Sovereign Health Group Blog
Reach out to us today! Most Private Insurance Accepted

Colorado’s recreational cannabis causes high incidences of ER visits

Posted on 04-19-16 in Mental Health, Substance Abuse


Colorado’s recreational cannabis causes high incidences of ER visits

Since Colorado voters approved the legalization of recreational cannabis, marijuana-motivated travel to Colorado boosted tourism by nearly 50 percent. Equally fascinating, a new study reveals the rate of cannabis-related emergency room visits from out-of-towners more than tripled since the legalization. Medical professionals warn tourists to exercise caution when rushing to try potent cannabis strains before acclimating to the altitude.

Study findings

The New England Journal of Medicine published the study just this February. Analysts looked at an urban academic hospital in Aurora, Colorado, as a sample, using reported zip codes of the hospital admits. Rates per 10,000 ER visits of marijuana-related emergency room tourist admittance jumped from 54 in 2012 to 168 in 2014 – the first year of retail distribution.

The travelers checked themselves in due to varying symptoms:

  • 22 percent reported heart and or lung distress
  • 15 percent cited alarming gastrointestinal issues
  • 37 percent reported psychiatric distress, including panic attacks and anxiety
  • 6 percent checked themselves in for any, or a combination of, the following mental episodes: aggressive behavior, agitation, hallucinations, manic behavior and significant paranoia

Study authors concluded emergency visits due to cannabis use seem to be spiking faster among out-of-state visitors than among Colorado residents. Although public service efforts are in place, the media messages are aimed at residents. Researchers suggest point-of-sale safety education for tourists.

Possible contributing factors

Several factors could be exacerbating cannabis negative effects. Common sense would explain circumstantial elements like hot weather temperatures, partaking on an empty stomach, existing mental issues, simultaneous binge alcohol consumption and use of other medications can intensify or worsen marijuana high. Travelers with slower metabolisms might not feel marijuana effects as fast as others; subsequently they may smoke or consume greater quantities of edible cannabis – but when the compounded high hits it can overwhelm a person.

Those with co-occurring drug abuse or alcoholism issues can experience adverse results using other substances with retail cannabis products. Yet one of the main overlooked factors perhaps sending a tourist to the hospital is altitude.

Anytime one ascends a significant altitude change, there are less oxygen molecules in a given space of air: same percentage, but more spread out. Headaches, nausea and dizziness result from the body – especially the brain and lungs – not getting enough oxygen. Acclimatization generally takes one to three days for the body to adjust to less oxygen per given breath.

Pro-cannabis online forums claim marijuana use helps acclimate to increased altitude and medical studies conflict on widespread efficacy of cannabis to open up respiratory passages. For those with bronchial asthma, marijuana smoke was shown to produce “mild and inconsistent bronchodilator effects,” while other normal study participants time and again conversely experience respiratory constriction smoking weed.

Coordination is also delayed with marijuana use; coupled with sudden increased altitude dizziness, it’s evident why many tourists feel the need to get off the merry-go-round and seek medical intervention. If your search for the next substance thrill never ends, despite bad trips and hospital visits, do consider getting help. Sovereign Health treats substance abuse disorders and co-occurring behavioral health problems. Call our 24/7 helpline for details.

About the author

Sovereign Health Group staff writer Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at