Study Finds Rising Rate of Marijuana Exposure Younger than 6

Ohio’s Nationwide Children's Hospital researchers in a new study released this week urged state leaders to put child safety requirements in place when considering marijuana legalization because more and more young children have access to the drug, especially through baked goods.

Researchers recommend the same measures for commercially-available marijuana products that are now used to protect children from medicines and dangerous household chemicals, including requirements for child-resistant packaging and packaging that is transparent, and ensuring adults lock the products up in a cabinet.

The study, published online in Clinical Pediatrics, found that the rate of marijuana exposure among children 5 years of age and younger rose 147.5 percent from 2006 through 2013 across the United States. The rate increased almost 610 percent during the same period in states that legalized marijuana for medical use before 2000.

In states that legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use from 2000 through 2013, the rate increased almost 16 percent per year after legalization, with a particular jump in the year that marijuana was legalized. Even states that had not legalized marijuana by 2013 saw a rise of 63 percent in the rate of marijuana exposures among young children from 2000 through 2013.

More than 75 percent of the children who were exposed were younger than 3 years of age, and most children were exposed when they swallowed marijuana.

"The high percentage of ingestions may be related to the popularity of marijuana brownies, cookies and other foods," Henry Spiller, a co-author of the study, toxicologist, and director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children's, said in a news release. "Very young children explore their environments by putting items in their mouths, and foods such as brownies and cookies are attractive."

Analyzing data from the National Poison Database System, researchers noted that the main psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, THC, can be especially high in marijuana food products, and that may have contributed to some of the observed severe effects. More than 18 percent of children who were exposed were hospitalized. These hospital admissions were likely due not only to the clinical effects, but also the need to investigate the circumstances that lead to the exposure in the home.

According to a 2010 report in the journal Pediatrics, the rate of bleach poisonings for kids under the age 5 is around 1.75 per 10,000, or 175 per million. Bleach is in most households, and marijuana isn't. But if marijuana continues to proliferate legally into parents' homes, the exposure rates may keep rising, researchers concluded.

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