America’s teens have a new drug of choice.
Calls to poison-control centers for cannabis abuse among kids has more than tripled since the year 2000, according to a new study — as alcohol abuse dropped over the same period.
The study, published Monday in the peer-reviewed Clinical Toxicology, tracked a 245% increase in calls of abuse or misuse of cannabis in people aged between 6 and 18, rising from 510 reported cases in 2000 to 1,761 cases in 2020.
The researchers behind the study — who looked at calls to poison control center hotlines across the country — said marijuana exposure cases had steadily rose since 2011 and seen an even larger uptick since 2017, coinciding with more states legalizing adults buying marijuana.
They also said edible cannabis products — such as cookies and gummies — have driven a dramatic rise in calls to poison centers.
“Our study describes an upward trend in marijuana abuse exposures among youth, especially those involving edible products,” Dr. Adrienne Hughes, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health & Science University and coauthor of the study, said in a statement.
“Compared to smoking cannabis, which typically results in an immediate high, intoxication from edible forms of marijuana usually takes several hours, which may lead some individuals to consume greater amounts and experience unexpected and unpredictable highs,” she added.
The study — which reports on national trends — comes just weeks after New York began issuing licenses to leal weed retailers.
The Empire State is one of 21 to have legalized cannabis for recreational use.
Hughes and her co-authors argue that the wave of legalizations — which permit the use of cannabis by adults — has made the drug more accessible to children and adolescents.
“These findings highlight an ongoing concern about the impact of rapidly evolving cannabis legalization on this vulnerable population,” she said.
The uptick in cannabis abuse among young Americans mirrored a downward trend in alcohol abuse.
Alcohol was the single most abused substance in the data in the year 2000, and exceeded reports of cannabis abuse by minors every year through 2013.
“Since 2014, marijuana exposure cases have exceeded [alcohol] cases every year, and by a greater amount each year than the prior,” Hughes said.
Across all substances, researchers found over 338,000 instances of intentional abuse or misuse among American children aged 6-18. Researchers clarified that though there were 57,488 incidents reported to poison centers involving children between the ages of 6 and 12, most consisted of the misuse of vitamins, plants, melatonin, and hand sanitizers — rather than “traditional” drugs.
Deaths were also included, but rare. According to the study, 450 deaths were reported in the data, with the most, 286, linked to opioid abuse, the researchers said.
Meanwhile, a study of illegal cannabis avilable on the streets found its potency has dramatically increased.
A leaked version of the study by the University of Washington found the level of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, has increased in drugs seized by authorities from 4% to more than 15% since the 1990s, according to the Daily Mail.
The Washington University report explained the huge increase in THC has been possible only through cross-breeding the plants in certain ways.
Beatriz Carlini, who worked on the report, pointed out “botanical cannabis plant has a limit of THC percentage” but commercial processses “transform the plant into something else,” and warned research indicates higher-potency pot raises the risk of addiction and psychiatric disorders.
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