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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Tuesday 13th March 2012

After Sunday’s blog was written I sent a further email to the New Zealand National Poisons Centre (NZNPC). I said that I found it confusing that they didn’t include accidental ingestion of Cannabis sativa, marijuana, by children in the field ‘Chemical/Drugs of Abuse’ since they broke down the category by intent one of which was ‘Child/exploratory’.

The reply I received rather added to the confusion because, this time, the Poison Information Officer said that these cases were included under ‘Plants’ since cannabis is a plant. In the first email, he had said these cases were classified as ‘Miscellaneous’ so the first problem was a lack of consistency.

Cannabis sativa, marijuana

Cannabis sativa, marijuana

That seems a little odd to me. The ‘Therapeutics’ category has a sub-category for ‘opioids’ whereas, if a consistent logic were being applied, it should be included in ‘Plants’ because opioids are derived from Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy.

But, that’s not a point that is worth pursuing though it does indicate the difficulty of analysing data if you aren’t in the head of the person who determine how it should be collected.

What is worth pursuing is the answer I got to the second art of my email. Having said I was confused I said that confusion could be resolved if they would tell me how many children had been recorded as accidentally ingesting cannabis in 2011.

Bearing in mind that the story I originally read stuff link had said ‘The centre would not release details on what regions the children were from or the specific number of cases’ I didn’t expect to get an answer on this point.

Now imagine first my surprise and then my massive ego-boost when the reply I received gave an exact number. Clearly, this means that my powers of interrogation are vastly superior to the journalist who wrote the item. Obviously, the clever way I made my request -  ‘My confusion would be ended if you could tell me exactly how many calls were made to NZNPC during 2011 related to ingestion of cannabis by children in the age range 0-4yrs’ – had completely bamboozled them and led them to give me information that they ‘would not release’ to a proper journalist.

For some reason, irony is quite hard to convey online so I’d better point out that I don’t see that the NZNPC would give me information that it wasn’t prepared to give to a journalist.

Perhaps the explanation lies in the answer I was given; ‘In the year 2011 we were contacted about 4 children who had ingested marijuana’. Now I had asked specifically about children aged 0-4yrs and, in its reports, the NZNPC calls under 15s ‘children’ so I can’t be sure whether that is 4 under 15s or 4 in the under 5 age range.

But, whichever it is, 4 is still a very small number against the 849 calls related to children and analgesics or the 5,731 total for all the substances in the ‘Therapeutics’ category. The point of the story would, of course, have been lost if the journalist had put the cannabis cases into context.

This piece from Kansas, written to mark the annual Poison Control Week in the USA, focuses on cleaning products and medication so is much more useful than someone trying to stir up anti-cannabis sentiment with partial reporting.

When we read stories in the media, we are all likely to ask ourselves, ‘What do I think about that?’ But there is a more important question; ‘What are they trying to make me think about that?’


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