In a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine (via the Associated Press), doctors looked at the number of ER complaints that could be possibly related to marijuana use — those that included the word “cannabis” — in 2014, which is the year marijuana became legal, and found that tourists were seeking medical help at a far higher rate than residents.
The doctors found that the rate of ER visits tied to legal pot doubled among out-of-state people, from 85 per 10,000 visits in 2013 to 168 per 10,000 visits in 2014.
The rate for state residents didn’t change significantly from 2013 to 2014, doctors found, going from 106 per 10,000 visits with marijuana-related complaints in 2013 and 112 per 10,000 visits with weed woes in 2014.
Each group has different complaints as well: in-staters mostly reported gastrointestinal problems, while tourists had psychiatric issues, including aggressive behavior and hallucinations.
“We didn’t expect people from out of state to actually be coming to the emergency department mentioning this drug more often,” said Dr. Andrew Monte, a toxicologist and emergency-room physician at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora.
However, these complaints are likely not because they’ve pulled a Maureen Dowd and bitten off way more pot-infused food than they can chew: cases where people reported feeling like they’d overdosed on pot were a “vast minority” of those including a cannabis-related problem, Monte said. It was more often the case that patients reported that marijuana exacerbated an underlying medical condition, especially schizophrenia or psychosis.
As for why numbers among tourists are up, Monte thinks it could be two things: more people are using marijuana, and now that it’s legal in the state, they feel more comfortable talking about it with a doctor.
“There’s more communication between patients and providers, and of course there’s just more marijuana out in the community,” Monte told the AP. “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.”
Study: Tourist pot complaints up at Colorado emergency rooms [Associated Press]