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Secondhand Marijuana Smoke: How It Affects Your Children and Your Pets and What You Can Do To Create a Healthier Living Environment

Medical marijuana is legal in 33 states, and 10 states have legalized it for recreational use. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 48 million people (about 18% of the population) in the United States who use marijuana as of 2019. Recent research also indicates that about 30% of users have marijuana use disorder, and people who began using marijuana under the age of 18 are more likely to develop marijuana use disorder.

With the use of marijuana on the rise nationwide, it is only natural to wonder how secondhand marijuana smoke is affecting the lungs and bodies of children and pets.  Using cannabis has a direct effect on the brain, specifically those parts responsible for learning, memory, decision-making, and reaction time. Children are especially susceptible to the effects and may develop them even if they are only exposed to secondhand smoke.

A Case Study on Secondhand Marijuana Smoke and How It Affects Children

A pediatric research assignment conducted by Adam B. Johnson and several other researchers aimed to determine if secondhand marijuana smoke affected children by learning if there was an association between secondhand smoke and visits to the emergency department and urgent care. It also aimed to determine whether there was an association between smoke and tobacco-related illnesses such as viral respiratory infections, asthma exacerbations, or otitis media. At the time the study was conducted, little research had been done on these topics.

The study used a cross-sectional, convenience sample that included 1500 subjects who went to a pediatric emergency department or urgent care. The study included caregivers aged 21-85 years who spoke English or Spanish. The study excluded children who were 11 or older, used medical marijuana, had complex medical issues, or who were critically ill.

Of the 1500 caregivers, 10.5% of them reported smoking marijuana and 19.6% reported smoking tobacco products. The researchers estimated rates of reported visits and specific illnesses among children who had been exposed to marijuana or tobacco smoke and compared them to those of unexposed children. Marijuana-using caregivers reported an increased rate of viral respiratory illnesses in children compared to those who did not use marijuana. The children of study participants had 1.31 episodes or 0.02 episodes per year, respectively. Although viral respiratory illnesses were higher in children of marijuana-smoking patients, there were no increases in emergency visits, asthma exacerbations, or otitis media episodes.

Smoking Marijuana Outside May Not Have Any Positive Effect

In November 2018, a study published in Pediatric focused on research conducted by Mount Sinai on secondhand marijuana smoke in children. The preliminary research showed that nearly 50% of children of marijuana smokers were exposed to the smoke. Among the people studied, smoking marijuana was the most common form of use at 30.1%. Edibles and vaporizers came in second and third at 14.5% and 9.6%. This finding, which focused on people in Colorado, was on par with national trends.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention tested urinary marijuana biomarkers as part of the research. Results showed that 46% of the children had detectable levels of something known as marijuana metabolite tetrahydrocannabinol carboxylic acid (COOH-THC) in their systems. An additional 11% of children tested had detectable levels of THC in their systems, indicating they are exposed to a much higher degree of secondhand smoke than other study participants.

More than 80% of participants claim not to smoke marijuana inside their homes while 7.4% admitted to smoking in the home daily. Roughly 51% claim they never smoked in the home when children were present but 21.7% of the respondents did step outside to smoke. Just under 10% smoked in another room or on another floor of the home. However, since 33.3% of children of outside smokers still tested positive for COOH-THC, indications are that smoking outside does little to keep secondhand smoke away from children’s lungs.  

Additional Research on Secondhand Marijuana Smoke and Children

For years, the problem was secondhand tobacco smoke. Between 2002 and 2015, though, the number of caregivers who smoked around children dropped from 27.6% to 20.2%. A new problem arose as marijuana became more socially acceptable, though. During the same time that tobacco smoking was decreasing, marijuana smoking went up nearly 5%. Research shows that marijuana is affecting children. The amount and type of effects depend on how close the smoker is to the children, how many people are smoking, how long the people are smoking, and how much ventilation there is in the room.

The Effects of Marijuana and CBD on Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that marijuana users stop use during pregnancy. The reasoning is that THC can enter the fetus’ brain through the mother’s bloodstream. It may also increase the chances of the pregnant parent giving birth to a newborn with low birth weight and may even cause premature birth or stillbirth. It is also important that THC does not enter the baby via breastmilk and to keep in mind that THC can stay in the breastmilk for up to six days after using it. It may affect brain development and cognitive function, or result in hyperactivity.

