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“Cannabis Poisoning” Calls for Children Have Doubled in Massachusetts

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Aug 16, 2019   
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The number of cannabis-related calls to a poison control room have doubled in Massachusetts since the state legalized medical marijuana, according to a new study. 

Calls for single-substance cannabis exposure increased from 0.4 to 1.1 per 100,000 population between 2009 and 2016, a jump of 140 percent. 

The study didn’t include data from 2017 – the year Massachusetts legalized recreational cannabis – but the authors believe that current cannabis-related poison calls are likely higher. 

Cannabis calls

All 218 calls involving cannabis exposure in children and teenagers were made to the Regional Center for Poison Control and Prevention, a not-for-profit that assists in diagnosing poisonings within Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Most of these exposures resulted in “moderate and minor effects,” while four cases were said to have major effects. The majority of incidents were intentional and 19.4 percent involved infant children. No deaths were reported.

“While we're pleased to see that the incidence is relatively low, we feel these cases are preventable,” said Jennifer Whitehill, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and lead author of the study, in a press statement

Under current state regulations, all packaging for cannabis products in Massachusetts must be child-resistant and should be unappealing to minors. Bright colors, cartoons, and images of minors are all prohibited, and every piece of packaging must include the warning: “keep out of the reach of children.”

But in addition to these measures, Whitehill’s study, published in JAMA Network Open, calls on any state considering a liberal cannabis policy to strengthen its regulations “with particular attention to edible cannabis products and concentrated extracts” or risk unintentional exposure among young children. 

“As states across the country enact more permissive marijuana policies, we need to do more to promote safe storage in households with children,” said Whitehall. 

A minor case

While the increase in "cannabis-related poisoning" in children was significant, the calls still only represented 0.15 percent of all calls to the Massachusetts poison center during the seven-year study period for the 0-19 age group.

Rather than cannabis, the top three non-pharmaceutical causes of poisoning last year were cosmetics, household cleaners, and toys, according to the center’s own 2018 report

Recent research has also indicated that localized cannabis legalization could actually be reducing the number of teenage consumers. One study found that states which legalized recreational cannabis were associated with an 8 percent fall in the number of high school-age teenagers who claimed they used cannabis in the last 30 days.

“I think the big takeaway is that we find no evidence that teen marijuana use goes up after legalization for medicinal or recreational purposes,” Mark Anderson, an associate professor at Montana State University and lead author of that study, told Analytical Cannabis in July

Leo Bear-McGuinness

Science Writer & Editor

Leo joined Analytical Cannabis in 2019. From research to regulations and analysis to agriculture, his writing covers all the need-to-know news for the cannabis industry. He holds a Bachelor's in Biology from Newcastle University and a Master's in Science Communication from the University of Edinburgh.


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