Unintentional marijuana exposures up in Colorado kids
May 28th, 2013
02:21 PM ET

Unintentional marijuana exposures up in Colorado kids

The state of Colorado is seeing an increase in the number of children accidentally exposed to medical marijuana, according to a new study in Pediatric JAMA.

Doctors in Colorado evaluated about 1,400 patients aged 8 months to 12 years who came to the Children's Hospital Colorado emergency room from January 1, 2005 to December 31, 2011.

"We compared in Colorado the number of kids we saw with marijuana exposures before the 2009 Department of Justice (DOJ) edict that they were not going to pursue users of medical marijuana as long as they were compliant with state laws," said Dr. Genie Roosevelt of Denver Health Medical Center and one of the study authors. "We found we didn't see marijuana exposure prior to the DOJ edict, but afterwards when medical marijuana was decriminalized in Colorado, we saw a significant increase in medical marijuana exposures in children."

Before September 2009, 790 children were evaluated for unintentional ingestion. Their median age was 2.6 years and none of them tested positive. After October 2009, another 588 children, with a median age of just older than 2 , were evaluated. Of those, 14 tested positive for marijuana.

Urine tests were used to confirm marijuana ingestion. Eight of those 14 patients were exposed to medical marijuana, 7 of them exposed to food products like cookies, brownies, drinks and candy. According to study authors, in most cases, the marijuana came from grandparents.

Symptoms included lethargy, ataxia - a lack of muscle coordination that can affect speech, eye movements, the ability to swallow, walk, or pick things up - and breathing problems. Eight of the 14 children were admitted, two of them to the intensive care unit.

Researchers say the DOJ policy resulted in a sharp increase in the number of patients filing for medical marijuana cards, called red cards in Colorado. In 2009, 60,000 cards were issued, compared to 2,000 during the previous eight years.

Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000 and last November, along with Washington, passed amendments legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

"The impact of the potential exposure of young children to marijuana has to be considered as we move forward with decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana," Roosevelt said. "Medical marijuana should be considered like any other medication in the home and I think there should be child-resistant containers and parents need to see warning labels attached to medical marijuana or marijuana products. It's just as dangerous as high blood pressure medicine and just as dangerous as diabetes medication, so I think we need to educate parents about the dangers of medical marijuana in young children."

Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana at the local level.

Today's marijuana can be a lot stronger and contain higher concentrations of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, said Dr. George Wang, lead author of the study and clinical instructor in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“Before the marijuana boom, these kinds of edibles were not mass-produced and the amount of THC ingested was somewhat limited, but now we are seeing much higher strength marijuana,” Wang said.   “We need to educate marijuana users, the community and medical professionals about the potential dangers."

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