What the legalization of marijuana has meant for children | Deseret News National
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Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press
Family

What the legalization of marijuana has meant for children

Since the legalization of marijuana in Colorado in 2012, the increase in the small number of children admitted to local hospitals for marijuana-related symptoms shows youth will not be unscathed by the change.

Nine children have been admitted to Children's Hospital Colorado for accidentally ingesting marijuana, which is already one more than the total for last year.

Of the nine children who have been admitted in 2014, "seven were admitted to the hospital's intensive-care unit, most commonly for what was either extreme sedation or agitation. One of those kids had breathing problems that required a respirator," Michael DiStefano, the medical director of the Children's Hospital Colorado emergency department, told The Denver Post.

While the number is relatively small compared to the overall number of patients at the hospital, it is an increase from earlier years.

"Between 2005 and 2013, only eight children were admitted at the hospital for unintentional marijuana ingestion," DiStefano told the Post. What's more, "the patients at Children's are just one slice of what hospitals across the state are seeing," he said.

The legal age to use marijuana is 21 in both Colorado and Washington.

The culture surrounding marijuana has changed over the last few years. Marijuana use is becoming "less and less stigmatized," according to Time. President Barack Obama is in favor of legalization, and marijuana use is seen as no more harmful than drinking alcohol.

However, research has found that marijuana use has negative effects on teenagers, and is particularly damaging to the memory centers of the brain, according to Schizophrenia Bulletin.

Although legal drugs likes alcohol and tobacco may be just as harmful, if not more so, than marijuana, the legalization of pot brings new problems.

Hash oil explosions, caused by people trying to extract THC — the primary drug in marijuana — by cooking it, are increasing in the Denver area and endangering children. A 3-year-old girl was in the house when an explosion occurred in Manitou Springs, Colorado, in May. Although she was unhurt, the kitchen was destroyed and the adults who were present have been charged with reckless endangerment and child abuse, according to CBS Denver.

Such dangerous environments are tied to recreational use of marijuana. But lawmakers are beginning to approve medical uses to relieve the symptoms of epilepsy in children. The Illinois House approved a bill that would allow minors to use cannabidiol, an oil derived from marijuana that contains minimal amounts of THC, to prevent seizures, according to Huffington Post.

Several other states already allow the use of medical marijuana for the treatment of epilepsy in minors, including Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.

Nicole Gross, one of the parents lobbying for that passage of the bill in Illinois, moved to Colorado to get her young son access to medical marijuana treatment. Since using cannabidiol, Gross says "he has 60 to 90 percent seizure control."

Gross said that her son's epilepsy was like "having a constant electrical shock, like having your brain reset. It's not like passing out, but it's almost like your brain shutting down. And this happens thousands of times a day."

Recreational use and medical use are two separate issues, but as marijuana becomes more mainstream in the United States, children will likely be impacted, the Time article reports.

"It is important to stop it before it becomes a huge problem," DiStefano said.

Emily Hales is an intern on the national team, covering issues facing families in the United States. She is a communications major at Brigham Young University.