Child Abuse and Neglect Deaths

As of January 2024, we’ve tracked 312 child abuse deaths related to cannabis in the United States since 2014.  We first noticed the problem in January 2014, when Colorado began marijuana commercialization.   We  updated our  November 2012, because adult-use marijuana became legal in Colorado and Washington at that time.  The voting is the starting point, making this tally a little more than a decade  

In three states that track substances involved in child abuse, marijuana is the substance most often associated with death, unfortunately.  

While major newspapers encourage parents to use marijuana for stress, the statistics are shocking. We’ve found  more than 300 marijuana-related child abuse deaths, in nearly every state. 

Why is this the case?  Here are some observations:

1) Marijuana is the “care-less” drug. Marijuana users can become disengaged from their environment, and and they tend to have poor executive functioning. They also lose track of time and become forgetful. Marijuana-using parents who forgot about their infants and toddlers caused about 7-8 percent of the hot car deaths in the USA since 2012.  With today’s highly potent cannabis, parents who use it may sleep or pass out for hours.

2) Marijuana has been mischaracterized as a drug that always calms people, unlike alcohol which allegedly is more likely to stimulate anger. This calming affect only last so long. Once addiction takes over, marijuana users have the same withdrawal symptoms of any addict erupting in extreme anxiety attacks that stimulate anger.

3) Marijuana causes paranoia in a significant percentage of the population. When the paranoia becomes extreme and takes the form of hallucinations, violence can erupt. Clearly a large portion of parents who attack their children while on marijuana were experiencing marijuana-induced psychosis.

Child Abuse Statistics

Typically around 2,000 child abuse deaths occur in the United States every year.  By law each state is required to compile reports about these occurrences.   Studies show that between 60 and 70 percent of child abuse and neglect incidences are related to drug and alcohol use and abuse.  In one state that tracks it, Texas, each year about 40 percent of reported deaths involve marijuana.  

Substance use is the by far the biggest factor involved with child abuse deaths.  It is more significant than poverty, stress and mental illness.  Yet all of those factors may trigger the substance abuse. 

In three states that track substance abuse in their annual child abuse reports — Arizona, Florida and Texas — marijuana is most frequently listed.

To see the full report, see our fact sheet on Child Abuse Deaths

Bursting the Bubble of Marijuana Hype