In a new study published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, researchers found that since Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana in January 2014, the state saw a sharp increase in the number of kids younger than 10 who became exposed to pot and needed to be hospitalized.
The study showed that two years prior to Colorado's legalization of marijuana, the average rate of pot-related hospitalization was only 1.2 children in 100,000. That rate rose 150 percent to 2.3 children per 100,000 in the two years following legalization.
“We were not prepared for the dramatic increase,” said Dr. Genia E. Roosevelt, the senior author of the study.
The study found no evidence that any of the children died or had lasting damage done to them because of their exposure to marijuana. However, the average increase in calls made to poison control centers in Colorado nearly doubled when compared to the rest of the country during that time frame. Colorado had a 34 percent increase in poison control calls related to marijuana, while the rest of the U.S. averaged a 19 percent increase.
When a young child is exposed to marijuana, the child is usually just sleepy and experiences a loss of coordination. But when the child eats multiple doses of pot (the amount commonly contained in a single pot-infused edible), he or she may become dangerously sedated and have trouble breathing.
The average hospital stay for a child who developed serious risks was about 11 hours. The study found one in five children who were hospitalized for to pot exposure needed to be kept overnight. Only two children were treated for inability to breathe.
One child died from a heart problem, but it was not clear whether that was due to the ingested marijuana.
“While these ingestions are not common, the effect are significant and preventable," Roosevelt said.
The most common way that the children ingested the drug was by eating a pot-infused edible, such as a brownie or cake.
“Ingestion of edible products continues to be a major source of marijuana exposures in children and poses a unique problem because no other drug is infused into a palatable and appetizing form,” the study noted.