Increased availability of marijuana in Colorado could lead to more children accidentally ingesting the drug, according to a new study conducted in the state. Voters last fall in Colorado and in Washington state legalized sales of pot for recreational use to anyone 21 and older.
Dr. Sam Wang, a medical toxicologist at the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, was one of the authors of the new study on marijuana-related hospitalizations of children. "We found a new appearance of unintentional marijuana ingestions by young children after modification of drug enforcement laws for marijuana possession in Colorado," the report concluded.
"There's a definite … relationship with increased availability and then the increase in unintentional exposures we saw in the emergency department at that same time," Wang said.
Entrepreneurs like Kayvan Khalatbari, co-owner of Denver Relief, one of hundreds of medical marijuana businesses in Colorado, will be allowed to start selling pot for recreational use within the next few months. He thinks regulation will make it less likely for pot to fall into the wrong hands. "Most people would agree that when something is illegal it's easier to get a hold of that when it's regulated," said Khalatbari
But some health officials are concerned about the impact of marijuana decriminalization on children. The new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics shows a spike in the number of children taken to hospital for accidentally swallowing products containing THC - the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis plants - since medical marijuana sales became widespread in Colorado in 2009.
Children who accidentally ingest marijuana products often experience extreme sleepiness, vomiting and even difficulty breathing or walking, according to Michael Kosnett, a toxicologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. "In some of these cases, it's only eating a single candy bar or a single brownie or cookie that can cause complications in a child," said Kosnett.
But pot retailer Khalatbari said safeguards will be in place when retailers start selling products to recreational users in a few months time, including required childproof, non-transparent packaging. "So even though we've had very few incidents now under medical marijuana with stuff like this on the market, we're probably going to see even less when the new rules pass and go into effect...as long as parents are responsible."
With recreational marijuana sales on the horizon for Colorado, the industry is only set to get larger. And that could trigger a tension between the right to possess pot, and the responsibility of parents to keep it out of the hands of children.