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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UMass: Study Reports Cannabis-related Poison Control Calls for Massachusetts Kids Doubled After Legalization of Medical Marijuana

After medical marijuana became legal in Massachusetts, cannabis-related poison control calls involving the commonwealth’s children and teenagers doubled, according to an investigation led by University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, assistant professor of health promotion and policy, Dr. Jennifer Whitehill.

The increase in calls to the Regional Center for Poison Control and Prevention at Boston Children’s Hospital occurred despite legislative mandates for childproof packaging and warning labels, and before the recreational use of marijuana was legalized for adults.

“As states across the country enact more permissive marijuana policies, we need to do more to promote safe storage in households with children,” says Dr. Whitehill, lead author of the research published in JAMA Network Open.

Dr. Whitehill analyzed data from the poison control center in collaboration with staff from the center, including its medical director. The research team reviewed the center’s data from 2009 through 2016 — four years before and four years after medical marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts.

During the study period, the incidence of calls for single-substance cannabis exposure increased 140 percent during the study period. A little more than a quarter of the cases were reported as unintentional, with 19.4 percent of calls involving children from infancy through age 4.

Calls involving edible cannabis products increased for most age groups, including ages 15-19. Because other research has found that the proportion of teens using marijuana is remaining about the same even as marijuana laws are loosening, this finding suggests that teenagers may be caught off guard by the potentially potent effects of edibles and concentrated extracts, Dr. Whitehill says.

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