In Colorado, the rate of unintentional marijuana exposure in young children has increased 150% since 2014, according to a new study in JAMA. That’s the year recreational pot became legally available.

Researchers looked at admissions information from a children’s hospital and data from a regional poison control center between 2009 and 2015. They discovered that 81 children, all under age 10, were treated at the hospital, and that 163 exposure calls were made to the poison center.

The poison center cases increased by 34% each year, compared to the average 19% increase throughout the rest of the country.

Senior study author Dr. Genie Roosevelt of the Denver Health and Hospital Authority said:

“Marijuana exposures in young children have resulted in respiratory compromise requiring the use of a ventilator and intensive care unit admission in a handful of cases.”

For the most part, kids aren’t picking up baggies of weed and eating it. It’s mostly edibles that are the problem. Child-resistant packaging was intended to keep them out of little hands – or that’s what officials had hoped, anyway – but the increase was more dramatic than expected.

Marijuana-related visits to the children’s hospital increased from 1.2 per 100,000 in 2012 – 2 years before legalization – to 2.3 per 100,000 after the law was passed. Half of the children were under age 3.

Children who were exposed to edibles – candies, cookies, brownies, etc. – experienced agitation, lethargy, vomiting, and balance problems. [1]

Four of the children experienced respiratory depression.

Half of the youngsters spent less than 11 hours in the hospital.

Dr. Andrew A. Monte at the University of Colorado Denver-Anschutz Medical Center, explained that the number of hospitalizations always increase when a new drug reaches the market. In fact, adult emergency room visits increased in Colorado after pot was legalized. Many of those adults were out-of-staters who were not used to marijuana or to the effects of Colorado’s higher (no pun intended) altitude.

The number of young children being exposed to marijuana in Colorado is still very small, but it shouldn’t be happening at all.

Monte pointed out:

“Ten percent of the population in Colorado uses marijuana daily, and only about 30 percent of those people regularly use edible products, which is a pretty small percentage overall yet accounts for 50 percent or more of pediatric exposures.” [2]

Roosevelt said:

“The caretakers were leaving these in plain sight of children and outside of child-safe packaging. We’d like to think of these products as medication. Stored out of sight and away from children, like your aunt’s diabetic medication. We need to make that cultural leap.”

“These unintentional exposures and health care visits are preventable.” [1]

The takeaway here? We need to take better precautions to ensure the young ones aren’t getting their hands on what they aren’t supposed to.


[1] RT

[2] Medical Daily

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Post written byJulie Fidler:
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.