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Pediatric Cannabis Poisoning Cases Increased After Medical Marijuana Approval: Study

Legalizing marijuana may have an unintended side effect for children, resulting in more calls to poison control centers for unintentional childhood exposure to cannabis, according to the findings of a new study.

In a report published this month in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, researchers indicate that incidents of pediatric cannabis exposures grew by approximately 140% in Massachusetts after the state legalized marijuana.

Researchers reviewed calls to U.S. Poison Control Centers in Massachusetts over an eight year period from 2008 to 2016, to determine whether there was any correlation between the legalization of marijuana and an increase in pediatric cannabis exposures.

The study indicates during the eight year period a total of 218 calls involving cannabis exposure were reported to poison control centers from Massachusetts residents, with 98 incidents involving a single cannabis substance, while 120 reports involved two or more cannabis substances.

Prior to the legalization of marijuana, cannabis exposure only accounted for about 0.15% of all calls to poison control centers related to kids. However after 2012 the incidence of all cannabis-related calls grew to 1.1 calls per 100,000 population, equating to a roughly 140% increase in calls.

The highest reporting age group involved residents between 15 and 19 years of age. About 25% of all reported cases were classified as unintentional ingestion, while nearly 20% of those involved children under the age of four.

Four out of five of the calls from health care facilities involving exposure cases resulted in some degree of moderate to minor adverse health effects, while only four cases resulted in severe consequences, including seizures and cardiac arrest.

Results of the study are consistent with previous research out of Colorado and Washington, who have both also legalized marijuana and subsequently seen a spike in poison control center calls involving pediatric cannabis exposure.

States issuing medical marijuana licenses and legalizing marijuana for commercial sale should proactively enforce regulations that are needed to keep higher-potency edible cannabis products and concentrated extracts from children and teenagers, according to the authors.

A study published earlier this year in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicated marijuana-related visits to emergency room more than tripled at Colorado hospitals from 2012 to 2016 after marijuana was legalized.

With at least 33 states in the U.S. having legalized cannabis for medical use and several legalizing it for commercial sale, the researchers are warning states that legalization actions may have unintended consequences for youth, such as poisoning and exposure.

In January, researchers from the University of Vermont indicated that it takes only a small amount of cannabis exposure to alter a teen brain, which could negatively affect memory and increase anxiety. Researchers say the findings of the study are significant in that it shows smoking marijuana only one or two times can have structural and cognitive effects on the brain. Their findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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