One Sunday years ago, I answered a telephone call from a worried mother – her 3-year-old daughter had consumed a marijuana-laced brownie. The clinic being closed, I suggested she stop by my house.
On our front porch, a brief exam revealed normal skin color and temperature, clear lungs, a normal pulse and heart rate – and a somewhat frightened child. She was “clinging” and held in her mother’s arms. That looked like a plan to me – case closed.
Times are changing. Recently, the article “Accidental Marijuana Poisoning in Children, An Alarming New Trend in Colorado” appeared in an issue of the Colorado Academy of Family Physicians quarterly magazine. There was plenty of “alarm,” but no numbers!
With the spread of medical marijuana and now recreational marijuana, it was inevitable young children, who ingest anything and everything, would appear in emergency rooms. However, the appearance of marijuana or the active ingredient THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in candies, baked goods, flavored drinks and even Gummy Bear look-alikes is a direct invitation to children. (The origin of the Alice B. Toklas brownie, not relevant to this column, is an interesting story.)
The reality of “stoned” children is repulsive and unacceptable. Protecting children from poisons has been a decades-long goal, enhanced by the Poisoning Prevention Packaging Act of 1970. Evidence suggests child-resistant packaging has reduced poisonings in children by half. Colorado has augmented the act by requiring pot shops to dispense their products in child-resistant opaque containers. It is well-known that what children cannot see does not interest them.
So, how worried should parents be about a child ingesting some of their stash or their edibles?
A search of the medical literature worldwide does not reveal a single fatality directly resulting from marijuana. That could change with increasing availability and enhanced potency of marijuana products.
An interesting parallel is tobacco; the active ingredient, nicotine, is a known poison, even used as an insecticide. Unlike marijuana, there is a wealth of statistics about tobacco poisonings. During a 27-year period, more than 50 million poisonings were reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Slightly more than 200,000 were accidental ingestions of tobacco, and 89 percent of these occurred in children younger than 6. Major, but nonfatal, outcomes occurred in about 2,000.
There are almost no studies of stoned children. I found one, a 15-year review of accidental cannabis poisonings in children reported to the Marseille, France, poison center. Eighty-six percent were younger than 3, and 80 percent consumed hashish. Five serious cases were identified, two with seizures. Bottom line: Marijuana poisonings, though generally mild, will increase. And, negligent, panicked parents will bring children to ERs where the environment is more toxic than a mother’s arms.
Keep THC/marijuana treats frozen or locked up. While you are at it, lock up household cleaners; cosmetics; electrolyte, mineral and dietary supplements; matches; lighters; fireworks; firearms; flammables; and, especially, prescription drugs.
www.alanfraserhouston.com. Dr. Fraser Houston is a retired emergency room physician who worked at area hospitals after moving to Southwest Colorado from New Hampshire in 1990.