The legalization of cannabis for recreational use in Colorado was associated with an increase in the number of young children who were treated for unintentional exposure to the drug, a new study concludes.
The average rate of hospital admissions at Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora due 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, according to findings published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.
The annual rate of calls made to a regional poison control center involving pediatric exposure to marijuana increased by more than 400% over the same time period, according to the study, going from nine in 2009 to 47 by 2015.
Colorado and Washington in 2012 became the first two states in the country to pass laws allowing the sale and purchase of marijuana for recreational use. The Colorado law went into effect Jan. 1, 2014. Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia allow for the medical use of marijuana, while Alaska, Oregon and D.C. have also passed laws allowing for recreational use.
Study researchers found while the country as a whole experienced an average annual increase of 19% in marijuana-related poison control cases involving children under age 10 between 2009 and 2015, in Colorado, the number of cases per year rose an average of 34% during the same period.
“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.”
In all, the study documented a total of 163 cases in Colorado that were reported to the poison control center between 2009 and 2015 and 81 hospital admissions that were related to childhood exposure to marijuana.
Marijuana exposure represented a small share of the total number of poisonous exposures, but reflects a growing concern as more states look into legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Most child exposure to marijuana was the result of ingesting edible forms of marijuana, such as in baked goods and candy, which has developed into a burgeoning industry within legalized states in recent years.
The study's authors pointed out marijuana exposure among children carries some potentially severe health risks. The average length of a hospital stay among kids exposed to marijuana was 11 hours, according to the analysis, with the most common effects including drowsiness, agitation, vomiting, tachycardia, depressed breathing and seizures.