10/20/2014 06:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Pot In Your Pantry? Marijuana Use In Toddlers And Teens

2014-10-17-WPC2014marijuana.PNG The second recreational pot store opened in Washington State recently while store number three is set to open later this month. Pace will quicken with several more stores expected to open by year-end. This puts Washington parents and pediatricians in a unique situation (shared only with Colorado) as we're tasked to explain to teens the dangers of legalized drugs used by adults. The complexity extends even to those of us with young children. Growing concern (and evidence) finds accidental ingestion of pot among children, often in the form of edibles, is also accelerating. In social channels I've heard some argue that marijuana legalization is to be thought of like alcohol but the packaging and delivery of the drug really are far different.

Marijuana Use By Teens Is Still Illegal Yet Common
Nearly half of all teens have tried pot by the time they finish high school while almost 1/4 of all high school students report having used marijuana in the past month. It could have wider implications than we previously thought. Consider effects like mental decline in teens who smoke and the reality that some research shows recreational use of marijuana is linked to brain abnormalities and IQ changes later in life. This may be especially true when pot is used in teens and others whose brains are still developing. Dr. Herbert Kleber, who directs the Division on Substance Abuse at Columbia University said to NPR, "There is a growing body of evidence that shows that marijuana isn't good for the developing brain. The adolescent brain is still maturing, and teens who use marijuana are more likely to become dependent on it than adults"

Fancy-Packaged Pot
It's not just joints and bongs that parents need to watch out for. Thirty five different marijuana-infused food and beverages have been approved by Washington State Liquor Control Board (cookies, trail mix, peanut brittle, gummy bears, and chocolate bars for example). Often the packaging for these products looks as attractive as a fruit roll-up or delicious candy bar typically marketed to children. Where I live and practice pediatrics, there have been 68 pediatric marijuana exposures voluntarily reported to Washington State poison control already this year. Because reporting isn't mandatory this potentially reflects an underestimate of the number of children exposed to marijuana accidentally.

What Can Parents Do?
  • If marijuana is in your house, keep it up and out of reach, especially if young children live or visit your home. Packaging for marijuana may be very attractive for toddlers or children and with a lapse in supervision (that happens to all of us) they may ingest marijuana unintentionally.
  • Talk about it with teens. I spoke with Dr Yolanda Evans, an adolescent expert at Seattle Children's who writes Teenology who said, "Communication is key for parents. Teens whose parents perceive marijuana as low risk are more likely to use. Know what the edible marijuana products look like and talk to your teen if you find something in their possession. Communicate your family values and expectations regarding use. Many of the products look like candy and treats that could be sold in any convenience store, but when you read the packaging, it will say it contains cannabis."
  • Set rules (and consequences) about drug use and follow through.
  • NO WEED WHILE DRIVING: "The first message we need to get out there is 'Don't use marijuana,' " Dr. Leslie Walker, chief of the Adolescent Medicine at Seattle Children's Hospital said to NPR, "But if you do, don't get behind the wheel."
  • Explain how marijuana works differently on the mind depending on how it is consumed. Dr Yolanda Evans again, "With edibles, children and teens may consume higher quantities than the inhaled form. It takes much longer for the THC to go through the gut than to be inhaled, so a teen may not experience a 'high' which leads to eating more and more. For children, the products may look like candy. Very appealing to a toddler."