Marijuana-Related Emergency Room Visits Rise Among Colorado Tourists

The number of out-of-state residents who end up in the emergency room after consuming marijuana rose after Colorado legalized the recreational use of the drug in 2014, according to a recent study.

“Emergency department visits related to cannabis use appear to be increasing more rapidly among out-of-state residents than among Colorado residents,” the authors of the study wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers noted a small increase in emergency visits among Colorado residents, but that increase seemed to be leveling off.

Colorado citizens voted to approve the legalization of medical marijuana in 2000 and the legalization of retail marijuana in 2012. The state’s first retail stores began selling the drug in 2014.

Although there are no official numbers of people traveling to the state to consume weed, one survey by the Colorado Tourism Office indicated eight percent of visitors visited a marijuana retail shop in the first part of 2015.

There was also anecdotal evidence of an increase in tourists going to the emergency room after consuming the drug.

Researchers from Northwestern University, the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment teamed up to determine if those rumors were true.

They studied the emergency room records at an academic hospital in Aurora, Colorado, and found the number of emergency room visits related to marijuana doubled from 85 per 100,000 visits in 2013 to 168 per 100,000 visits in 2014.

There was not a significant change in the number of marijuana-related visits among Colorado residents at that hospital.

The researchers then compared their findings with statewide data gathered from the Colorado Hospital Association. They found that across the entire state, emergency room visits involving marijuana and out-of-state residents grew from 112 per 100,000 visits in 2013 to 163 per 100,000 visits in 2014.

A smaller increase was observed among Colorado residents. Coloradan emergency room visits increased from 86 per 100,000 to 101 per 100,000 from 2013 to 2014.

“The initial educational efforts through mass media have focused primarily on Colorado residents,” the authors wrote. The findings of the study “underscore the importance of point-of-sale education for visitors regarding the safe and appropriate use of marijuana products.”

Visitors End Up in ER for Variety of Reasons

There are a number of reasons people end up in the emergency room after consuming marijuana.

“We see three different groups of people that come into the department,” Dr. Andrew Monte, one of the authors of the study, told NBC News. “The first are exacerbations of underlying medical conditions.”

Marijuana can worsen symptoms of anxiety or other mental health disorders, or they can amplify cardiovascular problems.

The second group includes people who make poor decisions after consuming the drug.

“These would be things like motor vehicle collisions when they are high or smoking,” Monte said.

The third group involves edible marijuana and people mistakenly eating too much of the food because they don’t feel the drug’s effects immediately like they would if they smoked it.

“People should start low and go slow and have a full understanding of what the risks are,” Monte said. “Nothing is 100 percent safe.”

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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