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Marijuana Edibles and Children: New Dangers Present

With medical marijuana now legalized in 29 states, the hot-button issue remains at the forefront of national conversation. Just this week, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through legislature (as opposed to a public vote). In Vermont, both recreational and medical marijuana will be legal beginning this July.

Eight other states—Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, D.C., and Washington—have also legalized the use of recreational marijuana over the past five years.

According to a recent poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, 60 percent of those surveyed are in support of recreational/personal marijuana use.

With so many in favor of marijuana legalization, and so many states opting to legalize at least medical marijuana, if not recreational marijuana as well, cannabis use has been placed under a microscope, and continues to make headlines on a daily basis.

Normalization of Marijuana Edibles

With the normalization and legalization of marijuana use, more forms of the drug are available than ever before. In a recent story out of New Mexico, a nine-year-old student inadvertently brought her grandfather’s THC-infused candy gummies to school—shedding light on the accessibility (whether intentional or not) of marijuana edibles.

In total, four students consumed the candies, with one student seeking help from the school nurse after experiencing dizziness and feeling ill.

The local news outlet, KXAN, reported that THC gummies can be “2 to 100 times more potent than traditional marijuana.”

Marijuana edibles often appear the same as their normal counterparts, making it nearly impossible for people (children included) to distinguish the two from each other. According to reports, the state of Colorado (the first state to legalize recreational use), moved to ban the production and sale of marijuana gummy bears and other edibles that might appear tempting to children. The ban went into effect on October 1st of last year.

In Colorado, any marijuana edible in the shape of a human, animal, or fruit is prohibited. Along with the ban, stricter policies have been set in place for edibles to be properly labeled with their individual level of potency.

According to the Children’s Hospital Colorado, a child who has ingested marijuana edibles can experience “prolonged symptoms”—particularly small children, as the potency of marijuana when combined with food is much higher.

Symptoms of an overconsumption of THC (acute marijuana intoxication) can include lack of coordination, sleepiness, or breathing problems.

While Colorado has moved to ban marijuana gummy bears and other seemingly “kid-friendly” shapes and colors that may typically be marketed to children, many other states have yet to follow suit. 

Protecting Child Safety

With more and more children becoming exposed to marijuana use, safety becomes an important concern. A study published in JAMA in December revealed that this exposure could begin even before birth, with 7.1% of moms involved in the study in California (where recreational use is legal) admitting to smoking marijuana while pregnant. These moms were patients at Kaiser Permanente during pregnancy, and addition to answering questions, also participated in toxicology tests.

Even more alarmingly, over twenty percent of pregnant teens in the study admitted to smoking marijuana, compared to 9.8% in 2009.

While the topic of marijuana use during pregnancy requires further research, the CDC suggests that, “[…] researchers don’t know a lot about what the effects might be and while the research is in progress, most experts advise pregnant women not to use marijuana.”

With the incident in New Mexico this week, along with countless other headlines of accidental edibles ingestion by children, it is clear that families must remain vigilant when it comes to children’s health and safety, and that education on the topic must be made a priority in our society’s rapidly-evolving relationship with cannabis.

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