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Study: Decriminalizing marijuana might send more kids to ED

Thursday February 6, 2014
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States that decriminalized marijuana had dramatic increases in children who required medical intervention, although the overall number of unintentional marijuana exposures among children remained low, according to a study.

“We believe that high-dose edible products — such as candies, cookies and chocolates — may have played a significant role in the increased rate of reported exposure chiefly because kids can’t distinguish between products that contain marijuana and those that don’t,” the study’s lead author, George Sam Wang, MD, of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver, said in a news release. “These edible products may be attractive to children and tend to contain higher concentrations of the active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol.”

The call rate to poison centers in states that decriminalized marijuana increased by more than 30% per year between 2005 and 2011, while the call rate in non-legal states did not change, researchers reported Feb. 5 on the website of the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

More pediatric exposures in decriminalized states than in non-legal states required medical evaluation, had moderate to major clinical effects and required critical care admissions. The most common effects were neurologic and the most common therapy was administration of intravenous fluids. Aggressive interventions were rare and there were no deaths.

As of December, 18 states and the Washington, D.C., had passed legislation allowing medical marijuana, which includes many edible products. Sales are projected to more than double between 2011 and 2015.

“Pediatricians, toxicologists and emergency physicians need to be willing to advocate for the safety of children to lawmakers as this burgeoning industry expands across the U.S.,” Wang said. “As more states decriminalize marijuana, lawmakers should consider requirements – such as child-resistant packaging, warning labels and public education – to reduce the likelihood of ingestion by young children.”

Annals of Emergency Medicine is the peer-reviewed scientific journal for the American College of Emergency Physicians, the national medical society representing emergency medicine.


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