Is Colorado Pot Tourism Driving an Increase in Cannabis-Related E.R. Visits?

Data from a hospital near Denver show the rate of marijuana mentions among patients from other states doubled in 2014.



According to data from a hospital near Denver, the rate of emergency room visits "possibly related to cannabis" by visitors to Colorado doubled in 2014, the first year when marijuana merchants in that state were legally permitted to serve recreational customers. The study, reported this week in a letter to The New England Journal of Medicine, found that the rate of marijuana mentions among Colorado residents stayed about the same, possibly because residents were more accustomed to cannabis products after years of medical availability.

At the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, there were 168 marijuana mentions per 10,000 E.R. visits in 2014 among people from other states, up from 85 in 2013. Among Colorado residents, the rate was 112 per 10,000 in 2014, compared to 106 in 2013; the difference was not statistically significant. A mention does not necessarily mean that marijuana use caused or contributed to the problem that brought someone to the hospital, and some of the increase between 2013 and 2014 may be due to increased patient candor following legalization of recreational sales.

"There's more communication between patients and providers, and of course there's just more marijuana out in the community," one of the researchers told the Associated Press. "People can come in and say, 'Hey, I've got chest pains and I used marijuana a week ago.' Now, that's got nothing to do with the marijuana."

Data in an appendix to the NEJM letter indicate that 26 percent of patient complaints were psychiatric, 27 percent were gastrointestinal, and 16 percent were cardiopulmonary. Consistent with the idea that visitors had less experience with marijuana than residents, patients from other states were more likely than Coloradans (37 percent vs. 25 percent) to have psychiatric complaints, which included anxiety and panic attacks as well as symptoms such as agitation, paranoia, and aggressive behavior. About two-thirds of the patients were men. The median length of stay was 5.8 hours; the median age was 34. There were no fatalities.

Statewide data from the Colorado Hospital Association also indicate that marijuana mentions rose more sharply among visitors from other states than among Colorado residents from 2013 to 2014, although the increase was not as dramatic as at the hospital in Aurora. In fact, the rate among out-of-state residents rose about as much between 2012 and 2013 (44 percent) as it did between 2013 and 2014 (46 percent), which seems inconsistent with the idea that the increase is attributable to pot tourists attracted by newly legal marijuana stores. Meanwhile, the rate among Colorado residents rose by 23 percent between 2012 and 2013, then by 17 percent between 2013 and 2014.

To keep these trends in perspective, note that in 2014 marijuana was mentioned during 1 percent of E.R. visits by Coloradans and 1.6 percent of E.R. visits by people from other states. "[E.R.] visits related to cannabis use appear to be increasing more rapidly among out-of-state residents than among Colorado residents," the researchers conclude. "The initial educational efforts through mass media have focused primarily on Colorado residents. These data underscore the importance of point-of-sale education for visitors regarding the safe and appropriate use of marijuana products."

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  1. “[E.R.] visits related to cannabis use appear to be increasing more rapidly among out-of-state residents than among Colorado residents.”

    Noobies doing doobies edibles.

      1. Perfect, yet awful.

      2. “It’s been 15 minutes, and nothing.”

        *** eats rest of package ***

        1. Did that with ‘shrooms when younger.
          Big mistake.

  2. Looks as if the only thing this researcher proved is that he has no idea how many homeless there are in Denver, or it’s hub status for travelers and dirty kids.

  3. The key data points are the 1% reporting versus 1.6%, which in both cases clearly show a very very small impact on the ERs. Also, an average length of stay around 5 hours for these patients, with no fatalities and apparently you know poor outcomes, shows that this is essentially a non-story. Just headline bait and nothing more.

    1. Off the top of my head, I have personal knowledge of nine ER visits* where marijuana use was mentioned in the winter/spring of ’12 who were Occupiers, two of them out-of-state residents. That’s more than ten percent of the sampling, right there.

      “Because pot tourism”. Sure. There’s no other reason to go to Denver, amirite?

      *Johnathon and the crazy Jesus lady had six visits between them

  4. Real headline should be that people are a bunch of pussies. Who goes to the ER for pot?

    1. People who don’t know any better and were told stupid scare stories in public schools their whole life?

      Maybe there should be a surgeon general’s warning on every commercial pot product:

      “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: There has never been a reported case of overdose of Marijuana, ever. PLEASE do not go to the E.R. for marijuana related symptoms.”

    2. But, it is ER! Money for doing nothing to make them better! The other thing to consider is that the police won’t be called for every instance, where a cannabis user ends up in the ER! I am sure the threat of arrest, before, had something to do with the lower number of ER visits. Common sense suggests that!

  5. “Have to be careful tho, have to be careful
    Cause weed is gettin’ stronger every two weeks
    And these niggas ain’t sending out no memos
    Or bulletins, or nothin’
    This shit just strong for no reason
    And these niggas that sellin’ the weed
    be happier than a motherfucker
    to tell you how much stronger
    This shit is then the last shit
    Just as soon as they see you just
    “Nigga, Nigga, Nigga, Nigga
    Remember that shit I gave you last week, nigga ?
    It’s nothin’, nigga!
    It’s nothin’, nigga!”” — Katt Williams

  6. I forgot hearing that monologue! The fact is, with prudent use, an eighth lasts just as long as an ounce of the cheap stuff, so I have been told….(l-P!

    In the end, the cost is about the same! The decreased risk, of having less than an ounce, also is a benefit.

  7. “some of the increase between 2013 and 2014 may be due to increased patient candor following legalization of recreational sales”
    Ya think?

  8. I have friends who have exceeded the edible doses and gotten hallucinations. They just did not realize that edibles may take up to an hour to be effective. Nonetheless, a 1/4 – 1/2 a cookie dose makes for a long, peaceful, non ambien sleep.

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