Using CBD may pose some risks as well. While there is no comprehensive research on pregnant people or new parents who use CBD, preliminary research shows that there is a significant cause for concern. In test animals, high doses of CBD resulted in reproductive problems, especially in developing male fetuses. CBD may also transfer through breastmilk and could even be contaminated with THC. Finally, it is important to note that prolonged or extreme CBD use may cause liver damage, extreme sleepiness, or even cause harmful interactions with other drugs in the person who uses it.

Signs of THC Ingestion in Children

There are signs that you should look for if you are worried that your children have been exposed to too much secondhand marijuana smoke. Mild intoxication may present itself in children as sleepiness, seeming to be more relaxed, or being extra giggly, which is a sign of mild euphoria. Long-term marijuana intoxication may lead to dry mouth, decreased short-term memory, red eyes, or impaired motor skills. If a child is experiencing THC poisoning, they may seem panicked, paranoid, or as if they are dealing with acute psychosis. Other side effects may include headache, chest pain, hyperactivity, or even seizures. The side effects may vary depending on how much secondhand smoke the child inhaled and his or her age or size.

How To Protect Your Children From Secondhand Marijuana Smoke

Even if you’re smoking marijuana for miracle reasons, exposing your children to secondhand smoke could be hurting them. The best thing that you can do if you smoke marijuana or tobacco is to not smoke at all. If you smoke tobacco or smoke marijuana recreationally, talk to your doctor about ways that you can quit.

Naturally, if you use medical marijuana, quitting completely probably isn’t an option. In these cases, you can work to make sure that you never smoke around your children. Ideally, you will smoke outside while your children are nowhere near you. Remember that smoke lingers and makes its way into clothing and furniture, so avoid smoking anywhere that your children will be, such as in your living room or the car. Because the smoke seeps into your clothing, it is also a good idea to change your clothes and wash your hands before being near your children.  

Consider, too, that there are other options for using medical or recreational cannabis

  • Edibles – Edible marijuana isn’t just “pot brownies” anymore. THC-infused gummy candies, lemonade, and a range of other products are available at most dispensaries. You can even purchase or make marijuana-infused butter that you can use in your own meals (just remember to make something separate from the kids’ meals).
  • Powder – These days, cannabis can be turned into a powered THC dose that you can dissolve into water the same that you would any other drink supplement. The doses are precise and using a powder will even help you to get some of your water intake completed for the day.
  • Tinctures –A tincture is a concentrated marijuana extract created when the flowers are soaked in a solvent. The method is discreet and helps to ensure that you can create a precise dose in a single drop.
  • Pills and Capsules –Pills or capsules are a quick and efficient way to get medical marijuana into your system without putting your children or pets at risk of inhaling secondhand smoke. You can talk to someone at your dispensary for more information.
  • Vape Pens –If you still want the feeling of smoking without releasing smoke into the air, consider a vape pen. Vape pens allow you to “smoke” without smoking and are easier on the lungs. You can use oils, concentrates, or resins in vape pens.
  • Transdermal Patches –If you need extended release medical marijuana, talk to your doctor about the use of transdermal patches. These patches send the THC directly into the bloodstream and are easy to remove should you experience any unwanted side effects.
  • Topical Creams –Marijuana balms, lotions, or gels apply directly to the skin and do not produce any psychotropic effect. They are best for people who use marijuana to ease joint pain, as you can apply them directly to the affected area. 

If you aren’t sure which method of receiving medical marijuana is best for you, talk to your doctor and your dispensary employees to determine which might work. Don’t be afraid to try different methods until you find one that works for you.

Secondhand Marijuana Smoke and Your Pets

Many veterinarians have come to the conclusion that yes, secondhand marijuana smoke does affect pets in a household. While secondhand smoke doesn’t often make human beings high, dogs, cats, and other animals have very different systems and respond differently to the smoke. Simply put, it can make them high, but it’s not fun for them at all. This is because they have more cannabinoid receptors than people do, so they feel the effects of THC more quickly and more strongly than humans do. The smoke not only makes them high but can also cause irritation in the lungs that can lead to asthma, bronchitis, or other respiratory problems.

