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Marijuana-Related Visits to Children’s Hospital EDs Soared After Legalization

AURORA, CO – A Rocky Mountain high isn’t always a good thing if you’re the emergency physician having to treat the adverse effects.

A presentation at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco discussed the increase in visits to the ED and urgent care centers of a Colorado children’s hospital after the state legalized marijuana for commercialized medical and recreational use.

Emergency department and urgent care records for the hospital were reviewed by a study team from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus from January 2005 to June 2015. During that decade, the commercialization of medical marijuana was legalized in 2010 and recreational marijuana use was allowed in 2014.

Coinciding with those events, the report notes that marijuana-related visits for young people ages 12-21 years increased four-fold, rising to 3,443. That was determined by review of medical records indicating a cannabis-related diagnostic code or positive for marijuana from a urine drug screen. The mean age of patients evaluated was 16.2 years.

Overall, the rate of visitation to the ED or urgent care center increased from 0.95 visits per 1,000 visits in 2009, to 4.01 visits per 1,000 visits in 2015.

Most of those patients, 66%, presented with symptoms of mental illness, with psychiatry consultations jumping from 65 to 442.

“The state-level effect of marijuana legalization on adolescent use has only begun to be evaluated,” suggested George Sam Wang, MD, FAAP, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “As our results suggest, targeted marijuana education and prevention strategies are necessary to reduce the significant public health impact the drug can have on adolescent populations, particularly on mental health.”

Wang cited national statistics on adolescent marijuana use from 2015, indicating that the percentage, about 7%, hadn’t changed in the previous decade. He suggested that, based on his study, those results were unlikely to reflect fully the effect of legalization on usage.