A version of this article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
According to a new study, children under the age of six are being exposed to marijuana products more than ever. But instead of an alarmist report about peer-pressured toddlers in preschool, research shows that the little rascals might accidentally be getting into weed edibles around the house.
Earlier this month, the Clinical Pediatrics Journal published data gathered from poison control centers across the United States. According to their findings, while it is still uncommon for children to be exposed to marijuana and THC products, states that legalized the product saw as large as a 600 percent increase in exposures, mostly by ingestion.
Yesterday, the Canadian Supreme Court legalized medical marijuana in any form, so legal users no longer have to just smoke it or use a vaporizer. Although this is good news for many who feel that edibles are a better alternative to smoking weed, which has been found to be harmful by some studies, parents will have to be cautious with their edibles around young children.
"They're not trying to get high, they're not trying to use it, these are kids going through the house—that's their environment, that's where they live—and coming across THC products," Henry Spiller, toxicologist and co-author of the study, told VICE.
Three quarters of the kids in the study were exposed via ingestion, while fewer than 10 percent were affected by inhalation.
Marijuana edibles come in many different forms, from the common cookies and brownies to lollipops, gummy bears, mints, and drinks. In Colorado, there's even a twice-baked weed pizza with cheese and pepperoni. All of these items are appealing to a child who can't tell the difference from the non–THC infused versions.
"We call it exploratory behavior, they just do this. We try to keep them out of bleach and cleaning products but they still get into it because it's in the home," said Spiller, who knows first-hand how curious they can be from his own five children.
The study shows that about a third of the children were sent to hospital. And although the majority reported minor effects, some children were reported to suffer commas, seizures, fever, and vomiting.
Other studies have found that marijuana can harm the brains of young teenagers, but its effects on infants are still understudied. Dr. Margaret Thompson, the Medical Director of the Ontario Poison Centre at SickKids says that the symptoms children experienced in the study can be experienced by anyone who severely overdoses.
"For the naïve child who's never had it before, the number of milligrams of marijuana in that same quantity can [cause] basically overdose effects," she said.
Thompson says that the Ontario Poison Centre has received calls of children being exposed, and they are treated the same as a child being exposed to any toxic substance.
"The government has policy that if it's a substance that is meant for children it has to be kept in a container that's child resistant," she said. "When you're dispensing medical marijuana there should always be warnings that these things should be in child resistant containers."
Spiller suggests that parents should manage marijuana products the same way they would alcohol—in a cabinet and out of reach. But he also says that teaching parents is not enough. He hopes that any government that legalizes distribution of edibles will take action and call upon safer containers for distribution.
"Putting a sticker, a red thing, a skull and crossbones means nothing to a four-year-old, they don't read," he said. "It really has to be in some sort of a package that's really a child-resistant container."
As the debate in Canada over the legalization of marijuana continues, children shouldn't be left out of the conversation. Although very little research has been done on how marijuana affects such young bodies, toxicologists suggest we should consider the risks.
"If we can extrapolate to Canada, we might suggest that we need to be wary of that," said Thompson. "They should consider children for anything they legalize."
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