The number of young children in Colorado who ended up in the emergency room after accidentally ingesting pot-laced goodies has increased since 2014, when the state green-lighted the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Colorado and Washington became the first two states in the country to legalize recreational pot two years ago, but shortly after legalization, Colorado saw a sharp increase in the number of kids younger than 10 who became sick after being exposed to pot mostly from edibles such as cannabis-laced cookies, brownies and candies.
In a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on July 25, researchers found that two years prior to legalization, the average rate of pot-related hospitalization was only 1.2 children per 100,000. This rate increased to 2.3 children per 100,000 two years after legalization.
The regional poison control center serving Colorado saw more than fivefold rise in cases of children who fell sick from pot exposure. In 2009, the number was only nine, but this increased to 47 last year.
The average increase in calls made to poison centers statewide also nearly doubled compared to that of the rest of the country.
"Almost half of the patients seen in the children's hospital in the 2 years after legalization had exposures from recreational marijuana, suggesting that legalization did affect the incidence of exposures," study researcher Genie Roosevelt, from the Denver Health and Hospital Authority, and colleagues reported in their study.
Roosevelt explained that the reason kids are drawn to edible marijuana products is that they look very much like regular candy and baked goods.
Children who are exposed to pot become very sleepy or experience loss of balance or coordination. Some children, however, suffer from more serious symptoms that require medical attention. Children who accidentally ingest marijuana edibles, for instance, can become too sedated it affects their ability to breathe.
The researchers noted the importance of keeping pot away from children, citing that people have become careless at storing their marijuana after it was legalized for recreational use.
The researchers, however, said that the decriminalization of weed is also more likely the reason why adults become more willing to disclose the cause of children's illness.
"In 2009, we didn't know what was wrong with these kids, and we did all kinds of work-ups," Roosevelt said. "Now, after legalization, more people are saying, 'Oops, I left my brownie out, and my child ate it.' That's not great, but it's helping us to manage these patients."