Study: More young children ingesting marijuana as states legalize

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A recent study shows an alarming increase in the number of young children accidentally ingesting marijuana, especially in states that have legalized the substance.

Poison control centers are reporting more young children ingesting marijuana as states continue to legalize the drug.

Children under 6 years old are increasingly ingesting marijuana, particularly in states where the drug is more accessible because of legalization, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.

Common symptoms included lethargy and drowsiness. Serious health outcomes were rare, but a small number of children experienced coma, seizures or a need for intubation. No fatalities were reported.

Marijuana dispensaries began opening in Ohio in January, and Dr. Henry Spiller, director of the poison center, said he expects to see more young children accidentally ingesting marijuana in the Buckeye state.

“It won’t be overnight,” Spiller said. But ultimately he predicts that marijuana poisonings in young children will double in Ohio by 2020.

The study, which was published online in Pediatric Emergency Care in May, found that calls to poison control centers reporting marijuana ingestion by children under 6 years old increased by 27% every year since 2009, and more than 70% of poisonings occurred in states with legal marijuana. There were 742 marijuana ingestions in 2017 in the United States, up from an average of 81 per year from 2001 to 2008.

Spiller said marijuana needs to be treated with the same level of respect as other medications, including keeping it out of the reach of children.

“They’re little kids and it’s much easier for them to really get into overdose situations,” Spiller said.

Other factors, such as increased potency and marijuana-infused edible products like gummies and brownies, raise the risk of young children overdosing. Spiller said.

“No child knows the difference, so that’s a concern,” he said.

Dr. Joel Simmons, who runs the Near East Side Ohio Herbal Clinic, said marijuana is more regulated in Ohio than other medications, which should be enough to remind patients that the substance should be handled cautiously.

“For someone to go through that whole process and get to the end … then just leaving it on the kitchen table for their toddler to get into, that just doesn’t fit with a common sense approach,” Simmons said.

Simmons, who has a background in oncology, said he treats marijuana the same way he treated every other controlled substance he’s prescribed in the past and expects patients and dispensaries to do the same.

Spiller said Ohioans acting responsibly with their prescriptions is key, but that child-proof packaging of medical marijuana products would do a lot to address the problem.

“We should take some guidance from the states that have had this problem for a few years,” he said.

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