Child Marijuana Poisonings Expected to Jump, UConn Wants Funding for the Response

In a phone call with CT Examiner, Dr. Suzanne Doyon, medical director at the Connecticut Poison Control Center, discussed a request to fund two additional positions in an anticipation of a significant rise in child poisonings given the recent legalization of recreational marijuana.

Doyon said she was most concerned about an increase in small children ingesting edibles, which she said make up about half the calls the center receives each year. 

Even before the legalization, Doyon said, calls had been on the rise. 

“I’m just concerned because children being admitted to the ICU… it’s just not fun,” she said. 

Doyon said that children who ingest marijuana often experience severe vomiting and nausea, which can be followed by depression of the central nervous system — a condition that can lead to a coma. She said that the majority of these children end up in an intensive care unit for a few days. 

Doyon said that four years ago the department received about 20 calls a year regarding children ingesting edible cannabis. Last year, the department received more than 100.

States like Arizona, California and New York have reported increases in the number of children appearing in poison control centers after marijuana was legalized in the state. As of August 31, poison control centers nationwide had managed a total of 3,125 cases involving marijuana in 2021, compared to just over 500 for the entire year of 2018. 

Doyon said that she expected the number of calls in Connecticut to double or triple based on what has happened in other states.

“We’re really talking hundreds and hundreds of such exposures,” she said.  

Doyon said the center also receives calls from  a number of regular marijuana users who present with symptoms of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. While these individuals don’t tend to end up in the ICU, Doyon said, they are often “really really miserable and vomiting profusely.”   

Doyon said she hopes that some of the provisions in the new law, including limits on the amount of THC in edibles and a prohibition on packaging that would appeal to children, will help reduce the problem.

“We think these measures will hopefully mitigate and decrease pediatric exposures, but we don’t know,” she said. 

UConn’s Committee on Financial Affairs announced at its Wednesday meeting that it had asked the state’s Office of Policy and Management to fund the additional positions.

The request includes funding for an additional staff member to help the center handle an increase in calls, and a second position for a data analyst responsible for creating a dashboard to inform legislators and government officials of the effects of the new law. The total request is $163,448. 

Doyon explained that having a data analyst on staff will allow the Poison Control Center to provide lawmakers with accurate information about the outcomes of legalization, and inform any future “tweak” in the law.

“What’s the purpose of informing our politicians? You pass a law, but often a couple of years later you want to amend it,” she said.

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