Pot for Tots: Children and Medical Marijuana

Judy A. Rollins, PhD, RN


Pediatr Nurs. 2014;40(2):59-60. 

In This Article

Unintended Exposure to Medical Marijuana

While the controversy regarding medical marijuana for children continues, other concerns regarding adults using medical marijuana can have implications for children living in or visiting their homes. Wang (2013) describes a new appearance of unintentional marijuana ingestions by young children after decriminalizing medical marijuana in Colorado. In October 2009, when the Justice Department instructed federal prosecutors not to seek arrest for medical marijuana users and suppliers, the issuance of the number of medical marijuana cards increased to 60,000, up from 2,000 in 2001. Medical marijuana was now present in a greater number of homes, including homes with young children.

Wang (2013) conducted a retrospective cohort study at a tertiary care, free-standing children's hospital. The study included patients younger than 12 years evaluated for suspected unintentional marijuana ingestion from January 1, 2005, through December 31, 2011. Findings revealed that between January 1, 2005, and September 30, 2009, no patients younger than 12 years sought care at the emergency department for marijuana ingestion. However, between October 1, 2009, and December 31, 2011, 14 patients younger than 12 years had confirmed marijuana ingestion by urine toxicology screen. Ages ranged from eight months to 12 years, and 64% were males. Most patients had central nervous system effects, such as lethargy or somnolence; the most serious symptom was respiratory insufficiency. Of the medical marijuana exposures, seven were from food products. Wang (2013) believes that this increase in marijuana exposure in young children in Colorado is most likely due to the decriminalization of medical marijuana in 2009.

Improved palatability of medical marijuana may also be related to the increase in pediatric exposures. Medical marijuana is sold in many products besides plant and cigarette form, including edibles such as candies, baked good, and soft drinks, which likely increases attractiveness to young children. In fact, in Wang's (2013) study, most exposures were due to ingestion of medical marijuana in a food product. Regulations are needed on storing medical marijuana products in child-resistant containers, including labels with warnings or precautions, and providing counseling on safe storage practices.