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Marijuana Legalization and Unintentional Pediatric Exposures

Summary and Comment |
February 10, 2014

Marijuana Legalization and Unintentional Pediatric Exposures

  1. Daniel J. Pallin, MD, MPH

Calls to U.S. poison control centers for unintentional marijuana exposures among young children were rare before and after legalization.

  1. Daniel J. Pallin, MD, MPH

As of December 2013, marijuana had been legalized for medical use in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Investigators reviewed data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers National Poison Data System from 2005 to 2011 to determine if reports of unintentional exposures in children aged 9 years and younger were more common in states that had decriminalized marijuana.

During the entire study period, across all states, there were only 985 reports of unintentional marijuana exposures in this age group. No deaths or long-term morbidity were reported. Call frequency increased by 30% per year in states that had decriminalized the drug before 2005, by 12% per year in states that had decriminalized between 2005 and 2011, and did not change in states that had not decriminalized.

Comment

The authors' emphasis on an increase in unintentional exposures is misplaced, because the baseline rate was so low (about 4 per million population). These results suggest that neither patients nor the healthcare system are likely to be substantially affected by marijuana legalization, by showing that spontaneous reports of unintentional ingestion are rare despite legal availability of the drug. It is also possible that the increase in calls does not reflect increased pediatric exposure to marijuana, but rather that caregivers are more comfortable reporting exposure to a legal substance.

  • Disclosures for Daniel J. Pallin, MD, MPH at time of publication Grant / research support Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; Department of Defense; Massachusetts Coalition for the Prevention of Medical Errors; NIH

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