Decriminalization of marijuana may endanger kids

Harold Mandel's picture
A sick child
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There has been a frenzied movement for the legalization of marijuana across the United States. The excitement over legalizing pot appears to have glossed over careful considerations of the actual potential health hazards associated with marijuana. Certainly, it's not a good idea to expose kids to marijuana, as new research has implied would likely occur more often with decriminalization.

Researchers decided to investigate the association of unintentional pediatric exposures with the decriminalization of marijuana in the United States, reported the Annals of Emergency Medicine on Feb. 5, 2014. The objective of this study was to make a comparison of state trends in unintentional pediatric marijuana exposures by state marijuana legislation status via
measuring call volume to US poison centers, The researchers hypothesized that decriminalized and transitional states, which have been moving towards decriminalization, would experience a significant increase in call volume, with more symptomatic exposures and more health care admissions than in nonlegal states.

The researchers found that from 2005 through 2011 there were 985 unintentional marijuana exposures in children aged 9 years and younger, which were broken down as follows:

1: 496 in nonlegal states

2: 93 in transitional states

3: 396 in decriminalized states

The median age in this study ranged from 1.5 to 2.0 years. The clinical side effects varied, with neurologic side effects being the most frequent. It was observed that there were a greater number of exposures in decriminalized states which required health care evaluation and had moderate to major clinical effects and critical care admissions in comparison with exposures from nonlegal states. In nonlegal states the call rate to poison centers did not change from 2005 to 2011. In decriminalized states the call rate increased by 30.3 percent per year. Transitional states had a trend toward an increase of 11.5 percent per year.

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In summary it was found that even though the number of pediatric exposures to marijuana reported to the National Poison Data System was low, the rate of exposure was found to increase significantly from 2005 to 2011 in states that had passed marijuana legislation. Clearly, as more states pass marijuana legislation and access to this drug is eased, the availability of high concentration edible marijuana products may lead to an increase in symptomatic pediatric exposures.

States which have decriminalized marijuana have seen dramatic increases in children who require medical intervention for exposure to this substance, reports the American College of Emergency Physicians in a discussion of this research. Lead study author George Sam Wang, MD has said, "We believe that high-dose edible products – such as candies, cookies and chocolates – may have played a significant role in the increased rate of reported exposure chiefly because kids can't distinguish between products that contain marijuana and those that don't." Wang shares concerns that these edible products which may be attractive to kids tend to contain higher concentrations of the active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol.

There were 18 states and the District of Columbia which had passed legislation allowing medical marijuana, which includes many edible products, as of December 2013. It has been projected that sales will more than double between 2011 and 2015. Wang has commented, "Pediatricians, toxicologists and emergency physicians need to be willing to advocate for the safety of children to lawmakers as this burgeoning industry expands across the U.S." He urges that as more states decriminalize marijuana, lawmakers should give consideration to requirements to lower the likelihood of ingestion by young children, including:

1: Child-resistant packaging

2: Warning labels

3: Public education

It appears to me that with all of the excitement about the trend towards legalization of marijuana, a significant problem has been a lack of consideration of legalized pot on the health of kids. The findings in this study suggest that as decriminalization and availability of marijuana rise, carelessness in dealing with safety precautions for children have also been rising. This is inexcusable. Childhood exposure to marijuana clearly can be costly. I am therefore in full support of initiatives to encourage the lawmakers to institute requirements which will increase the safety of children in dealing with legalized marijuana.

Photo courtesy of Jomphong/Freedigitalphotos.net

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