Kids Are Accidentally Eating Weed More Than Ever — Especially Those Under Three

BERLIN - AUGUST 23: Children walk down the way on the first school day on August 23, 2010 in Berlin, Germany. Many German school districts, including those in Berlin, are reducing the school times pan from 13 to 12 years as part of a nationwide set of primary and secondary school reforms.. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
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No matter where you stand on the whole legalization of marijuana debate, you'd think all of us are probably on the same page about one key fact: you should definitely lay off the ganj when you're around your kids. (Right?) Well maybe we're not all as aligned on that one after all, if a new study by the Nationwide Children's Hospital is to be believed. As researchers revealed in the journal Clinical Pediatrics Monday, an increasing number of kids under five are accidentally eating weed in the United States every year, and what's worse, 75 percent of them are under the age of three. (Just let that sink in for a minute there.)

Researchers were quick to point out though that the number of kids being exposed isn't actually what's so worrying — in total, only about 1,969 kids were reported to Poison Control Centers for exposure between 2000 and 2013. But the rate at which that number is increasing? That's what's giving experts some serious pause. According to the research, the rise in exposure for kids under five rose a whopping 147.5 percent between 2006 and 2013 across the U. S. alone. What's more, that rate jumped almost 610 percent during the same years in states that legalized marijuana for medical use before the year 2000.
 
And while you might think a large portion of these cases have to do with adults smoking around younger kids, you'd be wrong. Henry Spiller, D.ABAT, a co-author of the study, toxicologist, and director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children's notes that a large portion of these cases were caused by kids ingesting or swallowing weed in the form of some mystery "items" left around the house. In a press release for the study issued by Nationwide Children's, Spiller said:
The high percentage of ingestions may be related to the popularity of marijuana brownies, cookies and other foods. Very young children explore their environments by putting items in their mouths, and foods such as brownies and cookies are attractive.
If you're a parent reading this right now, you probably aren't so surprised by that one. After all, if your 2-year-old can unlock your cell phone and accidentally download $40 in apps in under five minutes (because you know they can), they are going to get into your secret stash of pot brownies. Yep; nothing is safe from your wandering toddler. (Sorry.) As a result of the study, though, lead authors are urging lawmakers to start thinking about children's safety when pondering the marijuana legalization issue.

Also quoted in the press release was Dr. Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, senior author of the study and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital. He warned:
Any state considering marijuana legalization needs to include child protections in its laws from the very beginning. Child safety must be part of the discussion when a state is considering legalization of marijuana.

In most of the cases involving kids under five, the exposure only led to some "minor clinical effects," but for others, it resulted in decreased breathing, seizures, and even coma. Those severe cases were likely brought on by ingestion, the study authors theorize, since the THC content is super high when marijuana is added to food, thereby causing more intense psychotropic reactions. All in all, 18 percent of cases where kids were exposed to marijuana led to hospitalization, though these were probably the result of investigations by authorities.

Though you might think it goes without saying, the study results have experts reminding adults to step up their safety measures when it comes to storing pot in any location where children might be. Researchers recommend keeping any stash high out of reach of curious kids, and in child-resistant packaging that's not completely clear. And if you're really drawing a blank for creative hiding places for your stash, check out this handy list for parents The Cannibist shared on 10 ways to keep your weed away from your kids. (You're welcome.)

Image: Getty Images

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