It turns out that despite a perception among some that exposure to secondhand pot smoke is safer than similar exposure to cigarette smoke, some doctors believe it could be just as bad — or worse — and that parents who smoke or vape marijuana around their young children could be putting them in danger, NPR reported Monday.
A new study looked at children between the ages of 1 month and 2 years who had been hospitalized for for the lung infection bronchiolitis and found that, when their urine was tested for trace levels of "marijuana metabolites," 16% overall tested positive. Among children whose caregivers said they had been around people using marijuana, 75% of samples tested positive.
The study was conducted among 43 children in Colorado, one of the eight U.S. states where recreational marijuana is legal.
"There is a strong association between those who said there was someone in the home who used marijuana or a caretaker who used marijuana and the child having detectable marijuana levels," Dr. Karen Wilson, the study's lead author, told NPR's Morning Edition.
But what does it mean that children are showing detectable levels of marijuana? Past studies have shown that fetuses exposed to THC, the active psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, are more likely lag in problem-solving ability and memory later on.
Wilson thinks that further research will prove that postnatal exposure to marijuana is also risky. "We strongly believe that once we do the research to document secondhand marijuana exposure that we will see there is a negative effect on children," she said.
Federally funded research on marijuana is limited because the drug is not yet legal under federal law — but Denver-based Dr. David Beuther told NPR he is concerned that exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke might also increase risk for respiratory illnesses like asthma.
"There is no reason to believe that it is any safer than tobacco smoke exposure," he told NPR. "If someone wants to smoke marijuana, they need to do it outside, far away from your baby or your child, because at this point we believe the adverse health effects are probably as bad as secondhand cigarette smoke."