Marijuana products sending more French kids to ERs

Increased availability of potent marijuana products in France may be driving an increase in emergency room visits by intoxicated toddlers, a new study suggests.  Yearly admissions for accidental marijuana intoxication at pediatric emergency departments in France more than doubled between 2004 and 2014, researchers found.

“I was surprised by the increase of admissions in my unit for cannabis unintentional intoxication among toddlers and by the increase of severe presentation after children had eaten part or a entire cannabis resin stick,” said lead author Dr. Isabelle Claudet, who heads the pediatric emergency department at Hopital des Enfants in Toulouse.

Pediatricians in intensive care units were also starting to see toddlers who had ingested the concentrated marijuana product, Claudet told Reuters Health by email.  She and her colleagues write in the journal Pediatrics that France has the highest level of drug consumption in Europe even though marijuana is illegal in the country.

The most popular version of marijuana or cannabis in France is hashish, a concentrated resin often sold in small olive-shaped pellets.

The researchers analyzed data collected from 2004 to 2014 on children under age 6 who were admitted to 24 pediatric emergency departments. During that time, 235 children were admitted for intoxication with symptoms like drowsiness, seizures, altered consciousness and euphoria.  Yearly pediatric emergency department admissions among that age group for accidental intoxication increased by 133 percent. Similarly, calls to French poison control centers for those types of exposures increased 312%.

In most cases, the children had come into contact with the drug at home. Three quarters of them had ingested the drug; nearly the same proportion ingested sticks, balls or cones made of the resin.  Most of the children – 86% – were experiencing symptoms like euphoria or drowsiness, but 35% had severe symptoms, including 33 children who were comatose. Some children were also in respiratory failure, and eight required a ventilator.

Based on data from French customs, the researchers say that over the course of the study period, the amount of the active component in hashish – known as THC – more than doubled, from 9.3% per gram to 20.7% per gram.

Claudet said children should be kept away from cannabis products, and parents should realize how dangerous the drug is.  Also, she said, “Policymakers should take in consideration this evolution and such intoxication should be tightly monitored and it should be mandatory to report such cases. A solution has to be (found) to regulate THC concentration in cannabis and stop its increasing evolution.”

In the U.S. state of Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, researchers reported in 2016 that the rate of marijuana-related visits by children under age 10 to a hospital or poison control center nearly doubled.  Dr. Sam Wang from Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora, who led the 2016 study, told Reuters Health that parents and caregivers need to be educated about marijuana, keep the products out of reach and keep them properly packaged.  “Treat it like any other over-the-counter drug, alcohol, cigarettes and anything you don’t want kids to get into,” he said.  As states in the U.S. move forward with legalization, they must do a better job monitoring these events and work on prevention, Wang said.

“I think moving forward, every state that moves forward with legalization, you need to think of these unintended consequences and think how you’re going to address them,” said Wang.

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