Pubdate: Sun, 22 Nov 2015
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Post Company
Author: Michael Alison Chandler


It May Be Legal, but Keep It Away From Kids, School Officials Say

Cassandra Pinkney, the founder of a charter school in Southeast 
Washington, makes video messages for parents about how to prepare 
their children for school: Establish a bed-time routine, read with 
them, eat healthy food, and, with the city's relaxed position on 
marijuana use, do not smoke pot around them.

In a "fireside chat" titled "marijuana and your student," the 
director of Eagle Academy Public Charter School, which enrolls 
children in preschool through third grade, told parents that, even 
though the District has legalized marijuana, it's not safe to expose 
children to the drug. Even second-hand smoke can affect their 
emotional states and attentiveness in school, she said.

"If you were drinking in your home and your child went to reach for 
an alcoholic drink, you would say, 'No don't do that, that's not for 
you,' " she said in the message. "A child has no choice from inhaling 
the smoke of a marijuana cigarette, and so you are exposing your 
child to dangers and things that they are not able to handle."

As more states have moved to legalize marijuana for medical and 
recreational use in recent years, there is limited research about its 
effects on children.

Neuroscientists have shown that marijuana exposure can affect the 
developing brain. Teenagers and children who use it can end up with 
learning difficulties and are more likely to become habitual users.

Currently, there is "insufficient evidence" to show whether 
second-hand smoke exposure can cause children to become high, said 
Judith Shlay, a doctor and associate director of Denver Public 
Health, who is part of a committee of medical researchers monitoring 
health concerns related to marijuana in Colorado, where it is legal 
for adult use.

The only study related to the effects of second-hand smoke exposure 
that the committee found focused on adults. It showed "limited 
evidence" that adults exposed to second-hand smoke experience an 
increase in heart rate following exposure to marijuana smoke for one 
hour in an unventilated space.

Because the federal government considers marijuana an illegal drug, 
there have not been extensive research efforts, Shlay said.

"I tell parents, 'Your child has one brain,' " she said. "'You want 
it to develop as best as it possibly can.' "

Pinkney said her concerns about the effects of second-hand smoke come 
from her experience as an educator over many years working with 
families in high-poverty communities where marijuana use is common. 
She has seen children arrive at school smelling of marijuana and 
exhibiting symptoms.

"Sometimes when kids come in, they are crying, they may not be 
cooperative," she said. "They may have a feeling of being out of 
control but can't explain it or articulate it."

It doesn't happen often, she said, but when it does, it helps to get 
them into a room where they feel safe and can calm down. "Have them 
color," she said. "They can talk it out and work it out."

Legalization of the drug for recreational use, which went into effect 
in the District early this year, gave her a reason to talk to parents about it.

Ashley Watkins, a social worker at Eagle, which has campuses in Wards 
6 and 8, said it's hard to know for sure whether a child is under the 
influence of marijuana.

She recalled one instance when a first-grade student was complaining 
of a headache and told the nurse that her dad was smoking something 
that "smelled funny" in the car.

A more common concern, she said, is parents coming to pick up their 
children and appearing to be under the influence. Rather than sending 
the child home, school employees have called other relatives to pick 
them up or driven them home personally.

She described a little boy who came to school with a large amount of 
cash and declared he was going to "sell weed." When they talked to 
him about it, they learned that his brother was selling drugs.

Data has shown that accidental marijuana exposure has increased in 
other ways since it was legalized in Colorado, primarily through the 
consumption of "edibles" that can be marketed as candy or other 
sweets, Shlay said.

Hospital and emergency room visits for possible marijuana exposure by 
children under 9 increased significantly in the first six months that 
retail marijuana was legalized in Colorado. From January through June 
of 2014, the rate of hospitalizations for children in that age group 
was 26.4 per 100,000 compared with 7.6 per 100,000 in 2010 through 
2013, years that only medical marijuana was commercially available.

The state's health department has developed public awareness 
campaigns instructing parents to lock up their marijuana and keep it 
out of reach of children, and to instruct their children not to eat 
anything without permission when they are in other people's homes.

Mindy Good, a spokeswoman for the District's Child and Family 
Services Agency, said the agency gets referrals from teachers and 
schools when they are concerned that a child is experiencing abuse or 
neglect related to a parent's drug use, but it does not track reports 
by individual drug type.

Anecdotally, she said, PCP is the most common, and the use of 
synthetic drugs is rising. The agency has not seen an increase in 
marijuana use or concerns since it was legalized, she said.
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