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Several states have legalized cannabis in the last few years, increasing the availability of this controlled substance. Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize cannabis in 2012, and have the longest established history of how legalization has impacted their population. One of the changes that can be measured is the increase in emergency room visits by those using cannabis. 

Cannabis is used both for medical treatments and recreationally. Medical marijuana has been legal in many states as early as the late 1990’s – Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000. Many people were able to secure prescriptions for medical marijuana for chronic pain, nausea, glaucoma, cancer and nervous system disorders with medical consent from a physician. However, with legalization, anyone 21 years of age or older can purchase cannabis or grow it for recreational use. This has greatly increased the number of people using the drug, and the number of adverse reactions that lead to ER visits. 

ER Visits Triple After Cannabis Legalization 

A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine in March 2019, highlights changes in the number and type of emergency room visits related to cannabis use in Colorado. The study looked at the patient records for ER visits at UC Health University of Colorado Hospital emergency department, specifically those coded for cannabis-related illness. The study looked at the ER visits from 2012 to 2016. Some of the details of the study include:

  • 9973 patients were coded with cannabis use
  • 2567 of the patients using cannabis were visiting the ER due to symptoms attributed to cannabis
  • The number of visits to the ER for cannabis-related illness tripled during the study
  • Edible cannabis products were attributed to over 10% of the ER visits

There is a concern with the number of ER visits attributed to cannabis use, especially edible products. Although fewer people went to the ER due to illness caused by edibles, they are less than 1% of total sales. The number of ER visits for edible cannabis issues is very disproportionate to the amount sold. 

Teenager ED Visits Increase

Another concern is the number of teenagers that have visited emergency departments in Colorado since legalization. A study released on sciencedaily.com showed that from January 2005 to July 2015, teenage ER visits for cannabis-related illness quadrupled based on the hospital’s ED records. There were 3,446 total visits attributed to cannabis among teenagers, with 146 in 2005, and jumping to 639 in 2014. 

There has been a marked increase in emergency department visits for those using cannabis since the legalization. As more states legalize marijuana, there will be more information gained on how this controlled substance is affecting the health of the population.

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