Colorado Marijuana Exposure Results in First Documented Infant Death

Babies and marijuana are a terrible mix.

According to a 2017 report, an 11-month-old infant was brought to an emergency room in Colorado after a seizure. The morning before the seizure, he had been lethargic and before that, he had been irritable, increasingly inactive and had also been retching. By the time he got to the ER, he was unresponsive and breathing very slowly. His heart rate dropped dramatically and then ceased. Despite desperate attempts to revive him, he died. His autopsy showed that the cause of death was exposure to marijuana that had probably occurred two to six days before his death.

To read this case study published in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, please click here.

How was the child exposed to marijuana? He had been living in an unstable situation in a motel. The parents admitted to drug possession, including marijuana. Exposure resulted from ingestion, not the second-hand exposure that might occur if the parents had been smoking pot around the child which suggests that the child came across an edible cannabis product and consumed it.

The damaging effects of marijuana on the hearts of some users are not news to many doctors. The drug is also known to create a suppression of the central nervous system that can slow breathing to dangerous levels, as evidenced by these cases in which marijuana damaged the heart or the person’s ability to breathe:

  • A three-year-old child suffered from interrupted breathing and had to be intubated and his breathing assisted with a respirator.
  • An 8-month-old also had to be given breathing support after being admitted to intensive care.
  • A 16-year-old suffered severe heart failure that was attributed to cannabis use.
  • A 29-year-old male suffered two episodes of inflammation of the heart and the sac around the heart, each time within two days of smoking marijuana.
  • A 15-year-old male suffered inflammation of the heart after using marijuana for eight months.

These people all recovered. The 11-month-old baby did not.

In Colorado, Pediatric Exposures to Marijuana on the Increase

What makes this baby’s exposure to marijuana unique is that it’s the first one that has resulted in a fatality. As marijuana has become legal for medical or recreational use in more states, the number of children unintentionally exposed to marijuana has also increased, with the cases often being related to consumption of potent edible products.

Colorado Children’s Hospital
Children’s Hospital in Aurora, Colorado.

Between 2009 and 2015, the number of marijuana exposure cases reported to the Regional Poison Control Center for Colorado jumped from 9 cases to 47. At Children’s Hospital in Aurora, Colorado, the number of cases increased from 1 visit in 2009 to 16 in 2015.

In fact, the major news services would do the American public a great service by documenting these marijuana-related injuries and this fatality caused by exposure to pot. The voting public has been led to believe that marijuana is so harmless that there is no net negative social effect from legalizing the drug for adult use. In fact, some parents don’t even object to their underage children using marijuana, since it’s legal for so much of the population.

Parents and the general public have simply not been told the whole story. Balanced reporting would include the limited number of diseases for which cannabis has been found to be helpful and an accurate reporting on the damage that can be suffered, both physically and mentally, from marijuana consumption, including the possibility of fatal injury.

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Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.