Medical Marijuana in Illinois Part 2—Child Safety Concerns

ediblesLast week we discussed the ins and outs of the new Illinois medical marijuana bill.  Being poison experts, we are naturally interested in the consequences of this law on poison prevention and child safety.  How will the medical marijuana law affect kids in Illinois?

To help us answer this question, we searched for any data on accidental marijuana exposures by children in states that already have legalized medical marijuana.

An article from the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, called “Pediatric Marijuana Exposures in a Medical Marijuana State,” focused on one children’s hospital located in Colorado. The study looked at children ages  eight months to 12 years old who were brought to the hospital after being exposed to marijuana both before the medical marijuana bill and after the medical marijuana bill and compared those two groups.

The study showed an increase in child exposures to marijuana after the legislation was put into effect. The first group (before the bill) had no accidental exposures to marijuana. However, in the second group (after the bill), there were 14 children with marijuana exposures.  Out of those 14 cases, seven of them involved food products containing marijuana (i.e. cookies, candies, and cakes).  Several of the children were admitted to the hospital, where their symptoms ranged from drowsiness to having breathing problems.

Besides that article, we knew that there was another place that we could look for more information about marijuana exposures. The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) releases the data that comes into all of the poison centers around the U.S. and publishes it every year. The most recent report from 2011 listed a total of 290 exposures to marijuana in ages 12 and younger.  From 2009, when the marijuana law passed in Colorado, to 2011 exposures to marijuana increased over 80% in kids ages 12 and younger. However, this data looks only at marijuana overall and does not distinguish between those exposures that occurred with medical marijuana vs ‘illegal’ marijuana.

There are two factors about medical marijuana that concern us in regards to accidental pediatric ingestions:

  1. Medical marijuana is often sold in edible, tasty, sweet treats.   Children who cannot read have no way of knowing if a brownie contains the drug or is a plain brownie that they have eaten many times before.  The IPC gets over 35,000 calls every year about kids who eat very unappetizing things, such as cleaning products, diaper cream, poop, etc.   And, they eat pills all the time! (which may resemble candy but certainly don’t taste like it).  Putting a drug in a tasty dessert is the perfect recipe for an accidental pediatric poisoning.
  2. Marijuana may not be sold in child-resistant containers.  We will have to wait until January 2014 to see the exact type of packaging these products come in, but chances are, a marijuana-cake will not be protected by a safety cap!  Child resistant containers are useful poison prevention tools, because they slow children’s access to potentially harmful substances.  Medical marijuana patients with children in the home should be sure to keep these products in a locked container out of reach of children.

So the million-dollar question is, what do we do with this information?  How will this affect Illinois? Time will tell.  But the one thing we can do is inform and educate.

If you have any questions or concerns about medical marijuana as it relates to poison prevention, please call the IPC at 1-800-222-1222.

–Tony and Kristen


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