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Monday, October 17, 2016

Approach With Caution

"You instantly feel light-headed, like you're going to pass out, and your stomach starts spinning like crazy."
"I was so dehydrated [from vomiting], when I went to the hospital they couldn't stick an IV in my arm because my veins kept collapsing."
Cody Morin, Whitby, Ontario

"A hundred milligrams [marijuana] in an adult may cause some hallucinations, may cause their heart rate to go very fast, which may be a risk, but it's a risk in a subset of patients."
"Every single pediatric patient shouldn't have 100 milligrams, and that's really [the amount contained in] only one cookie [laced with marijuana]."
Dr. Andrew Monte, assistant professor, University of Colorado, school of medicine

"We'll know what's in it [regulated marijuana] and how it's grown, what the strength is, and the product will be labelled. We'll know who made it, who sold it."
"If there are problematic products out there, then we'll have them withdrawn off the market. People used to go blind from drinking moonshine; that doesn't happen anymore."
"We have to get safe products out there that people can use safely."
Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, medical health officer, Vancouver Coastal Health
(Postmedia News Files)
The marijuana trimming department at the LivWell facility in Denver. (Mark Yuen / Postmedia News)

Emergency rooms at two Colorado hospitals are familiar with the syndrome known as cannabinoid hyperemesis. Sufficient numbers of patients have been admitted in a state of cyclical vomiting. Since the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, and the easy availability of the popular weed, hospitals across the state are now treating new cases of cannabinoid hyperemesis weekly. It is a debilitating condition that was completely unexpected as a complication of legalizing marijuana for medicinal and eventually, recreational use.

Dr. Monte at the school of medicine at University of Colorado has studied the syndrome. And he considers the emergence of ubiquitous marijuana products now so widely available in his state to present a serious problem for children who happen to consume those products. A child sees a cookie, chocolate, candies and allied goodies and likely has no conception that because they're made with marijuana they might turn out to be dangerous to their immediate and long-term health. How to explain to a child that though it looks like a cookie or a candy it isn't quite what they imagine it to be?

Five years before medicinal pot was legalized in Colorado, the Children's Hospital Colorado had not seen children admitted for treatment of the after-effects of accidentally ingested marijuana. But in the year following medical legalization fourteen cases were presented. And state-wide, the rate of children under nine years of age having to be hospitalized as a result of exposure to marijuana has seen a dramatic increase, according to a public health committee tasked with assessing the impact of legalization.

Children who, for any reason are exposed to marijuana consumption through eating candy bars or cookies can develop pneumonia as a result of an ensuing depressed central nervous system, with a heart rate doubling normal levels to 200 beats per minute. These children have the potential to become dangerously comatose. Dr. Monte feels that edible products should be absent from retail pot shops, in consideration of the health risks involved. His research has demonstrated that marijuana edibles are the cause of most health care visits as a result of marijuana intoxication in patients of all ages.

The THC concentration in the products can be seen to vary hugely, the effects taking hours to fully enter the blood stream. Admittedly, marijuana's medicinal properties are hugely useful for people suffering from chronic pain, from nausea linked to cancer chemotherapy, from insomnia, from moodiness associated with chronic disease, and from pain resulting from multiple sclerosis. On the other hand, lack of caution leading to over-consumption can result in increased anxiety, rapid heart rates, high blood pressure, and vomiting.

Some of the symptoms that lead users to hope to find solutions in hospital emergency departments.

Pot smoke -- according to a review of scientific literature on marijuana's health effects -- based on evidence, contains many of the very same carcinogens also commonly found in tobacco smoke. Furthermore, heavy pot smoking, similar to smoking tobacco products, is also linked to bronchitis, chronic cough, and wheezing. Colorado's public health committee's literature review discovered that adolescent and young adult users are at higher risk of the development of psychotic symptoms later on, approaching adulthood.

Marijuana is weighed at the Colorado Harvest Company facility. (Mark Yuen / Postmedia News)

Although longtime marijuana user Cody Morin found it difficult to believe that his daily routine of smoking at least four joints caused him to vomit blood and become so badly dehydrated that doctors at the hospital in Oshawa first believed he was suffering from Ebola virus, he now understands that the cold sweats, dizziness and nausea he suffered for several years through these bouts of illness lasting for hours, were caused by his body's reaction to marijuana ingestion.

Public health officials in Canada feel confident that the opportunity is available to reduce these potential harms to the using public through regulating legal marijuana, rather than leave matters to chance through procurement through the illicit market. Regulations, according to Dr. Lysyshyn, should ideally include childproof packaging and regulatory protocols to ensure pot is kept well away from children stumbling upon versions of it that would appeal to their sense of adventure in new taste sensations, in products that resemble favoured treats.

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