Colorado's legal marijuana putting kids in hospital

Colorado's legal marijuana putting kids in hospital

Since Colorado made recreational legal marijuana in 2012, the number of kids requiring hospital admission from accidental exposure to the drug has doubled. Admissions at Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora because of unintentional exposure to marijuana rose from 1.2 visits per 100,000 kids two years before legalization to 2.3 visits per 100,000 two years after legalization (2009 to 2015). But according to the study just published in JAMA Pediatrics, it isn’t side-stream smoke from adult users that’s sending kids to hospital. It’s kids getting into the marijuana-infused baked goods and candy, a burgeoning cottage industry in recently legalized states like Washington and Colorado. The study pointed out that marijuana exposure among children isn’t something to laugh about. In fact, it carries potentially severe health risks including sudden inability to breathe and seizures. The most common effects of marijuana on kids (and plenty of sensitive adults too) include serious drowsiness, agitation, vomiting and tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), which can be terrifying for kids along with the discomfort.

Hospital admissions far from the whole story

Being admitted to the hospital is a serious last resort. The doubling of admissions in Colorado doesn’t tell the whole story by a long shot. It’s actually a lot worse than that. Before hospital admissions come the worried phone calls to poison control centers. And these have quintupled over the same time period. Trips to the emergency ward usually follow for at least half of the cases. During the 2009 to 2015 study period, 163 calls were made to poison control centers and 81 kids had to be admitted to hospitals because their symptoms were so severe. Researchers also found that dangerous exposure to marijuana involving kids under 10 has been increasing across the country between 2009 and 2015. But not nearly as much as in the legalized states. Country-wide, there’s been a 19 percent average annual increase of marijuana-related poison control cases. But in Colorado the number of cases per year rose an average of 34 percent – nearly double the national average.

It’s just going to keep on getting worse unless…

Colorado and Washington became the first two states in the country to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia now allow medical marijuana, and Alaska, Oregon and D.C. have also passed laws allowing for recreational use. Serious changes are needed in how the subject is treated, or things are just going to escalate, and somewhere, children are going to start dying. It’s only a matter of statistics and time. “Identifying successful preventive strategies requires further investigation,” the study concluded. “As more states pass laws legalizing recreational marijuana, legislators and healthcare professionals will need to consider strategies to decrease its effect on the pediatrics population.” That’s a nice safe statement, and they’re right – legislators and healthcare professionals better step up, and soon, before someone’s child dies. Dozens of kids have already died around the world when careless parents and guardians left drugs like methadone sitting where toddlers could find it. Leaving pot brownies and pot candies around where kids can get them is criminal child endangerment. Laws exist to prosecute such carelessness, and a broad public information campaign about child safety should be an essential part of any state’s marijuana legalization legislation.

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