Posted on Feb. 5, 2015 (
Marijuana “exposures” are affecting a record number of children and teenagers, according to recent statistics from the Washington Poison Center.
Teenagers represent the largest group of exposures reported to the center last year — 61 out of 246 total calls.
Next were 20- to 29-year-olds, accounting for 48 of the calls made, followed closely by children age 12 and younger. In the latter group, 3 of 47 kids were younger than age one.
Legalized pot linked to more exposures
According to center statistics, exposures in all age groups have jumped considerably since recreational pot was legalized in 2012.
The first stores to sell recreational marijuana in Washington state opened last year; by January 2015, calls to the Poison Center were hitting record numbers.
Pierce County has the second highest number of reported marijuana exposures, with 33 in 2014. King County leads the state with 84.
The 246 total exposures reported in 2014 compares to only 158 in 2013 and 146 in 2011.
Pot poisoning symptoms
The Poison Center prefers the term “exposure” to “poisoning” to describe the incidents it documents.
A spokesperson said calls are prompted by symptoms or concern that symptoms will develop, for example in a child who has eaten pot-infused candy.
Symptoms that spurred calls last year included drowsiness, elevated heart rate, disorientation, low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, the spokesperson said.
Most of the calls to the center came from health care facilities, followed by private homes.
Toddlers most at risk
While most of the reported exposures occurred from intentional pot smoking or ingestion, 36 were accidental — mostly by children younger than 12. Reporting problematic exposures to the Poison Center is voluntary, so the actual number could be higher.
Ted Walkley, MD, an emergency department (ED) pediatrician at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital & Health Center, said the advent of legally available edible forms of marijuana, such as brownies and candy, has changed the landscape and put toddlers at particular risk — just as they are with other poisonings.
“They cruise around and put something in their mouths,” Dr. Walkley said. “The result is woozy, dizzy kids who have trouble with their balance or are hard to awaken.”
He said he suspects the rise in teenage exposures is also due to so-called "medibles," as quantities of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the mind-altering ingredient found in marijuana, is not regulated and vary widely.
Mary Bridge has not seen a recent spike in marijuana poisonings affecting children, but Dr. Walkley reminds parents to bring their child to the ED right away if they suspect exposure.
“Don’t assume it’s just pot. The effects could be caused by marijuana combined with alcohol or medicine,” he said.
Most children are treated and released from the ED without being admitted to the hospital.
Taking pot precautions
Dr. Walkley offers this advice to parents:
- Treat marijuana with the same storage precautions as all medications. “Use a child-resistant container with Mr. Yuck stickers and keep it out of toddlers’ cruising level,” he said. “And for heaven’s sake, don’t mix [regular and pot-infused] brownies on the same plate!”
- Remember marijuana is a drug. “Driving while stoned is as bad as driving with alcohol. I would rather not have kids come into the ED because of a horrible accident while their parent was driving stoned,” Dr. Walkley said.
If you are worried about someone’s health and safety due to a possible poisoning, call the Washington Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 for medical advice. All calls are free and confidential.
For two decades, Kathleen has been writing about how our bodies work and how to keep them healthy. She is the mother of a college student and an ornery cat. Away from her writing desk, Kathleen loves to garden, read mysteries and hike with her husband. More stories by this author