Medical Cannabis Linked to Heightened Poison Control Calls in Massachusetts

Cannabis has been legal medically in Massachusetts since 2012, and recreationally since 2016. And while legality has certainly brought positive effects to many throughout the state, unfortunately, it’s not all peaches and cream. According to a public health investigation led by the University of Massachusetts Amherst injury prevention researcher, Jennifer Whitehill, cannabis-related poison control calls in the state have doubled. 

Whitehill says the calls to the Regional Center for Poison Control and Prevention—specifically involving children and teens—have had a notable increase since the medical legalization of cannabis in 2012. Regardless of legislative mandates for childproof packaging, and even before the legalization of recreational use came to be, the poison control center phone lines have been blowing up. 

In collaboration with former UMass Amherst graduate student Calla Harrington, Whitehill reviewed and analyzed data from the poison control center from 2009 – 2016, noting the years before and after medical legalization. Within those years, the number of calls has more than doubled from about 29 annual calls prior to legalization, to 69 annual calls after. Additionally, the center received 218 calls regarding cannabis exposure in children and teens, suggesting it may be time for the state to strengthen regulations to prevent exposure among young children and teens. 

“As states across the country enact more permissive marijuana policies, we need to do more to promote safe storage in households with children,” expressed Whitehill, assistant professor of health promotion and policy.

Further, with recreational use now legal in the state as well, researchers expect to see an even greater increase in calls. Hopefully, though, based on these findings, both Massachusetts and other states will consider greater measures towards preventing exposure among children.  

Emerald contributor since June 2019

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