Emergency room (ER) visits in Colorado – one of the states in the U.S. where the recreational use of marijuana is legal – have become a lot more frequent due to a new phenomenon known as marijuana tourism, according to a new report.
In 2014, marijuana became legal to sell in the state of Colorado. Ever since then, the number of emergency room visits related to the drug has increased especially among people that do not live in the state, but who only come to visit. The same was not seen among Colorado residents, the researchers noted.
Dr. Howard Kim, an author of the report and an emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, said that the new data matched what doctors have been seeing in the ER.
From 2013 to 2014, the number of out-of-state residents that have visited the emergency room (possibly due to pot related problems) has doubled. It increased from 85 cases per 10,000 visits in 2013, to about 168 cases per 10,000 visits in 2014.
In the case of Colorado residents, the visits to the ER that were likely caused by marijuana use did not change significantly during that period. They increased from about one hundred cases per 10,000 visits in 2013 to 112 cases per 10,000 visits in 2014, the report stated.
For the new report – published on Wednesday (Feb. 24) in The New England Journal of Medicine – the researchers observed the rates of visits to the emergency room across the state of Colorado.
On one hand, for people living outside the state of Colorado the rate of possible marijuana-related emergency room visits has increased from about 112 cases per 10,000 visits in 2013 to approximately 163 cases per 100,000 visits in 2014. On the other hand, the increase among Colorado residents was smaller, with an increase of 86 cases per 10,000 visits in 2013 to 101 cases per 10,000 visits in 2014, according to the researchers.
Kim said that the increase among Colorado residents was also somewhat expected. According to him, when you legalise a drug (in this case marijuana), it is likely that more people are going to used, which could also cause an increase in people’s emergency room visits.
A more dramatic increase was seen among out-of-state residents, but it did not seem as tough people travelled to Colorado specifically to use marijuana, Kim noted. It just so happened that they used the drug while visiting the state.
For the report, Kim and his colleagues did not look at how people were using marijuana, but it may be that the edible form of the drug was the one that led to most emergency room visits. People are usually unaware of the effects that edible marijuana can have due to its slower onset, which is why they may eat more, thinking it has not worked, the researchers said.
In Colorado there are public health initiatives that are meant to inform people of marijuana’s side possible effects. Unfortunately the message might not reach individuals in other states, researchers noted. The salesperson should also outline any health risks to the buyer.
Fortunately, most people who use marijuana do not require visits to the emergency room, according to the researchers.
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