The rate at which Colorado children were exposed to marijuana began increasing in 2009, when the U.S. government first announced it would not prosecute residents who complied with the state’s new medical marijuana laws. Dr. Genie E. Roosevelt, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Denver Health Medical Center, expected that rate to go up even more when Colorado voters decided to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in 2012, the Times reports — but she never could have predicted the rate would increase as much as it did.
In Colorado and around the country, more and more children are mistaking a not-so-innocent brownie for a tasty snack causing a severe increase in marijuana exposure, The New York Times reports.
Since 2014 (when the law legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado took effect and recreational marijuana products went on the market), the rate at which Colorado children are exposed to marijuana has increased by a whopping 150%, according to a study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Usually, this means that kids are finding their parents’ or older siblings’ drug-laced brownies, cookies and gummy candy (a.k.a. edibles) and are eating them without realizing the danger. Some cases, Dr. Roosevelt tells the Times, could also be the result of secondhand smoke.
Regardless of the source, accidental exposure to marijuana can be dangerous for a child. The Times reports that a toddler who has eaten an edible marijuana product might “become lethargic or agitated, vomit and lose balance.” In the case of the 244 children analyzed for Dr. Roosevelt’s study, the exposure resulted in the parents calling poison control or, in a few cases, taking the child to the hospital for treatment.
In large part, this extreme physical reaction to marijuana is the result of a dosing and portion size problem. As Dr. Kari L. Franson, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy, tells the Times, edible marijuana products typically contain more than one “serving” of the drug — but unsuspecting children don’t know the difference.
Colorado has been taking some steps to combat the issue. Last year, the state mandated that marijuana products be sold in childproof packaging. Just this month, a new law prohibiting marijuana gummies shaped like humans, animals or fruits (shapes that appeal to small children) went into effect.
Of course, Colorado is not the only place where children are accidentally exposed to marijuana. A recent national study published in the journal Clinical Toxicology showed that overall, reports of accidental child exposure to marijuana in the U.S. have increased between 2013 and 2015 as well (though at nearly as high a rate as in Colorado alone).
Still, the number of cases of accidental exposure isn’t huge, and Dr. Roosevelt acknowledges that the perceived increase might be the result of parents who now feel more willing to honestly report an accidental ingestion because marijuana has been decriminalized. Statistics aside, however, Dr. Roosevelt considers accidental child marijuana exposure a problem that could easily be avoided.
[h/t The New York Times]