Colorado Reports Increased Child Marijuana Poisonings

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Many states are considering legalizing marijuana for medicinal use. The advocates for such measures cite the drug’s ability to offer relief for those who suffer from chronic pain from cancer or other serious diseases. In addition, the drug is thought to have few negative effects when weighed against the extent of the relief it provides.

However, some studies have shown that those who use marijuana experience an increased risk of psychotic episodes, and the effects of marijuana use on everyday tasks such as driving a car have not been fully documented.

The states weighing the risks and benefits of allowing medical marijuana to be legalized can look to Colorado where an increase in accidental child poisonings has been reported in one hospital.

A new study looked at Children’s Hospital Colorado’s emergency room treatments of children who had accidentally ingested marijuana, focusing on the time just after the state’s Board of Health rejected a limit of five patients per caregiver in July 2009. This lead to a boom in dispensaries, otherwise known as the Colorado “Green Rush.” Before that time, no children were treated. After, 14 children were treated, with eight of them having eaten medical marijuana food products.

In many of the situations, the child was poisoned when they mistakenly consumed sweets containing medical marijuana, including brownies, cookies, candy and even soda. Often these substances were consumed by the child at a grandparent’s home.

Lead researcher for the study, Dr. George Sam Wang, a medical toxicology fellow at the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver, explains that the symptoms that the children experience are often much more severe than those seen in adults, including respiratory issues, struggling with balance and severe sleepiness. Often, the doctors may not suspect that the symptoms are related to a marijuana poisoning unless the parents volunteer that information. In general, doctors have not been familiar with recognizing the signs of marijuana poisoning in children because it was exceptionally rare before medical marijuana began receiving attention.

The study, which appears in a recent issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics, explains that tetrahydrocannabinol, the active chemical in marijuana, occurs in higher concentrations in medical marijuana edible products, which partially explains the severe symptoms observed in children.

Wang notes that the children tend to recover relatively quickly and there have not been any cases in which lasting side effects occurred. He also notes that the study was based only on cases observed in one hospital, does not necessarily reflect statewide trends following the legalization of medical marijuana and that there could be more cases that occurred both before and after the time of the study.

Colorado allows its residents to possess one ounce of medical marijuana, or to own six marijuana plants. However, after the “Green Rush,” there were 300 licenses issued for marijuana dispensaries.

While this study documented marijuana ingestion by children that were generally very young, parents and grandparents should also be cautious about leaving medical marijuana unmonitored. As with young children, teens are not able to weigh the risks and benefits of using a drug like an adult can, so adults must be careful to lock up medical marijuana, just as they should any drug.

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