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Medical Pot Laws & Treats May Send More Kids To ER

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Child-resistant packaging recommended to keep pot edibles out of the hands of children.(credit: CBS)

Child-resistant packaging recommended to keep pot edibles out of the hands of children.(credit: CBS)

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DENVER (CBS4/AP) — Increased use of medical marijuana may lead to more young children getting sick from accidentally eating food made with the drug, a Colorado study suggests.

Medical marijuana items include yummy-looking gummy candies, cookies and other treats that may entice young children. Fourteen children were treated at the Children’s Hospital in Aurora in the two years after a 2009 federal policy change led to a surge in medical marijuana use, the study found. That’s when federal authorities said they would not prosecute legal users.

Study cases were mostly mild, but parents should know about potential risks and keep the products out of reach, said lead author Dr. George Sam Wang, an emergency room physician at the hospital.

Unusual drowsiness and unsteady walking were among the symptoms. One child, a 5-year-old boy, had trouble breathing. Eight children were hospitalized, two in the intensive care unit, though all recovered within a few days, Wang said. By contrast, in four years preceding the policy change, the Denver-area hospital had no such cases.

Some children came in laughing, glassy-eyed or “acting a little goofy and ‘off,’” Wang said. “They come in very sleepy and potentially can go into a coma or have difficulty breathing.”

Many had eaten medical marijuana food items, although nonmedical marijuana was involved in at least three cases. The children were younger than 12 and included an 8-month-old boy.

“As you can imagine they are very palatable, very attractive to kids. They taste like they should, a brownie or a cookie,” said Wang.

The study was released Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.

Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., allow medical marijuana, though it remains illegal under federal law. Colorado’s law dates to 2000 but the study notes that use there soared after the 2009 policy change on prosecution. Last year, Colorado and Washington state legalized adult possession of small amounts of nonmedical marijuana.

Some states, including Colorado, allow medical marijuana use by sick kids, with parents’ supervision.

Some doctors with the Rocky Mountain Poison Control Center urge the need for child-resistant packaging for marijuana products.

“What makes it child resistant is that it requires two specific acts. You have to pinch then pull this open,” said Dr. Michael Kosnett with Children’s Hospital.

The package Kosnett was demonstrating has been approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission as child resistant. There are many other similar packages found for sale online.

Kosnett and Wang believe marijuana edible packaging should be no different than safety caps that were mandated for prescription medication bottles in the 70s.

“After child-resistant packaging was used for medicines the incidents of poisoning fell drastically, in some cases 50 to 90 percent,” said Kosnett. “The best way to deal with a potential poisoning product is to prevent it.”

In a journal editorial, two Seattle poisoning specialists say that at least seven more states are considering legalizing medical marijuana and that laws that expand marijuana use likely will lead to more children sickened.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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