Pot Tourists' Visits to One ER Doubled After Marijuana Legalization, Study Says

A photo from our ride-along with Colorado Cannabis Tours last summer. Additional images and more below.
A photo from our ride-along with Colorado Cannabis Tours last summer. Additional images and more below.
Photo by Lindsey Bartlett

A new report shared with the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that many marijuana tourists got more than they bargained for when visiting Colorado after the state legalized limited recreational pot sales.

Specifically, the number of out-of-state residents who made cannabis-related emergency room visits in 2014, after Amendment 64 went into effect, nearly doubled over the year before.

In contrast, the number of emergency room visits tied to marijuana made by in-state residents didn't see a dramatic increase during the same period.

The information is shared in a letter to the NEJM by a team of five medical professionals, four of whom are from Colorado: the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Katelyn Hall and Elizabeth Barker, joined by Emma Genco and Andrew Monte, both with the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Also part of the team was Howard Kim, from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

The letter notes that the quintet "sought to determine whether the rates of emergency department (ED) visits possibly related to cannabis use have increased disproportionately among out-of-state residents, as compared with Colorado residents."

As such, they compared the rates of emergency-room visits at the University of Colorado hospital in Aurora with codes of cannabis use involving out-of-staters and Colorado residents from 2012 to 2014.

They discovered that emergency room trips by presumed tourists went from 85 per 10,000 visits in 2013 to 168 per 10,000 visits in 2014. But while there was a small increase among Coloradans (106 per 10,000 in 2013 to 112 the next year), the researchers don't consider the bump to be significant.

Here's a graphic from a supplementary index on view below showing the results for people from out of state.

Pot Tourists' Visits to One ER Doubled After Marijuana Legalization, Study Says

The rates from the Colorado Hospital Association went up for out-of-staters, too.

However, they weren't quite as dramatic.

In 2013, they stood at 112 per 10,000 visits in 2013, as opposed to 163 per 10,000 visits in 2014.

Here's a graphic depicting these results, which encompass an additional year, 2011.

Pot Tourists' Visits to One ER Doubled After Marijuana Legalization, Study Says

Another pair of graphics using data from both the University of Colorado hospital and the Colorado Hospital Association contrast the upswing in cannabis-related emergency room visits by out-of-state residents to their ER trips for other substances.

Also charted are emergency-room visits for cocaine, amphetamines and opioids, including heroin.

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Marijuana is represented by the green line.

And it easily outdistances all competitors in 2014.

Pot Tourists' Visits to One ER Doubled After Marijuana Legalization, Study Says

The letter writers' conclusions based on the results?

"The initial educational efforts through mass media have focused primarily on Colorado residents," they point out. "These data underscore the importance of point-of-sale education for visitors regarding the safe and appropriate use of marijuana products."

To read the complete letter, click here.

In the meantime, get more info and see additional figures in this supplementary index.



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