Legalizing marijuana may be a dream come true for many but recent stats from Colorado show an increased number of children ending up in hospital after being exposed to and poisoned by legalized recreational cannabis.

Colorado Amendment 64 was a successful ruling that allowed for the personal use of marijuana for adults of 21 years and above. An initiative that became the first of its kind in the world came into full effect by April 2016, where a number of cities and towns in Colorado implemented the action into practice. However, one unprecedented side effect of this law was the increased number of children being exposed to and poisoned by legalized cannabis thus sending them to hospitals.

A study, led by Dr Genie Roosevelt of University of Colorado, analyzed the pediatric reports from hospitals and regional poison center (RPC) with relation to marijuana exposure and compared them with the rates of exposure before marijuana was legalized. The aim was to understand the repercussions of legalization of marijuana in children in the state of Colorado.

Each marijuana plant is tagged with a radio frequency chip so that it is easily traceable by the state. The concentration of marijuana in plant form as well as in any other product it’s placed in is to be regularly checked. Furthermore, the distribution of the drug is to be in child resistant containers as a failsafe, to prevent children from using the drug themselves.

The drug sellers are subjected to state sales tax; however, those selling recreational marijuana (that differs from medical marijuana) are forced to pay an additional 15% tax which in turn increases its retail price. All these regulations are set in place to make the process of manufacturing and selling the legalized drug more streamlined, hoping that the sanctions make it difficult for people to obtain drugs through illegal means.

For the study, 81 patients were assessed in the Children’s Hospital while 163 cases were analyzed that regional poison center (RPC) received between January 2009 and December 2015. All the cases were of children whose ages were less than 10 years old. The average rate of marijuana related visits to the hospital rose from 1.2 per 100,000 populations to 2.3 per 100,000 populations (2 years after the legalization of the drug). The RPC annual report indicated that an average 34% increase in RPC cases each year in Colorado was seen as opposed to the 19% increase in the rest of USA. Furthermore, in 2009, nine cases of marijuana related poisoning appeared, which escalated by 5 times leading to 47 such cases by 2015. Such data signifies that the reported cases of children being exposed to marijuana have indeed increased after the legalization of the drug in Colorado.

Amongst the modes of using the drug, incorporating them in edible products is the new popular method. They are available in different forms like candies, cookies, brownies and gummy bears. For a child, it is difficult to differentiate between what sort of food item is prohibited and what is not, if such candies are easily accessible within their house. According to the report, around 52% of the reported cases were due to such edible products. While for 10 cases, the drug was placed in non-child resistant containers. With 40 cases that claimed the child was exposed due to poor storage and supervision of child, it indicated that making sure the drug is out of reach for children is imperative in stopping such cases from happening.

The children who are being admitted to hospitals for such exposure experience various symptoms such as vomiting, dizziness and drowsiness. However, there were some cases where children suffered from respiratory depression, causing them to undergo intensive care. The author of the study stated: “Marijuana exposures in young children have resulted in respiratory compromise requiring the use of a ventilator and intensive care unit admission in a handful of cases.”

Since marijuana in such edible products has high potency, they can have more alarming side effects, especially if they fall into the hands of toddlers. After the legalization, nothing can be done to stop the distribution of the drug. However, countermeasures to ensure safety of children need to be considered. One method suggested has been to encase marijuana in less appealing containers or selling them in products that do not resemble food for children. As the purpose behind consuming the drug is to enjoy the effect it gives its user, its packaging or encasing in food such as chocolate bars shouldn’t be of highest importance. Furthermore, adults who regularly use marijuana should consider it as another form of medication and therefore store it in places that are out of reach of children and should make more of an effort to hide the drug, before more serious complications of exposure to the drug happens to their children.