|Source: Washington Poison Center|
Pediatric exposures to marijuana reported to the Washington Poison Center (WAPC) are on the rise in our state. As of July 7, 54 cases were reported to the WAPC while in all of 2013 58 cases were reported. As with all poisonings, the WAPC says marijuana poisonings are likely under-reported.
Earlier this year, study results published in JAMA-Pediatrics reported similar problems in Colorado.
Susan Mazor, MD, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and a medical toxicologist at Children’s and the WAPC, says that it makes sense that as marijuana becomes more available in the community, children’s exposures to the drug increases. “More availability of any poison usually translates to more unintentional poisonings in kids,” she says.
In an editorial accompanying the JAMA-Pediatrics article, a public health response is called for:
The public health community needs to be vigilant for unintended consequences of legalized marijuana, such as increased ingestion by children as reported . . . Unfortunately, as with tobacco, some of the most significant health consequences will likely take years to manifest.
In the meantime, we can inform the public about the known harms of marijuana even in states where use has been made legal. This has been happening with tobacco. While rates of adolescent tobacco use remain unacceptably high, they have fallen dramatically since their peak in 1996. It is nearly impossible to be sentient in 2013 and not know about the health consequences of tobacco. Anecdotally, nearly all of the patients treated in the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Boston Children’s Hospital who use tobacco would like to quit because of health concerns, while few adolescents can understand why we advise them to stop using marijuana. The skyrocketing rates of adolescent marijuana use indicate that we are losing an important public health battle and we have a lot of work to do if we want to reverse these trends.
While our state has made available education materials encouraging parents to talk to their children about not using marijuana, education also needs to be done about the availability of marijuana in homes. Since I-502 funding for marijuana education campaigns has yet to come in, other sources of funding need to be found by policy makers on the state and local levels.
As we know from experiences with alcohol and tobacco, and is evident with these latest reports about marijuana, increased availability of a drug is harmful to children. Limiting availability is one step policy makers can take to ensure that fewer children are exposed to marijuana. Keeping the number of retail recreational marijuana stores as it is now and eliminating medical marijuana stores is good public health policy.