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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Cannabis Care: Using marijuana as medicine can have negative effect on children

NASHUA – There’s cookies, brownies, cakes, cupcakes, fudge, lollipops, even lemonade – nearly any sweet treat you could think of.

But the treats contain a lot more than sugar; they’re made with marijuana. ...

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NASHUA – There’s cookies, brownies, cakes, cupcakes, fudge, lollipops, even lemonade – nearly any sweet treat you could think of.

But the treats contain a lot more than sugar; they’re made with marijuana.

And while they’ve been consumed recreationally for years, the same products are now popping up for patients in states where medical marijuana is legal, causing what some health officials say is a whole new kind of danger for children.

“There’s nothing about a Rice Krispie treat that says, ‘This is medication, you shouldn’t touch it,’ ” said Granite State poison control educator Laurie Warnock.

And with medical marijuana now legal in the Granite State, some are worried that kids and teens could face negative, if unintended, consequences.

The state’s legislation is silent on the type of marijuana products that dispensaries can sell.

Any regulations related to the packaging of such products, or the products themselves, will be outlined in rules developed by the Department of Health and Human Services, which have not yet been written.

But even if the state’s dispensaries aren’t handing out Pot Tarts, medical marijuana patients often make edible goods with the drug themselves. Smoking marijuana can often make eligible conditions worse, and most doctors advise against it for medical marijuana patients.

While ingesting the drug may be better for the patients, it can make things for dangerous for kids, Warnock said.

“These products don’t look like medication, and they’re not taken like medication,” she said. “They can be easily confused by children.”

And children can experience more dramatic side effects than adults if they ingest the drug, from dilated pupils and tachycardia, to tremors and even comas.

A report released in May by researchers in Colorado compared the number of marijuana ingestions by young children who were brought to the emergency room before and after October 2009, when drug enforcement laws regarding medical marijuana were relaxed in that state.

The study found no record of children brought into the ER in a large Colorado children’s hospital for marijuana-related poisonings between January 2005 and Sept. 30, 2009. Between Oct. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2011, however, 14 cases were reported, eight of which involved medical marijuana.

Such statistics prompted Massachusetts to require child-proof packaging for medical marijuana products, and some lawmakers in that state also want to ban marijuana products that mimic candy and other treats often marketed to children.

No matter what type of products are sold in the Granite State, and what kind of packing they come in, Warnock said it will be extremely important for patients, particularly those with children, to treat the marijuana like any other medication, keeping it stored out of reach of children and not ingesting it casually in front of their children.

“Parents need to model good behavior,” she said. “Don’t call medications candy. Keep as little on hand as possible, and don’t take it in their presence if you’re going to be sending a mixed message about what it is you’re doing.”

It’s this mixed message that some drug prevention advocates in the state say could impact all young people, not only those who live in the same house as a medical marijuana patient.

“We need to look at this as a public health issue,” said Celeste Clarke, executive director of the Raymond Youth Coalition, who brought a speaker on medical marijuana to a state health conference earlier this summer. “We’re not saying anyone is a bad person for using medical marijuana … We’re just very concerned about the message it sends.”

Local prevention advocate Betsey Houde, executive director of Nashua-based Beyond Influence, agreed.

Many youth already view marijuana as a low-risk substance, she said. Seeing in the news that it is safe, and that people use it as medication, will only strengthen that perception.

“There are massively dangerous consequences for kids who don’t think it’s a big deal,” Houde said. “My fear is that as soon as people think that marijuana is safe, there will be an increase in use and more issues with young people’s developing brains.”

A state Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2011, the most recent data provided on the state Department of Eduction website, shows that marijuana is already used more frequently by Granite State teens than cigarettes.

Houde said these numbers have been on the rise for a few years, and that she’s worried legalized therapeutic marijuana could make the numbers jump higher– a trend the state has also been seeing with prescription drug abuse.

“Kids are sharing medicines, and they think that because a doctor prescribes it, it can’t harm them,” she said. “I think that while people in extreme pain or facing a terminal illness should have the opportunity to be comfortable, personally I don’t know that legalizing therapeutic cannabis is the best method for kids.”