Why Is Marijuana Landing So Many Colorado Visitors in the ER?

Marijuana tourists aren't just getting high in Colorado — they're also visiting the emergency room in higher numbers than the state's residents. Find out why.

Why Is Marijuana Landing So Many Colorado Visitors in the ER? Photo (cc) by docoverachiever

Marijuana tourists aren’t just getting high in Colorado.

They’re visiting the emergency room with pot-related complaints in higher numbers than Colorado residents, according to new research conducted in the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, which is part of the Denver metropolitan area.

Colorado voters legalized marijuana for adult recreational use in November 2012. The state has legally allowed sales of the drug in retail dispensaries since 2014.

For the study, published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from the University of Colorado and Northwestern University’s School of Medicine compared data from 2012 and 2014. Their findings include:

  • Among out-of-state visitors, the rate of emergency room visits for marijuana-related symptoms had increased by 109 percent (from 78 out of every 10,000 visits to 163 in 10,000).
  • Among Colorado residents, the rate had increased by 44 percent (from 70 in 10,000 to 101 in 10,000).

Lead investigator Dr. Howard Kim, an emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Medicine, states in a news release that these findings “may indicate that out-of-state visitors are unprepared for the adverse effects of marijuana use.”

He added:

“Anecdotally, we noticed that most out-of-towners were in Colorado for other reasons, such as visiting friends or on business. They ended up in the ER because they decided to try some marijuana.”

Researchers said their findings “underscore the importance of point-of-sale education for visitors regarding the safe and appropriate use of marijuana products.”

Adverse effects of marijuana use can include:

  • Psychiatric symptoms like anxiety, hallucinations and altered mental status
  • Cardiovascular symptoms like a fast heart rate, high blood pressure or heart palpitations
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal pain and vomiting

While the researchers did not study whether ER visitors primarily ate or smoked cannabis, Kim says misuse of edible marijuana products like cookies and brownies, leading to overdoses, could help explain the findings:

“People eating marijuana products often don’t feel any effect immediately, leading them to eat another edible. Then they’ve ingested multiple products, so when the effect finally kicks in, it is much stronger.”

What’s your take on these statistics? Share your thoughts on Facebook of leave a comment below.

Karla Bowsher
Karla Bowsher
I’m a freelance journalist and former newspaper reporter who has covered both personal and public finance. I've worked for a top 50 major metro daily and a community newspaper as well as ... More


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