June 16, 2015
2 min read

Marijuana exposure rises in young children

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Recent study data showed that the rate of marijuana exposure among children aged younger than 6 years increased significantly in the United States after the drug was legalized by some states for medical and recreational use.

“The rate of exposure to marijuana among young children nationwide is rising,” Gary A. Smith, MD, DrPH, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and colleagues wrote in Clinical Pediatrics. “Young children in states where laws allow sale and use of marijuana face significantly elevated risks of exposure and poisoning.”

Using data from the National Poison Data System, the researchers analyzed 1,969 cases related to marijuana exposure in children aged younger than 6 years from 2000 to 2013. The exposure rate was 5.9 cases for every 1 million children and approximately 140.6 cases annually. The mean age of children in the study was 1.81 years; 77% of cases occurred in those aged younger than 3 years.

Ingestion was the most common form of exposure reported (75%), which researchers suggested may be a consequence of an increased availability of marijuana in forms that appeal to children. More than 18% of exposures required admission to a health care facility.

“The high percentage of ingestions may be related to the popularity of marijuana brownies, cookies and other foods,” researcher Henry A. Spiller, MS, DABAT, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said in a press release. “Very young children explore their environments by putting items in their mouths, and foods such as brownies and cookies are attractive.”

The researchers also noted that the concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, tends to be higher in food-based products, which could increase the likelihood of severe effects in children.

The rate of exposure remained relatively stable from 2000 to 2006, then significantly increased by 147.5% from 2006 to 2013 (15% annually; 95% CI, 12.2%-17.8%). There was a notable rate of increase in states where marijuana is legal and in states where it is illegal. However, there was a significant spike in rates during the year of legalization, compared with the years before and after.

Researchers suggested that preventive measures are needed to ensure child safety as more states legalize marijuana.

“Educating parents about the prevention of unintentional poisoning is an important component of a comprehensive prevention approach, but education alone is not sufficient,” the investigators wrote. “Child-resistant packaging is a more effective strategy and should be combined with education.” – by David Costill

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.