The debate over the legalization of marijuana has continued to rage on as states begin to adopt more lenient legislation on the matter. Proponents point out that there are numerous economic and health benefits that come along with legalizing the drug, but there are bound to be negative consequences as well.
One study shows that the chances of young children swallowing, breathing in, or otherwise being exposed to marijuana has increased dramatically as policies shift in its favor.
The numbers that have been uncovered by the study are truly staggering. From 2006 to 2013, exposure to marijuana for children five years of age or younger has risen 147.5% across the U.S. This number is small potatoes when compared to states that legalized marijuana for medical purposes. In these states, the rate increased almost 610% in the same time period.
States that legalized marijuana from 2000 to 2013 have had child exposure rates increase steadily. There is roughly a 16% increase each year, and there is always a more dramatic jump in the year that marijuana was legalized in each state.
But it is not just states that legalize marijuana that have to worry. Even states that had not legalized marijuana by 2013 saw a rise of 63% in marijuana exposure in young children from 2000 to 2013.
But why exactly is this exposure to young children occurring? Henry Spiller, who co-authored the study and is the director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s, explains why children may be attracted to the drug.
"The high percentage of ingestions may be related to the popularity of marijuana brownies, cookies and other foods," he says. "Very young children explore their environments by putting items in their mouths, and foods such as brownies and cookies are attractive."
Coma, seizures, other complications
Exposure to marijuana has produced a range of results when it comes to children. While most instances resulted in minor clinical effects, some children suffered from coma, decreased breathing, or seizures. These more serious conditions could be due to increased amounts of THC in marijuana food products.
Gary Smith, who is the senior author of the study and the director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s, urges that states need to have child protection laws in place when it comes to marijuana. Although the total number of exposure cases is less than 2,000, he believes that the growing trend in states that have legalized marijuana is very telling.
"Any state considering marijuana legalization needs to include child protections in its laws from the very beginning," Dr. Smith said. "Child safety must be part of the discussion when a state is considering legalization of marijuana," he said.
Should be locked up
Other researchers endorse the idea that marijuana be treated like other chemicals and medicines in a household. If marijuana products are being kept in the house, they should be kept out of sight of children. If possible, they can be locked in a cabinet to ensure that they cannot be swallowed by mistake.
The full study was published in Clinical Pediatrics on June 8, 2015.