Many parents who smoke marijuana expose kids to secondhand smoke unwittingly, study finds

NEW YORK — Parents who smoke marijuana may find stress-relieving benefits in the drug, but they may not be aware of the potentially harmful effects it’s having on their kids. A new study finds that about half of children of pot-smoking parents are exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke.

“What we found in this study is that secondhand marijuana smoke does get into the lungs and little bodies of young children,” explains study author Dr. Karen Wilson, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in a statement.

The study took place after 2014, when recreational marijuana sales became legal in the state of Colorado. Researchers recruited parents of children hospitalized in Colorado who were participating in a study testing a tobacco cessation program. While all participants were cigarette smokers, some also reported they smoke marijuana.

Smoking was by far the most common form of marijuana use among participants, with three in 10 parents preferring that method for consumption. Edibles were used by about 14.5 percent of participants, and vaporizers were the method of choice for nearly 10 percent of users. These numbers are mostly consistent with current national trends.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested urine samples from the participants’ kids for marijuana traces and found that 46 percent tested positive for the common marijuana compound tetrahydrocannabinol carboxylic acid (COOH-THC). Eleven percent of the children tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

“These are worrisome results, suggesting nearly half of the children of parents who smoke marijuana are getting exposed and 11 percent are exposed to a much greater degree,” says Dr. Wilson.

Interestingly, the overwhelming majority of parents (84 percent) said that no one ever smoked pot inside their homes, compared to 7.4 percent who did so daily. When prompted about what would happen if someone wanted to smoke marijuana in their home when the children were present, about 52 percent said it simply wasn’t allowed if the children were home, while 22 percent stepped outside. Ten percent would either go to another room or floor in the house.

But stepping outside doesn’t seem to be a safeguard, the study found. A third of children whose parents smoked outdoors still tested positive for COOH-THC. The authors believe that both secondhand and thirdhand smoke — the residue that remains on furniture or clothing — are still problematic in these cases.

“We know that thirdhand smoke—smoke that lingers in our hair, our clothes, even our skin—results in biological exposure that we can detect. What remains unclear is the extent and consequence of this mechanism of exposure,” says Wilson. “Our findings suggest that smoking in the home, even in a different room, results in exposure to children. The more we understand secondhand and thirdhand smoke exposure, the better we can protect children in the home in states where marijuana is legal.”

The full study was published November 19, 2018 in the journal Pediatrics.

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