Edibles, Legal Pot ER Visits Increase In Colorado

By Kelly Burch 03/29/19
A study published this week looked at data from the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora.
Colorado ER doctors dealing with a patient

Since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, cannabis-related emergency room visits have nearly tripled at one hospital, and people who used edibles were more likely to end up in the ER than people who smoked pot.

The findings were part of a study published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Looking at data from one hospital in Colorado, researchers found that although edibles make up only 0.32% of legal cannabis sales in the state, they were blamed for 10.7% of emergency room visits. 

People who took edibles were also more likely to report serious psychotic symptoms: 18% of people who went to the ER after eating edibles reported these symptoms, compared with just 10% of people who went to the ER after smoking. 

Lead author Andrew Monte told Rolling Stone that people who took edibles were more likely to end up in the ER because any adverse effects they experienced were likely to last longer than adverse effects in people who smoked cannabis. 

“My initial hypothesis was that people were stacking doses and getting too high of a dose,” he said. “But after analyzing these data, I actually think it is that adverse symptoms from edible consumption last longer than when people smoke. This leads to more opportunity to say, ‘I need to go to the ER.’”

The executive director of NORML, Erik Altieri, told Rolling Stone that since the research only looked at one hospital in one state, people shouldn’t draw universal conclusions from it. He said that overall, emergency room visits caused by marijuana are rare, and usually not very serious. 

“While we support increased public education and enhanced labeling to inform consumers about how to responsibly consume edibles and in what doses, it is important to note that the overwhelming majority of ER cases related solely to marijuana result in the patient simply being hydrated and let go in an hour or two,” he said. 

Still, with marijuana being legalized in more places and edibles being widely available, some people urge caution until there is more research into the effects and potential dangers of edibles. In Canada, researchers believe that an elderly man experienced a heart attack after eating a lollipop laced with cannabis. 

“The outcome of this case is important with new marijuana legalization—hopefully with marijuana use no longer criminalized, more research into the cardiovascular side effects will emerge,” researchers wrote in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.