majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana – polls

Researchers recommend that the same measures used to protect children from medicines and dangerous household chemicals should be required for marijuana, which is commercially available. These should included child-resistant packaging and wrapping that is not transparent.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

In the United States, the legal status of cannabis depends on state law. Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize marijuana in 2012. Oregon and Alaska followed suit in 2014, with the District of Columbia legalizing through a ballot measure in 2015. The substance has been decriminalized for recreational use or legalized for medical use in 30 other states.