Doctors fear legal pot will lead to more exposure among toddlers

SEATTLE -- Emergency room doctors at Seattle Children's Hospital fear the legalization of marijuana could mean an increase of young patients suffering from overdose.

They worry there will be more emergency room visits as toddlers are exposed to food and drinks containing marijuana.

"There's no child safety packaging on any of it," said Dr. Susan Mazor, a pediatric emergency medicine physician and medical toxicologist at Seattle Children's Hospital. "(The packaging) is usually really colorful and it looks really enticing to a kid."

Mazor said two toddlers were treated at Seattle Children's recently after accidentally eating marijuana. She said ingesting pot makes kids lethargic and may make their breathing so difficult they have to be put on a ventilator.

"When we see patients - toddlers - who look like that, with no known exposure, then we're going to do a lot of testing," said Mazor. "We're going to admit the child to the Intensive Care Unit. We're going to do CT scans and imaging and spinal taps - things that are expensive and sometimes painful and really unnecessary because we're not suspecting; because we haven't seen very much exposure in toddlers before."

According to the Washington Poison Center,15 toddlers in our state were treated last year at local hospitals after adverse exposure to marijuana. Doctors say it's only going to get worse with legalization of recreational use.

A Colorado study, published last year by JAMA Pediatrics, found more children accidentally ingested marijuana after it was legalized and de-criminalized. Fourteen children were treated at a children's hospital in Colorado during a two-year period; compared to zero in year's past.

"One of the things that we always caution patients about is the importance of treating their medicine as medicine," said Dawn Darington of Choice Wellness Center, who sells medical marijuana with warnings on the labels to keep away from children.

"It's something we certainly need to be concerned about. We need to pay attention to - but we do not want to sort of 'throw the baby out with the bath water' in terms of not allowing this kind of medication," said Darington.

Dr. Mazor said it's too early to know what the long term effects of marijuana ingestion can be on toddlers but noted any amount consumed can cause symptoms.

"If you're going to buy something like that - which is going to be legal to do - you're going to want to have it locked away; up and away from where a toddler can see it because if they see it there's a chance they're going to want it," said Mazor. "Similarly, to how we recommend you treat your medications and your alcoholic beverages."

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