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The accidental consumption of marijuana edibles, such as brownies and gummies, among children under the age of 6 has surged in recent years as more states have legalized the recreational use of pot, a new study has found.
The study, published on Tuesday in the journal Pediatrics, analyzed reports of child exposure to edibles from 2017 to 2021. The authors concluded that there had been a “consistent increase in pediatric edible cannabis exposures over the past five years, with the potential for significant toxicity.”
In 2020, pediatric cases of edible marijuana ingestion accounted for more than 40 percent of all human poison exposures reported that year, according to the study, which relied on statistics from the National Poison Data System.
“These exposures can cause significant toxicity and are responsible for an increasing number of hospitalizations,” the authors wrote.
There were more than 7,000 reported cases of accidental ingestion by children 5 and under between 2017 and 2021, and cases rose 1,375 percent over that period, the study found. In virtually all of them, the edibles were ingested in a residential setting. About 90 percent of the cases originated from the child’s home, the study said.
Nearly 23 percent of the patients were hospitalized, with a “significant increase in both I.C.U. and non-I.C.U. admissions,” the study found.
The study found an increase in “acute toxicity” associated with such cases since the beginning of the pandemic, “as indicated by increasing critical care admissions, more patients admitted to noncritical care beds” and fewer patients being treated in emergency departments.
The most frequent health outcome children experienced was central nervous system depression. Symptoms include drowsiness, lowered blood pressure and slurred speech, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The authors offered several possible explanations for the increase in cases, including more time spent at home during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, when schools and day care centers were shuttered, and the greater availability of legal marijuana products over the last decade. They also noted that many edible marijuana products are “offered in brightly colored, enticing packaging that is identical in style to how candy and snack products are marketed,” contributing to their appeal among young children.
After voters in Maryland and Missouri approved ballot measures in November, recreational marijuana use is now legal in 21 states, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. In New York, where recreational marijuana use became legal in 2021, the first dispensary for legal recreational marijuana sales opened in Greenwich Village last week to fanfare and long lines.
Several studies conducted in recent years analyzing pediatric emergency care visits and reports to regional poison centers have found an uptick in accidental consumption of marijuana edibles by young people in states such as Massachusetts and Colorado, which were among the first to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
Some states have taken measures to reduce child exposure, passing laws mandating childproof packaging for weed products. In Colorado, for example, edible marijuana cannot be sold in the shape of fruits, animals or humans.
Most adults in the United States favor marijuana legalization, according to a recent Gallup survey, which also found that support has risen from year to year and now stands at a record 68 percent.