Researchers from St. Mary Mercy Hospital in Michigan found the number of emergency room visits related to marijuana have increased in many states in the U.S., according to a presentation at the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.
The researchers felt it was important to study the issue because two states have made marijuana legal for recreational use and 21 states have legalized the drug is some form for medical purposes. The authors of the study looked at marijuana-related ER visits throughout the U.S. from 2007 to 2012, and found in many states where the drug is legal for either recreational or medical use, there was a significant rise in ER admissions.
The study findings
In Colorado, the researchers found marijuana-related ER visits increased 50.4 percent during from 2007 to 2012. In Hawaii, marijuana-related visits rose 55 percent, in New Jersey 49.1 percent, in Arizona 32 percent and in Michigan 14.1 percent. In Colorado, marijuana is legal for recreational use, while the other four states have some amount of medical marijuana legalized.
However, the increases in ER visits related to marijuana were not strictly in states where it is legal in some capacity. States that have maintained all uses of the drug are illegal also saw rises in marijuana-related ER admissions. Texas saw a 43.2 percent increase between 2007 and 2012, Oklahoma had a 7.21 percent rise and South Carolina saw the smallest increase at .75 percent.
The researchers concluded that marijuana use has increased since 2007 throughout the U.S., which could significantly impact the nation's health care system by increasing the number of ER visits and hospital admissions, which can be expensive.
Lead author of the study Dr. Abhishek Rai told MedScape that physicians in ERs should test everyone for marijuana, and if it is found, determine if the substance may be affecting the patient's mental health.
Higher potency may factor in to ER visits
According to Dr. Ryan Caldeiro, the chief of chemical dependency services and consultative psychiatry for Group Health in Seattle, there are a variety of potencies of marijuana available in states where the drug has legal uses. Some strains of the drug are very potent, which can lead users to become overintoxicated and need to go to the ER, MedScape reported.
"This is not the shake weed that somebody smoked in the '70s," said Caldeiro. "This is four times more potent. It's a much riskier proposition than a lot of people think."
Dr. Dan Hehir from the Telluride Medical Center found high potency edible marijuana products may also be related to the higher rate or ER visits. Smoking the drug gives users a more consistent and fast-acting dose of THC - oughly 5 milligrams - whereas the THC in edible marijuana products takes longer to go into effect, leading many users to overeat and ingest too much of the chemical.
"Eating just one 100mg edible would be like smoking 20 hits of marijuana," Hehir wrote. "This may be possible for a heavy user, but for many it's enough to create problems."
Hehir stated it is important that marijuana users are educated on potency and the potential dangers of the drug.