Increasing numbers of children admitted to hospitals with marijuana exposure

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A new study shows that the number of children being admitted to hospitals with lung irritation who have been exposed to marijuana is increasing. At this point, 16 percent of children (about 1 in 6) admitted for bronchiolitis show signs of contact with THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. This number has gone up since recreational marijuana use became legal in Colorado in 2014. In addition to psychoactive properties, marijuana can contain carcinogens and other toxic chemicals, and most of these chemicals’ effects on children have not been tested.

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This issue is receiving increased attention, as seen in a recent article from the New York Times.   The piece discusses a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association, which says that Colorado’s rate of pediatric exposures to marijuana has increased by more than 150% since the state began allowing the legal use of recreational marijuana in 2014.  Many of the affected children were accidentally exposed by ingesting marijuana-infused edible goods.  Kids are particularly at risk for accidental exposure because they cannot distinguish between these products and the harmless cookies, brownies, and candies they’re used to.  One researcher also commented that many marijuana edibles are packaged in bright colors that attract children’s attention.

A report (pictured above) from the Washington Poison Center shows similar occurrences in the state.  Like Colorado, Washington has also had an increase in calls to poison control centers due to marijuana exposure and poisoning, and again, many of those calls or for children.  Another similarity is that the biggest increase in the number of calls came after recreational use of marijuana was legalized.


Marijuana Use During Pregnancy And Breastfeeding

There is evidence that maternal marijuana use during pregnancy is associated with some delivery complications; babies being born with low birth-weights; and possibly a ventricular septal defect (a hole in a baby’s heart). There is also some research suggesting that marijuana use during pregnancy is related to abnormal early-childhood and adolescent behavior, and possibly even some cancers. Very early exposure to THC (prenatally or during breastfeeding) may negatively affect brain development, particularly the development of emotional responses. It also seems to be tied to children showing “gaps in problem-solving skills, memory, and the ability to remain attentive.”

A less commonly discussed topic is paternal use of marijuana during pregnancy. There is actually some evidence that “fathers’ marijuana use in the year prior to their children’s births is associated with an increased risk of [a rare but very malignant tumor] in their children.” It may also be correlated with an increased chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Overall, the effects of marijuana use on fetuses and babies are unclear, and for this reason most physicians recommend that women avoid its use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Second-hand marijuana smoke has also been shown to cause altered states of consciousness in infants and young children, which should be avoided particularly since safe limits for this are unknown.