Some scientists who have participated in studies as far back as 1976 believe that secondhand smoke can cause pulmonary emphysema in your pets. In one 2018 study, a single cat was used as the research topic. When exposed to cannabis smoke, the cat alternated between states of apathy and agitation, each lasting several minutes at a time. It also showed increased thirst, periods where it didn’t want to eat, periods where it overate, and polyuria. The cat was not always able to eat or drink by itself. In fact, animals can even be impacted by thirdhand smoke, which is smoke that’s seeped into furniture, clothes, and other surfaces. Research does show that cats and short-snouted dogs are more sensitive to thirdhand smoke than other pets. 

Symptoms of THC Intoxication in Pets

There are signs to look for if you are trying to determine if your pet has inhaled too much THC via secondhand smoke. Dogs and cats that have been exposed to the smoke may begin to look glassy-eyed. They may also stumble or seem otherwise uncoordinated. Agitation and excitement are also common, as is urinary incontinence. When a dog or cat has been exposed to too much THC, it may begin to develop marijuana poisoning, which results in vomiting and may even lead to a coma. Although it is unknown what signs to look for, birds, guinea pigs, other rodents, and even fish can be affected by secondhand marijuana smoke as well.

Treatments For Marijuana Poisoning in a Pet

If you suspect that your pet has marijuana poisoning, take it to the veterinarian right away. The veterinarian will provide your pet with a range of treatments that include IV fluids, oxygen, blood pressure monitoring, and anti-vomiting medication. Regulation of temperature is also important, and in severe cases, your pet may need ventilation or respirator support. If your pet ingested THC or was exposed to a large amount of secondhand smoke, the veterinarian may also give it charcoal to bind up the poison and then induce vomiting. Typically, a pet who has marijuana poisoning will take 18-36 hours to recover.  

How To Stop Smoking Marijuana

Unless you use it medically, the best thing you can do for your own lungs and for your children and pets is to stop smoking marijuana altogether. If you decide that you want to quit smoking cannabis, the first thing you need to do is choose an approach. Some people find quitting easier than others and your own experience will likely depend on how much you smoke per day and how long you’ve been smoking. The two most common approaches are to taper your use or to quit cold turkey.

Tapering Your Marijuana Use

Tapering allows you to gradually quit using marijuana and is best for people who have been smoking for a long time or who smoke a lot in a day. Gradual tapering is favored by the American Society of Addiction Medicine as it will likely minimize withdrawal symptoms. To use the gradual approach, first, give yourself a deadline by which you want to quit smoking. Then, pick a tapering strategy that allows you to cut back a little bit each day until you reach your official quit date.

Quitting Cold Turkey

As you might guess, quitting cold turkey involves stopping using marijuana all at once. It isn’t easy but may be easier for people who are only occasional users. Those who smoke often and try to quit cold turkey should expect withdrawal symptoms.

Preparing For Withdrawal

Regardless of which method you use, you are likely to experience at least some withdrawal symptoms, especially if you are a frequent marijuana user. People who experience withdrawal may feel more anxious or aggressive, notice changes in appetite, or have severe cravings for marijuana. Other withdrawal symptoms include depression, trouble sleeping, or changes in weight. Those who are experiencing marijuana dependency issues may have headaches or experience flu-like symptoms such as sweating, chills, or developing a fever. 

Understanding Your Triggers

When you are trying to quit smoking marijuana, it is important to understand what your triggers are. Get rid of any paraphernalia you have to make it easier for you to quit. This includes bongs, grinders, wrapping papers, pipes, bowls, vapes, and so on. Then, think about when you smoke the most. Is it when you are stressed? Perhaps you smoke when you’re anxious. Maybe you like to smoke weed as a social habit.

You cannot always avoid your triggers, but you can learn how to live with them. Try hot baths, naps, or a hobby when you’re stressed. If you’re anxious and find that you aren’t coping well with the anxiety, you may consider talking to your doctor about anti-anxiety medication. Finally, ask that friends and family members do not smoke around you until you are sure that you won’t give in to the trigger. 

Take Care of Yours, Your Children’s, and Your Pets’ Health Today

Are you ready to quit smoking marijuana? Do you want to gain back your health and create a healthier environment for your kids and pets? Talk to Clean Recovery Centers. Contact us to learn how we can help.


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