Is marijuana use among children on the rise?

By Lex Talamo

Posted: June 18, 2015 

As legalized marijuana in 23 states has become available to adults, experts say children and teens may be using marijuana recreationally because they now see it as a “safe” drug.

The 2014 Monitoring the Future survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 81 percent of seniors said marijuana was easy to get and that the majority of teens surveyed perceived marijuana to be a relatively safe drug.

But another study from a January edition of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 74 percent of the teens in treatment for marijuana had gained access from a “diverted” source and consumed a medical marijuana dose that had been prescribed by a doctor to someone else.

Marijuana prescribed to adults also is falling accidentally into the hands of young children, which doctors with Clinical Pediatrics magazine say could be “associated with the increasing popularity of marijuana food products, such as candy, cookies, and brownies.”

A single edible can contain up to four times the safe dose of THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana.

“Our concern is that they’ll consume the whole thing and get a dose of THC they never would have gotten under usual circumstances,” said Dr. Jon Cole, medical director of the Minnesota Poison Control Center. “In higher doses it’s a really potent drug.”

According to the Clinical Pediatrics report, accidental exposures to marijuana have also spiked. From 2006 to 2013, the number of children under six years old who were exposed to marijuana increased by 147.5 percent. That exposure rate jumped to a 609.6 percent increase in states that had legalized medical marijuana prior to 2000.

The average age of those children was 1.8 years, with 75 percent happening to children less than three years old.

“In exposures, sometimes you have children who are suddenly unconscious,” Cole said. “They go up to the hospital and the number of things that could be going wrong with them is enormous.”

Cole added that children hospitalized from marijuana exposure often undergo invasive medical testing and sometimes aren’t able to interact with their caregivers or breathe on their own. Other symptoms can range from lethargy and irritability to coma, respiratory depression and seizures.

Due to the upsurge in emergency room visits and the effects ingesting marijuana can have on children, several states are insisting on stricter packaging regulations and products that won’t appeal to children. Parents with medical marijuana prescriptions are encouraged to minimize the risk of exposure by locking their edible products away from children.